February 2010 Archives
February 1, 2010
Author: Noel Clarke
Writer’s Potential: 6
Logline:Four young women accidentally find themselves at the center of a jewel-smuggling ring.
Synopsis:SHANNON (20s, pale) stands on the ledge of Westminster Bridge in London. She’s been crying. In one hand she holds an art pad filled with great sketches; in the other, she clutches a black bag filled with diamonds. A car containing three other girls — JO (20s, wearing a convenience mart uniform; KERRYS (20s, black); and CASSANDRA (20s, rich) — pulls up next to her. They beg her to come down.
Two days earlier, these four girls do separate activities (Shannon sips coffee at a café, Kerrys practices for her driving test with an instructor, Cassandra plays piano in an empty concert hall, and Joanne swims laps. All of these girls converge at the café. They discuss boys (in particular, Shannon is perturbed that DILLON breezes through the café without noticing her, and Cassandra is eager to lose her virginity to her online boyfriend) and their weekend plans (most importantly, Cassandra is flying to New York for an audition, but she’s also planning to meet the online boyfriend for the first time; Kerrys will also be taking her driving test for the second time), but they’re interrupted when a man snatches Cassandra’s purse. The other girls chase him. Kerrys grabs Shannon’s big art bag and beats the guy with it. The contents of their bags spill out. As Cassandra and Shannon scoop up their respective belongings, Shannon doesn’t notice Cassandra accidentally take an unopened envelope addressed to Shannon.
After all the excitement, the girls walk home. They pass Dillon, who behaves strangely, as if he’s looking for something very important. At a certain point on the way, the girls split up. Jo gets on the subway, Cassandra gets in her parents’ Bentley, Kerrys gets on the bus, and Shannon rides a bike home. A four-way splitscreen shows each of them travel home, focusing on Shannon as she enters her house. Shannon’s father, MR. RICHARDS, lies prostrate on the phone, crying and begging MRS. RICHARDS to stay. She tries to maintain an air of dignity. Shannon doesn’t understand what’s happening. Mrs. Richards tells Shannon she slipped a note into her bag. Shannon doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Mrs. Richards leaves, permanently, without explaining why. Shannon is devastated. As Shannon packs to get out of the house, a news report in the background describes a big gem heist in Antwerp. Shannon goes to Jo’s house, wanting to talk about what happened with her mom. Jo’s distracted and busy. She puts Shannon off until the next day. Shannon goes to the canal and draws. She spots two men (Brazilian MANUEL and black TEE, both a few years older than she is) having a heated discussion about something Manuel can’t keep in his house because his family’s there. Manuel recognizes Shannon as his sister’s friend. They check out her artwork, then leave. That night, Shannon gets hammered in a bar. A guy flirts with her aggressively, and she’s okay with it. Kerrys saves the day, getting the guy away from Shannon to save her from herself. As Shannon argues with Kerrys, a riot seems to break out behind them. The guy, FRASER, returns with some friends, threatening to kill them. Kerrys drags Shannon out of the bar. They run until they get free. Kerrys hops in a seemingly random car and asks Shannon if she needs a ride. Shannon declines.
Shannon goes to the canal, munching on Pringles and staring at a drawing of a baby. She decides to graffitotag the wall, but she runs away when a cop shines his light on her. Shannon runs home, where her drunken dad has been worried sick. Shannon can’t sleep. She tries call Cassandra, who answers but blows Shannon off. The next morning, news of the jewel heist is still all over the news. Shannon’s upset because she thinks her mother left because of her, and now all her friends seem to have abandoned her. Later, Shannon walks past Kerrys (who is taking her driver’s test). Kerrys seems to look at her and ignore her. Some time later, Shannon goes to Kerrys’s house to confront her, just as Kerrys leaves, shouting obscenities at her unseen family. Kerrys lashes out at Shannon, as well, and storms off. Shannon walks past the café when Dillon stops her and decides to talk to her. He’s interrupted by a frantic phone call from Tee. Dillon flirts with Shannon and asks for her phone number. Shannon gets a call from Jo. Shannon asks if Jo saw the note. Jo tells her to come by her work later. That night, Shannon enters the convenience mart where Jo works. Shannon doesn’t seem to notice the tension. Jo tells Shannon to piss off, confusing and enraging Shannon. Even more confusing and enraging: Dillon, dressed in a hoodie, walks toward Jo and plants a kiss on her. Teary-eyed, Shannon runs out of the store, grabbing a tube of Pringles as she goes.
Shannon does some more graffiti. Just before she attempts to eat the Pringles, kids pop her with paintballs and start chasing her. An older woman, KELLY, beats them up and chases them away. She gets Shannon into her car and takes her to a fancy apartment, where she lets Shannon shower and change into some clean clothes. When Shannon gets out, she sees Kelly rifling through her art bag. Kelly wants the Pringles, which she says had diamonds in them. Shannon is baffled. She locks herself in the bathroom as Kelly tries to aggressively beat the door down. Shannon kicks the door open, knocking Kelly out, and runs out of the apartment. Back at the canal, Shannon finds the Pringles. Inside is the black bag filled with diamonds. The next morning, Shannon leaves a message for Jo about the diamonds. Kerrys calls, saying Cassandra found the note. Mr. Richards, drunk and now blaming Shannon for his wife’s leaving, has received a forwarding address from Mrs. Richards’s sister. Shannon goes to the address, a fancy apartment building. Mrs. Richards shows up with her new beau. Shannon confronts her, and Mrs. Richards strongly implies that a recent abortion Shannon had was the final emotional straw. That night, Shannon finds herself on the Westminster Bridge. The car pulls up.
The action returns to two days prior and the four-way splitscreen, this time closing in on Cassandra. Her parents give her some encouraging advice and a surprising amount of weekend money before dropping her off at the airport. On the plane, Cassandra is seated next to an international courier, BIG LARRY. Cassandra waits to meet Brett, who doesn’t show up. Shannon calls, but Cassandra blows her off. Later, Cassandra gives up and calls Joe, tearfully. She takes a cab to her hotel. A few hours later, Cassandra sleeps peacefully when somebody shows up at the door. It’s BRETT, her online boyfriend — exactly as his picture depicted. Instantly, they make passionate love. Afterward, Cassandra has the suspicion that Brett drugged her drink. She passes out and wakes up the next morning, thinking it was a dream — until she finds most of her belongings missing. Her purse is still there, though, and Cassandra finds the note from Shannon’s mom. Pissed, Cassandra scrolls through her old e-mails until she pieces together Brett’s address. She runs into Big Larry in the hotel lobby and asks him to hand-deliver the note to Kerrys (she doesn’t know Shannon’s address). Cassandra tracks Brett’s address to Brooklyn. When she knocks on the door, she’s surprised when a complete geek opens the door. This is the real Brett, or NEW BRETT. Cassandra beats him up and ties him up. New Brett explains that he and Brett arranged this — Brett was supposed to take a bunch of lewd photos of Cassandra while she was unconscious and drop them off. Cassandra waits for Brett, watching a news report about the diamond heist. She gets a call from Kerrys and gives her an odd code (4, 3, 2, 1).
Brett finally shows up. Cassandra beats him up and ties him up, too. Cassandra deletes every photo and video of her from New Brett’s computer, then realizes how late it is and rushes back to Manhattan. She’s missed her audition with MR. LAROFSKY. He is not very kind about it. Dejected, Cassandra returns to New Brett’s house. She pulls down their pants and takes humiliating photos of the two Bretts. Brett has come free of his tethers. He starts beating on her, so she runs out of the house. A big black woman notices the struggle and tells Brett to stop. He continues, hurling racial slurs at her. A large group of black men come out of the woodwork and attack. They let Cassandra leave. The next morning, Cassandra goes to Mr. Larofsky’s house and barges in the moment he opens the door. She dashes to the piano and plays her audition piece. Larofsky admires the ingenuity as well as the musicianship and accepts her into his program. Cassandra returns to London, where she learns Shannon is missing. Jo and Kerrys pick her up.
Two days prior, the four-way splitscreen. This time it’s Kerrys’s story. She arrives home and hops into bed with her girlfriend, JAS. Before anything can happen, MR. JAUO-PINTO (Kerrys’s Brazilian father) drags her downstairs to greet her extended family members from Brazil, who are in town for Manuel’s birthday. Manuel, her brother, is downstairs with Dillon. They’re discussing when Dillon should pick up the diamonds. Kerrys is baffled. She embarrasses herself (and her father) in front of the family by wearing a tight, revealing shirt. Kerrys leaves the house in a huff. She and Jas break into Cassandra’s apartment. They turn on the TV and see a report about the diamond heist. Jas gives Kerrys some Viagra, insisting it works as well on women as it does on men. They have sex. Later, Kerrys and Jas go to the bar where Shannon is drinking. Kerrys sees Fraser all over Shannon and pulls him away, flirting. Fraser tries to trade up, but Kerrys sends him packing. While Shannon’s too drunk to pay attention, Fraser and his friends start a fight with Kerrys that escalates into a full-scale riot. Kerrys grabs Shannon and runs. Jas pulls up in her car, which Kerrys hops into. Shannon declines a ride. Kerrys and Jas return to Cassandra’s apartment.
The next morning, Kerrys takes her driving test with the same examiner who failed her the last time. Sensing it’s not going well, Kerrys lashes out at the examiner and starts kicking the car door to prevent the examiner from getting out. She returns home to congratulations, but faces fall when she announces her second failure. Mr. Jauo-Pinto is horrified, Manuel ridicules, so Kerrys shouts obscenities at all of them as she storms out of the house — and finds Shannon waiting. Kerrys tells Shannon off, too, and goes back to Cassandra’s apartment. Jas shows up at the apartment with Manuel, who claims he wants to apologize. Instead, he somehow seems to know that Cassandra has a panic room built under her bed and knows exactly how to access it. The bed slides aside, revealing it underneath. Kerrys and Jas examine it, and Manuel shuts the panic room. Through a closed-circuit monitor, they can see Manuel bringing people inside. Before long, it’s a full-scale party. Kerrys and Jas can’t get out because they don’t know the code, and Kerrys won’t call Cassandra because they’re not supposed to be there.
Dillon and his friends show up. Manuel hands him a mysterious black bag. They leave. Kerrys and Jas try to figure out the code. As the party gets out of hand, they blame each other for the turn of events. Kerrys finally forces herself to call Cassandra for the code. Once they get out, Kerrys goes after the partygoers with a music stand. The next morning, Cassandra calls Kerrys about sending the note to her. Kerrys calls Shannon, but Shannon hangs up on her. Kerrys goes home and finds the letter. She opens it and is shocked by what she reads. Mr. Jauo-Pinto gets in Kerrys’s face about being late for her brother’s birthday party. Kerrys apologizes, and they have a heart to heart. Kerrys agrees to be less rebellious — after one last prank. She doses Manuel’s drink with a bunch of Viagra, humiliating him as his giant, unstoppable erection forms in front of his grandparents and aunts. Kerrys leaves, but Manuel chases her out of the house. She locks Manuel in the trunk of his own car, then drives it around. As she approaches Jo’s store later that night, Manuel has finally gotten through the seats. He grabs Kerrys, forcing her to hit the accelerator. She crashes into the store.
Two days prior, the four-way splitscreen. Jo’s turn. Jo’s stepdad has broken his leg and can’t work temporarily. As a result, Jo’s mom announces Jo and her sister, GWEN, need to pick up the slack by taking extra shifts at the convenience mart. Gwen already has plans, so Jo is forced to work that night. She meets Tee, the night manager, who browbeats and overworks her. Jo notices Tee doing something odd but unseen near the safe. She also notices one of the keys to the safe is gone. Before she can figure out what Tee is up to, her ex-boyfriend TERRY bursts in demanding to know if rumors she’s sleeping with another guy are true. Jo denies them. Jo is forced to work a double-shift — all night — because another employee doesn’t show up. The next day, she’s exhausted. Gwen begs her to work for her again. Jo reluctantly agrees. When she enters the store, Jo overhears Tee talking on his phone about something that needs to be done today. Jo gets a call from Shannon. She tells Shannon she’s busy and to come by the store later. Jo gripes about the job when she feels her period coming on. When she tries to take some tampons, Tee gets in her face about it. Jo brings up the safe key, which pisses Tee off. They’re interrupted by another clerk.
Dillon and his friends show up at the store. They get into the safe but are disappointed by the amount of money in it, so they decide to rob the whole store. Dillon points a gun at Jo after she tips off a customer about what’s going on and he calls the police. In the midst of this, Shannon shows up. Jo yells at her, but she won’t leave, so Dillon kisses Jo. Horrified, Shannon runs out, taking the Pringles tube. Kelly has been in the store in secret. She’s now angry, thinking Shannon took the diamonds. Kelly goes after her. Dillon takes the wallets of all the customers and throws the gun at Tee (who catches it, getting his fingerprints on it), then leaves, threatening them not to say anything. Tee searches the Pringles packs and finds none with diamonds. The police show up, but everyone plays dumb. Jo takes the security footage disc and hides it from the police. The next day, Gwen is sympathetic about the robbery. Shannon calls about the diamonds. Gwen offers to take Jo’s shift, but Jo insists on working. Shortly after her shift starts, Kelly arrives and starts browbeating Tee. Jo grabs the gun from last night (hidden in a fridge case) and holds it on Kelly. Kelly pulls out a gun of her own and trains it on Jo. Kerrys provides the ultimate distraction, accidentally crashing into the store. The police show up almost immediately, looking for Tee. Jo drives off with Kerrys. Kerrys shows Jo the note. They pick up Cassandra, then drive around to look for Shannon.
The girls find Shannon on the bridge. She nearly falls because of their distraction. The girls pull her back over the bridge. They’re all sympathetic about what’s happened to her family. Shannon appreciates the show of support. They turn the diamonds in to the police and use the reward money to book a flight to the U.S. Little do they know, Kelly is on the plane, watching them.
Comments:126.96.36.199 is the unholy lovechild of a Guy Ritchie gangster movie and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, a quirky gamble that doesn’t really pay off. Too much time is spent ignoring the diamond smuggling in favor of detailing the girls’ sordid personal lives (ironically, without doing a whole lot to develop their characters), and the nonlinear structure is more distracting than inventive. As written, it merits a pass.
Problems start in the first act. The writer doesn’t really set up the story so much as allow a few strange events to happen and hope the mystery carries over until he decides to pick up that narrative thread again. Focusing the story on one character at a time constrains the narrative, making the overall story muddled and frustrating rather than engaging and surprising. The first story — Shannon’s — clumsily foreshadows too much about the diamond smuggling. As a result, the moments of crossover during the other girls’ vignettes are not terribly clever or enlightening — precious few instances of “Oh, the pieces are falling into place” but plenty of “Yeah, duh” moments. This builds to a third act that doesn’t seem much like a third act, because it’s just filling in gaps in the story, sputtering to an unsatisfying, predictable resolution.
Although the details of who’s involved in the diamond smuggling operation and how it affects the girls is obvious long before it should be, the writer devotes precious little time to actually explaining how the smuggling actually works. People keep handing mysterious bags to each other, hiding things, searching for things, exchanging money, but it never quite jells. The writer is intent on making the diamonds a jokey subplot and devotes most of the time to what the girls are doing, which rarely has anything to do with diamonds or stealing. Their stories combine lurid male sex fantasies with melodramatic histrionics.
Sadly, the stories are also so overstuffed with meaningless misleads and “crossover” details, the characters themselves get lost in the shuffle. The writer offers glimpses of family life, jobs, hobbies, and passions — yet somehow manages to not use any of this information to provide real insight into the characters. For a script that tries to pretend its overarching diamond plot is a jokey afterthought, Shannon, Cassandra, Kerrys, and Jo all feel like constructs of a convoluted story rather than real people in a character-driven ensemble.
The supporting characters fare worse, not surprisingly. The villains are all irredeemably evil without much explanation of why (other than greed, but that’s not a terribly compelling reason), the family characters exist solely to provide melodramatic conflict for the girls, and the many characters Cassandra meets in New York have very little to do with anything — it’s just a weird, uncomfortable diversion. It’s telling, though, that the only friend Cassandra makes in New York is coincidentally an international courier who guarantees hand-delivered parcels. This perfectly illustrates the way this script turns its characters into cardboard cutouts who exist to serve the plot’s needs, rather than creating vivid, believable characters whose clearly motivated actions drive the story.
The “quirky caper” and “melodramatic teen angst” tones don’t mix as well as the writer seems to think they do. As a result, it’s hard to imagine anything short of brilliant direction making this script work as a film. Without an experienced director of high-energy crime films, it’ll come across like exactly what it is: a jarring, incoherent mess.
February 2, 2010
Author: Gabriella Prekop & John Banville & Glenn Close
Writer’s Potential: 7
Logline:In 1890s Ireland, a woman impersonates a man in order to work and finds herself wanting a wife.
Synopsis:ALBERT NOBBS — a small, somewhat oddball man — works as a servant in Morrison’s Hotel in Dublin, a middle-class place that aspires to more. The maids — POLLY, EMMA, MARY, and HELEN, all pretty young women — pay little attention. The hotel proprietor, MRS. BAKER, has the exact same dress and attitude as her hotel, carrying a regal air that doesn’t quite match her clothing. In the evening, Albert waits tables with PATRICK (70s, deaf and a bit senile) and SEAN (40s, a plump drinker). He catches Helen looking at him out of the corner of his eye. She makes an amusing face at him when he watches. The hotel patrons — the MOORE family, a French couple named PIGOT, and DR. HOLLORAN, among others — respect Albert and tip him well despite his quiet disposition. When Mrs. Baker notices a stain on Sean’s tie, she chastises him, reminding him that hundreds of young men are in need of work. Sean apologizes.
The obnoxious VISCOUNT YARRELL and MR. SMYTHE-WILLARD and their respective wives interrupt the quiet dinner. They treat the servants with little respect and pretend the other guests don’t exist. After dinner, Yarrell runs Albert ragged with requests, browbeating him all the way, but it’s all worth it — he tips exceedingly well. Albert goes to his private room, counts his money, and documents it in a well-worn ledger. He hides it, along with plenty of other money, under the floorboards in his room. At a nearby hotel, JOE (an angry, gregarious porter) is fired after accidentally dropping guests’ baggage. HUBERT PAGE (40s), a painter, sees the unfair dismissal and recommends a nearby hotel he knows, Morrison’s. Hubert tells Joe to mention his name to Mrs. Baker. Joe gripes that he doesn’t want to work in another hotel. Albert rushes around, fetching flowers and stationery for guests. Hubert arrives, to everyone’s surprise and Mrs. Baker’s delight. She immediately figures out parts of the hotel that need touching up and offers Albert’s room to share with Hubert. Albert makes a lot of excuses, but Mrs. Baker won’t hear them. Ironically, Hubert isn’t any more enthusiastic about sharing the room than Albert is.
Albert waits until Hubert falls asleep before changing into his bedclothes and joining him. He panics the entire time he changes, fearing Hubert might wake. Once Albert is ready, he lies in the bed. Before long, Albert leaps from the bed, suddenly stricken and twitching. Odd blotches cover his shoulder. In a panic, Albert forgets himself and rips off his nightshirt, just as Hubert wakes up. Albert’s body is crammed together by a tight corset, which hides distinctly female breasts. Hubert is shocked, yet a little amused. Albert, however, is even more panicked — and angry, since the fleas that have apparently infested him/her must have come from Hubert. Hubert asks the obvious questions: why, and how long? Albert will only say that she’s been working at Morrison’s for 19 years. Albert decides to sleep on the floor, allowing Hubert to stay in the bed in exchange for his silence. Hubert gets over the shock and falls asleep quite quickly. Albert spends the entire night on edge, not sleeping at all.
The next morning, things are awkward between Albert and Hubert — but he doesn’t betray the secret. Albert spends the full day jittery and terrified, but she’s still great at her job. Albert keeps trying to get Hubert alone so they can talk in secret, but the hotel keeps bustling. Albert feels a tinge of jealousy when Helen starts asking all manner of questions about Hubert. When Albert finally gets Hubert alone, he vows once again to keep the secret. Albert can’t be sure, but Hubert — after checking to ensure their complete privacy — removes his own shirt, revealing female breasts. Albert is stunned. Later, when they’re alone again, Hubert tells her story: she married a drunken house-painter, and after a particularly vicious beating, Hubert got fed up and took his gear, assumed a male identity, and started to get work. Albert is stunned to learn that Hubert remarried — a lonely dressmaker, who agreed to enter into the sham marriage as a combination of financial and emotional arrangement. That night, Mrs. Baker pays Hubert and sends him on his way, lamenting that she can’t afford more work. Albert reels from Hubert’s story, feeling possibilities she’d never considered opening up. She fantasizes about what Hubert’s life must be like — and then begins to fantasize about what her life could be like if she managed to take a wife. She finds a button that popped off Hubert’s overcoat and clings to it as if it can provide all the answers.
Joe, having failed to find work elsewhere, arrives at Morrison’s. A frantic Polly mistakes him for a boiler repairman, a role Joe decides to assume in order to get the job. Although Mrs. Baker doesn’t exactly believe him, she agrees to keep Joe on as a handyman if he can repair the boiler. Baker forces Albert to show Joe to his room. Joe immediately senses something off about Albert, but he can’t put his finger on what it is. The entire group, except for Joe, prepares the dining room for a decadent “fancy dress” party for the guests. Albert and the other servants don’t dress in costumes. While the party goes on, Joe attempts to repair the boiler, but he fails. Joe lets out his frustration by flirting with Helen. She’s immediately attracted to him. After an extended makeout session, Joe returns to the boiler — and he fixes it.
Albert continues to fantasize about Hubert’s life, while Joe has a fantasy of his own — he and Helen. The next morning, Dr. Holloran notices Albert’s odder-than-usual behavior and asks why she’s so distant. She confesses that she’s thinking of the future, of marrying and buying a little shop that could be run by a man with the assistance of a good woman. Dr. Holloran suggests a tobacconist or newsagent. Albert wonders why she couldn’t do both in the same shop. Now, Albert begins fantasizing about a shop of her own, and a possible wife. That night, MILLY MOORE — daughter of the Moore family — rushes to Albert and hops on her lap, upset about a bad dream. The intimate touch makes Albert both uncomfortable and desirous. Milly’s NURSE comes after her. Albert agrees to warm some milk and honey. While she does so, Albert spots Joe and Helen having sex outside in the laundry yard. Joe comes inside. His very presence unnerves Albert. The milk ends up boiling over, scalding her hand.
The next day, Albert wanders Dublin, looking for available space for a shop. When Albert refuses to allow Joe to help him carry bags for two female guests, Joe gets a sense of Albert’s greed — and, seeing the tip, he gets an idea. Albert tells Mrs. Baker he found Hubert’s button and begs for his address and the time off to return it. Mrs. Baker grants it. Albert goes to Howth and finds Hubert’s dressmaker shop. Hubert introduces her to CATHLEEN, his wife. Albert is stunned and fascinated. Cathleen insists Albert stay for dinner. Hubert finally gives Albert the chance to tell her own story: she was a bastard, raised by a nanny with a generous allowance from her mother’s family. When Albert’s mother died suddenly, the allowance was eliminated, keeping Albert out of school and forcing her to fend for herself among the poorest in Dublin. At age 15, Albert’s nanny died, leaving her completely alone. Not long after, five drunk men viciously attacked and raped her. From that day forward, Albert decided to live as a man, to escape the poverty. She worked her way up to working at the biggest places in England before settling at Morrison’s. Hubert tells Albert to find the right woman to share her life with and get married.
Albert returns to Morrison’s, thinking seriously about Helen — but Helen is with Joe. Joe spots Albert and insists on taking her out to the pub. Albert’s not a drinker or a smoker, and she doesn’t particularly enjoy either. Word has already spread about Albert’s plans to marry. Joe suggests Helen, saying he’s not the marrying type. Albert’s appreciative of the blessing. When she gets back to Morrison’s, she asks Helen out. She’s reluctant. Helen talks it over with Joe. Joe orders her to go out with Albert, to find out what Albert really wants and how much money she has. Albert takes Helen out in Dublin. She’s surprised and annoyed by her desire to spend money, trying to pinch every penny but ending up spending a lot on her because she wants to buy her love. Albert doesn’t realize things are going poorly with Helen, who’s merely exploiting her for the money. Albert is mentally planning their future together. Helen talks things over with Joe, who tells her to continue exploiting Albert until they get enough money out of her to travel to America. Albert drags Helen to the storefront she’s picked out for their shop. She springs her plans on Helen, who is less than enthusiastic — she’s spent her whole life trying to get out of rundown neighborhoods like the one the shop’s in. That night, Albert overhears Helen and Dr. Holloran talking — she’s pregnant. Helen complains to Joe that Albert’s too cheap to simply give away money. They’re lucky she’s buying Helen things. Joe tells her to keep things going with Albert, but she refuses, throwing Joe into a violent rage.
The next day, a young kitchen maid comes up with scarlet fever. Soon, the government turns the guests away and temporarily shuts down the hotel. Most of the staff is stricken with the disease — including Albert, who refuses medical attention. After a long struggle, her fever breaks. Patrick dies. Helen struggles to tell Joe about her pregnancy, but she can’t find the words. Instead, she gives him a note — but Joe can’t read. Mrs. Baker offers Joe Patrick’s old job, because he’s proven his worth during the outbreak of fever, helping out. Once he’s a little better, Albert finds out most of the area has been struggling with the fever. Albert returns to Hubert’s house and sees her wearing a black mourning band. Cathleen passed on. Albert is sympathetic. When Hubert wonders what he’ll do without her companionship, Albert quietly suggests that they marry, or move somewhere and live as sisters. Distraught, Hubert and Albert put on dresses, both living as women for the first time in decades. They wander outside and walk on the beach, but it’s just not working. Albert returns to Morrison’s, redressed as a man. She overhears Helen and Joe fighting.
Albert and Helen go out again. Helen is shocked when Albert flat-out asks her to marry. She complains that they haven’t even kissed. Albert says she loved her nanny but never had to kiss her. This confuses Helen, as does the ineffectual peck on the cheek Albert gives her. Helen gives Albert a full, passionate kiss — now it’s Albert’s turn to be confused. Helen storms away, breaking it off for good. Albert follows, insisting that Joe won’t take care of her. He’ll abandon Helen and the baby and go to America alone. Helen is shocked that Albert knows so much, but she denies Joe will leave. She gets away from Albert. A prostitute solicits Albert. Desperate for the companionship, she’s tempted, but she turns the woman down.
When Albert returns to the hotel, she overhears Joe, Helen, and the other maids mocking her. Joe invites Sean to his room to drink. He forces Sean to read the letter from Helen. Joe is shocked and angry about the baby. He doesn’t have any idea what to do. The rumors fly, and Mrs. Baker wants to fire them both. Albert uses this opportunity to once again try to persuade Helen to marry her — she’ll never have to worry about being fired or not being taken care of. Drunk, Joe storms in and gets in Albert’s face. Timid, Albert backs away. Joe goes after Helen, which finally sets Albert off — but she’s not strong enough to fight him. Albert shoves her to the floor, knocking Albert unconscious, briefly. Helen’s enraged at Joe’s treatment. The other servants rush in, pulling Joe away from Helen. They scream at each other as the others try to restrain both of them. Albert regains consciousness and uses the distraction to sneak back to her room — but she’s bleeding from the ear and the back of her head. Albert climbs into bed.
Joe leaves the hotel, permanently. Albert fantasizes about living with Helen, just before she dies from the head injury. The following morning, the servants are surprised that Albert won’t answer his door. They send in Dr. Holloran, who performs an examination and realizes Albert’s true gender. The others are baffled. Mrs. Baker brings the news to Hubert, who feigns shock. She brings Hubert back to the hotel to do more painting. Helen cozies up to Hubert, introducing him to her new baby, Albert Joseph. Helen is desperately afraid that her baby will be taken away. Hubert tells her that can’t happen. Helen asks what he means, and as the camera pulls away, it’s clear that Hubert is making a similar proposition to Albert’s.
Comments:Albert Nobbs tells a tragic story about the lengths certain women will go to in order to be left alone, only to have their lives consumed by feelings of loneliness and inadequacy. The script has plenty of interesting ideas, but ultimately, it struggles to justify its characters’ decisions, and its unhappy ending feels unearned. As written, it merits a pass.
The first act attempts to make Albert’s gender a mystery, but it’s fairly easy to guess that her quirky behavior and fierce protection of her privacy meant she was hiding her female identity. Hubert’s reveal is a much bigger and more satisfying surprise, yet it’s downplayed because the twist exists only to get Albert thinking about the possibilities of curing her loneliness. The writers seem to want to turn the Albert-Helen-Joe relationship into a love triangle in the second act, but the plot gets in the way, devoting too much time to Joe’s scheming and Helen’s devotion to his plans. Rather than allowing Albert to slowly figure out what she really wants in her pathetic, childlike way, the writers force her to fail, and force audiences to watch it, knowing exactly what’s going to happen long before Albert has a clue.
This leads to the unsatisfying third act, which gets preoccupied with a scarlet fever outbreak. The outbreak does little for either the story or characters, other than adding a bit of period detail and giving Helen a nice potential “husband” at the end, thanks to process of elimination. More importantly, killing Albert at the end is simply the wrong move for the story. Albert didn’t necessarily require a happy ending where she gets everything she wants and lives happily ever after, but killing her feels like a cheat. It’s tragedy for the sake of tragedy — an abrupt end to the story rather than a true resolution.
Maybe this is because Albert remains such an enigma throughout. The real mystery, one the script doesn’t devote much time to, is why Albert decides she needs a companion of any sort. When she explains why she chose to live like this — didn’t want to live in poverty, hated the way men treated her — she gave the impression that she wanted to shun humanity as much as possible. Her behavior in the first act supports this, but later in the script, Albert seems to imply that it just never occurred to her that she could have all the things Hubert has — things she apparently wanted. It rings false that she’d want these things, though. Her cluelessness about people and relationships speaks to more than just ignorance — it comes across like flat-out disinterest. Albert’s fantasy sequences, allegedly showing her desires, don’t add as much to her character as the writers seem to think. They just depict things that Albert’s actions contradict. Making it clear why Albert feels she needs a wife would go a long way toward making the story more believable.
The supporting characters are a nuanced bunch. With the exception of Joe, Helen, and Hubert, none of them contribute much more than atmosphere, but they each have a handful of quirks that make them feel a bit real. Joe and Helen, on the other hand, are a bit thin. Albert’s fixation on Helen never really makes much sense, except from a plot standpoint. She doesn’t say or do much to make it clear that this is the one person, above all others, that is the right choice for a wife. Although Joe has a few moments of surprising depth (such as his pathetic attempts to learn to read), he serves as little more than a stereotypically macho foil to Albert’s timid “man.”
Only one thing can redeem this script: a great actor playing Albert. A great performance can fill all the gaps in the writing and make material that doesn’t quite seem to make sense into a complete, tragic figure.
February 4, 2010
Author: Dean Craig
Writer’s Potential: 8
Logline:An Englishman takes his three best friends to Australia for his wedding, and they wreak havoc on the bride-to-be’s family.
Synopsis:DAVID (30, good-looking) squeezes on a tube train in London, toting a huge pack that suggests he’s just returned from a long trip. When the train comes to a stop, the size of the pack prevents David from easily getting off the train. The moment he hits the street, rains starts to pour. Enraged, David strips naked the instant he gets into his apartment, not knowing his friends have thrown a surprise party. Later, David’s trying to get over the embarrassment with the help of his best friends, TOM (30, lanky, a dorky wannabe alpha-male), GRAHAM (30, a hypochondriac), and LUKE (30, crippled with depression after a bad breakup). David tells them his trip to Australia changed his life: he fell in love with a local girl, and he’ll be headed back to Australia to marry her. His friends are stunned, but they’re excited about the wedding — until they find out it’ll be in Australia, at his fiancée’s family farm. None of them want to travel to Australia. Their lack of support angers David. Reluctantly, they all agree to go with him.
Three months later, David prepares for the trip. He packs a special DVD labeled “For Mia” into his suitcase. Tom barges into the apartment with a camcorder, already getting started on the wedding video. Graham enters David’s flat with a Hitler mustache. When the others mock him, Graham insists mustaches are “in,” and it’s not his fault this is the way his mustache naturally grows. They get into the cab, and the driver gives Graham the stinkeye. As they work their way through the airport, Graham panics about what Australia will be like. At a layover in Bangkok, Luke desperately tries to call his ex-girlfriend. Graham gripes about David choosing Luke to give the best man speech. On the next plane, the boys are exhausted. When they finally land, David’s fiancée, MIA, meets them at the airport. David introduces her to his friends — Graham trying to explain away his Hitler mustache — as Mia tries to find a way to squeeze them all into her Jeep. Tom tells her they’ve rented a car, so David and Mia agree to meet the others at the farm.
Graham drives the rental car, but he heads in the wrong direction. He tells the others he wants to pick up some weed for David’s “stag night” from a dealer he found on Craig’s List. RAY, the dealer, lives in an ancient trailer in the middle of nowhere. He has some pretty intense anger issues. Graham brings his black sports bag with him into the trailer. Ray insists that they stick around and smoke a joint before they leave, so they don’t return later complaining about the quality of the merchandise. While Tom uses the bathroom and Luke waits in the car, Ray opens up to Graham, revealing a needy side that disturbs Graham. Graham notices a black sports bag loaded with cocaine-filled condoms and a gun. Ray tries to sell him the cocaine, but Graham turns him down. Tom gets out of the bathroom, and Graham makes quick excuses to leave, accidentally taking the wrong black sports bag. Meanwhile, Mia’s parents — JIM and BARBARA — show him around the farm, which includes their prize goat, PERCY. Jim tells David this will be the biggest wedding their little town has seen, making David even more nervous.
When the boys arrive at the farm, David introduces them to Jim, Barbara, and DAPHNE (Mia’s attractive younger sister). At the sight of David’s happiness, Luke bursts into tears and hides in the bathroom. Over lunch, Tom and Graham try to make awkward small talk, inadvertently insulting the family’s religion and lifestyle. David takes them aside and explains how to behave. He doesn’t want to go overboard on his stag night. Tom reassures David, but they end up at a roughneck bar, getting smashed on heavy Australian beer. They return to the farm, roaring drunk, and David decides to show them Percy. Meanwhile, Tom lets Luke know about a rumor that his ex’s new beau has no penis. This depresses Luke even more. In the morning, while Jim stresses about the wedding arrangements and Daphne helps Mia get into her dress, David wakes up to discover Percy in his bedroom, gnawing on an armchair, the word “GOAT” scrawled on its side in black marker. Meanwhile, Tom wakes up naked next to Graham, who wears a “gimp” mask (a gag gift for David) when Barbara barges into the room, awkwardly assessing the situation. David makes excuses, sends her away, then yells at his friends about Percy, demanding that they wash Percy and return him to the barn while he prepares for the wedding. The boys do nothing with the goat. Graham shaves off his Hitler mustache before going into his bag to get his suit — and finding all the cocaine. Tom orders Graham to call Ray and reason with him. Pointing out how unreasonable Ray is, Graham makes Tom call. Tom has trouble finding cell phone reception, so he wanders outside to find a better signal. He finally gets reception, but he gets Ray’s answering machine. Graham orders him to leave a message. He leaves a polite message.
David, Mia, and the family prepare for the wedding. David tries to calm his nerves. Luke calls his ex to ask about the rumor, but her hostility and refusal to answer the question upsets him. He starts drinking early and is quickly hammered, to David’s consternation. Tom helps Graham find a suit, since his was packed in the bag at Ray’s. The closest suit to fitting him also itches. David asks Tom to be the one to play his “For Mia” DVD when David does his speech later. Tom agrees. David is livid when he finds out they haven’t dealt with the goat yet, but there’s no time now. The wedding ceremony goes off without a hitch, until Luke passes out, dragging Mia and the reverend down with him. Despite the problems, the family and guests are understanding. David puts Luke to bed and orders Tom to give the best man speech.
David apologizes to Mia, who’s very understanding and loving. Ray listens to the message from Tom. The phone keeps breaking up, making Tom’s innocuous message sound very threatening and hostile. Enraged, Ray searches through his bag — and finds Graham’s wedding invitation. He picks up the shotgun and sets out for the wedding. Frustrated and itching, Graham lashes out at a small child. Tom approaches and instructs him to give the best man speech. Graham’s frustration increases — he has ten minutes to prepare a speech. Tom gives Graham some suggestions on possible topics, like the way they all assumed David was gay when they first met him, or a joke about how Australia started as an English penal colony. Tom gives Graham a sheet of paper with the speech notes written down on it. Graham gets so nervous, Tom decides to break into Ray’s coke stash to take the edge off and help Graham relax in front of people. Tom cuts Graham a comically huge line, which instantly affects him. Graham goes out to give the speech, and now he’s both nervous and overly chatty. When Graham consults the notes Tom gave him, he finds nothing but a cartoon drawing of a penis. Graham’s forced to ad lib, starting with the jokes about Australia’s history (which don’t go over well) before easing into the story about thinking David was gay. He makes such a compelling case about David’s homosexuality that Jim and Barbara believe it and start worrying.
After David yells at Graham, and Graham attempts to explain the speech to Jim and Barbara, Daphne comes to console him. She’s the only one who found the speech funny, and she flirts with him. Graham feels optimistic. Jim learns that Percy is missing. David overhears this and yells at his friends for not handling the goat situation. David can’t attend to it because he has to do the first dance. David asks Mia if they’ve found Percy. She says Jim suspects neighbors who have had their eye on him for awhile, and Jim’s so angry he’s considering going after them with his shotgun. David worries, especially when Jim calls for the Chief Inspector, a guest at the wedding. Tom and Graham find the goat has eaten the cocaine-filled condoms. Panicked, they feed the goat laxatives to try to get him to excrete the condoms. He soon does, but not all of them. Graham is forced to stick his hand up the goat’s rectum to retrieve the remaining condoms. David shows up just as he’s starting this. Tom explains about the stolen cocaine, and David agrees this is the only option. Luke stumbles into the room and finds Ray’s gun. He threatens to shoot himself. David talks him out of it, but the gun accidentally goes off, grazing Graham, who panics. Mia’s the only one who hears the gunshot over the music. She investigates and stumbles on the insanity with the goat and the gun and the cocaine. She’s livid and starts to worry that she made a mistake. David lashes out at his friends for their irresponsibility and selfishness. They agree to rally and take care of the Percy situation.
David and Graham go downstairs to bring the goat, which Tom and Luke will lower, back to the barn. On the way, they’re stopped by the Chief Inspector, who asks them a series of questions with increasing suspicion. They panic and give horrible answers to the questions. Through the window, they see the goat being lowered. The Chief Inspector lets them go, not as suspicious as he seemed. They quickly rush the goat back to the barn, and Graham vomits from the stress. On his way back, Ray pulls a gun on Graham and demands his cocaine. Tom witnesses this. Graham manages to talk Ray out of it by playing on their supposed friendship. He agrees to take Ray out to dinner, and Ray agrees to help clean the bullet wound. Tom smashes a lamp over Ray’s head and drags him to a closet. Jim is mystified as to how Percy got out of the barn and magically reappeared, but he’s pleased. He apologizes to David for suspecting him. David gives his speech, and Tom pops in the DVD and hits play — but it’s the wrong DVD. This one is from his camcorder, and it features a drunk David miming sex with the goat. Jim and Barbara are enraged.
David tries to talk his way out of it by explaining that, while they did get a little out of hand, they’re not exactly criminals. Immediately thereafter, Ray bursts into the reception area firing his shotgun in the air, demanding his cocaine. Ray finds Graham and orders him to come back with him. David tells Ray if he’s taking Graham, he’ll have to take him, too. Ray’s okay with that, to David’s surprise and fear. Luke and Tom also stand up for Graham, when the Chief Inspector arrests Ray. The four friends, having stood up for each other, are in a better place — but David’s still in hot water with Jim, Barbara, and even Mia. Tom appears with the proper DVD, which features a montage of photos from David’s trip with Mia. Seeing them fall in love through sequential photos, Mia and her parents are profoundly affected. Feeling better about David, Mia forgives him for ruining the wedding. Jim and Barbara support the new marriage. Impressed that he got shot in a coke deal gone bad, Daphne asks Graham for his number. Luke calls his ex one last time to apologize for his obnoxious behavior. He’s elated to hear, definitively, that the new boyfriend does have a penis.
Comments:A Few Best Men is a fast-paced, funny comedy that borders on farce. It has a number of amusing gags and extremely funny dialogue, but it does suffer as a result of its off-kilter narrative structure and thin characters. As written, it merits a consider.
The story’s “laughs first, story second” approach yields a narrative with a very loose, rambling structure. Although the comedic tension increases with each scene, the story itself doesn’t build or develop so much as loosely string together all the gags based around the vague structure of a wedding. The first act sets up the characters and the main comic scenarios — the importance of Percy the goat and the drug deal with Ray — while the second act breezes from one funny scene to the next. In the third act, these comedic scenarios do reach their boiling points and explode into chaos, but the story doesn’t resolve so much as it peters out, realizing its goat and cocaine jokes have finally run their course.
This lack of narrative thrust occurs because the characters are rarely in any real jeopardy. Much of the comedy comes from the characters’ fear of getting caught, rather than the actual danger of getting caught. The Australian family has a surprising amount of trust — which, itself, is played for absurd laughs — but the fact that the script is wall-to-wall comedy means the writer has created a universe where their bizarre antics have no real consequences. Maybe this is a moot point because it’s still funny, but the overall narrative and characters might come across stronger if the writer added some legitimate jeopardy into all the wackiness.
The writer introduces the central foursome quickly and without much complexity: David the straight man, Tom the misguided leader, Graham the neurotic, and Luke the depressive. Although they don’t have much depth, the writer understands how easily these comic archetypes play off of each other, and he exploits it about as well as anyone can. None of them go through any major transformations — not even David, the ostensible lead — and their sudden bonding in the last few pages feels tacked-on, but the group is funny together, and the writer’s great dialogue enlivens characters that could have been boring clichés.
It’s the Australian family that’s the real problem here. The writer never puts David and Mia together long enough to give a sense of how much they love each other — in fact, Mia barely figures into the story at all, except to serve as a reminder that David should be annoyed at his friends. Similarly, Jim and Barbara don’t do much beyond reacting to the chaos unfolding during their wedding. It would be nice if all these characters had a bit more screen time, not just to give them more depth, but to give a better understanding of what’s really at stake for David.
Despite the story and character issues, the script is very funny. A capable director might be able to mine more jeopardy and suspense than what appears on the page, and a solid cast might fill these characters with the pathos and dimension they deserve.
Author: Mike Figgis
Writer’s Potential: 5
Logline:A successful writer is suspected of murdering a beautiful French girl by the police and the girl’s twin sister.
Synopsis:The opening sequence intercuts two distinct sequences: MARTIN discussing lecturing a class of eager film students about screenwriting, and a man and a woman in two separate locations having phone sex. As the phone sex gets more intense, and Martin digs deep into the schizophrenic nature of writing, it’s finally revealed that the phone sex sequence is actually a scene from the movie. The two separate locations exist on the same soundstage, and the actress playing the woman — SARAH (early 20s) — is angry the moment director GREGORY (with whom Sarah has a secret relationship) yells “Cut!” She feels her performance is horrible and the other actors are judging her. Afterward, Sarah rides up to her father’s Hampstead home, talking on her cell phone to somebody about coming to her birthday party. Her father turns out to be Martin, a well-off novelist and screenwriter. He buys her a fancy camera for her birthday, which she uses to snap photos at the party. The party itself is a bit raucous, filled with obnoxious young actors. Sarah’s best friend, DOMINIC, shows off his new French girlfriend, ANGELIQUE, a sultry woman whose quiet demeanor stands out among the actors. Martin pays attention. Martin’s AGENT browbeats Martin about missing a deadline on his latest screenplay. Martin complains about writer’s block.
Angelique approaches Martin and gives him a puff on her joint. Sarah snaps a photo of it, disappointed. Martin excuses himself to bed. He lives on the third floor of the house, which has been renovated into a loft-like flat. Angelique is in the room, reading the sexually explicit dialogue from his latest script. She starts pantomiming the actions described. The next morning, Martin greets Sarah and some of her friends (who have been up all night) as they scroll through the photos in her new camera. At the college lecture hall, Martin describes the important balance between character and plot. Back at home, INSPECTOR BULLOCK (a jolly fat man who may or may not be feigning his apparent stupidity) arrives, looking for Sarah. Martin invites him in. Bullock explains Angelique turned up missing and was last seen at the party. Martin keeps a poker face as he explains he only spoke to her briefly. Bullock mentions he’s a fan and is sympathetic about Martin’s wife, who went missing 10 years earlier. Bullock asks Martin to read his own screenplay. Martin reluctantly agrees. Meanwhile, two boys find Angelique’s body floating in a canal.
Martin drives Sarah to the morgue so he can console Dominic as he identifies the body. There’s evidence of sexual trauma, so Bullock theorizes she had a fight with Dominic and walked home alone when she was attacked. They’re shocked when Angelique’s twin sister, THERESE, shows up at the morgue after the police contacted her. In contrast to Angelique, Therese is more conservative and withdrawn. Sarah talks Martin into allowing Therese to stay at Martin’s house. Martin lectures the college students about the difficulties of a three-act structure, because life doesn’t happen in three acts. This descends into a rant about his own writer’s block. Sarah, having attended the lecture, is impressed — the outburst allowed students to relate to him. Martin meets with Bullock to give notes about his screenplay. Martin is exceptionally blunt, saying the script was awful and Bullock has no writing talent. Bullock thinks he’s joking at first. Before Martin can give Bullock a “delicate” statement about Angelique that he’d like kept private, Bullock has a heart attack and is rushed to the hospital.
Martin starts writing a scene about the collapse of a marriage. In his mind, the characters look very much like himself and his missing wife. Sarah calls to say her shooting has run late. It’s just Martin and Therese. He inadvertently walks in on Therese masturbating. Later, he awkwardly offers to make her dinner. They start talking about Sarah. Martin tells her that he wrote the script for the movie Sarah’s acting in. She didn’t want to be accused of nepotism, so she gave a fake name and wore a wig during the audition. Martin invites Therese to scout a location with him. She agrees. Before anything can happen between them, Sarah bursts into the house, angry about her performance. Therese digs around her room until she finds pile of VHS tapes featuring Martin’s missing wife — an actress before her disappearance. Martin visits Bullock at the hospital and gives some gentler notes about Bullock’s screenplay. Bullock is basically an invalid, unable to speak or move — but he can cry.
As Martin drives Therese into the country, she describes her childhood. After their parents were killed in a car accident, Therese and Angelique were adopted by separate families. Angelique accused her adoptive father of sexual abuse, causing the man to commit suicide. Therese’s adoptive parents took pity and adopted Angelique, where she made the same accusation — but this time, Therese knew it was a lie. Though she wanted to protect her sister, Therese told the truth, causing a rift between them. Out in the country, Martin and Therese are given access to an old, defunct NATO bunker. Therese breaks down emotionally, which in the darkness Martin misinterprets as a sexually provocative act. They drive home in silence. Later, Therese tells Martin she’s surprised Angelique didn’t try to seduce her, because he’s exactly the type of man she would be attracted to. Martin has a blowout, sending the car into a ditch. They’re forced to spend the night together in a country inn that only has one room left. Martin calls Sarah to let her know. He and Therese share the bed, but nothing happens. Meanwhile, Sarah brings Gregory back to Martin’s house, and they have sex in his loft space.
When he arrives back in Hampstead, new police detectives wait for him. They’ve intensified the investigation a bit and, after examining Sarah’s photos, they suspect Martin, who’s seen in a photograph where Angelique has a somewhat provocative, flirtatious pose next to him. He reluctantly gives a DNA sample. They inform him that Bullock passed away, which relieves Martin. Martin writes a scene in his screenplay that appears to be a confession of killing his wife. He flashes on sex with Angelique and the strangulation of his wife. He considers deleting the passage from the script but ultimately keeps it. Instead, he burns Angelique’s panties. At the inquest, the coroner — having failed to find any physical evidence of rape — rules Angelique’s death an accidental drowning, which deeply upsets Therese. She’s too grief-stricken to handle the funeral arrangements, but Sarah is too ignorant. Martin agrees to take care of it, once he returns from a day trip to France — to the tiny town in which Therese and Angelique were raised.
Sarah, who has the day off, invites Therese out. At first, she’s a little alarmed by Therese’s apparent familiarity and odd sexuality — she’s a bit more like Angelique than she expected. After a day spent shopping and goofing around, they go to a birthday party for one of Sarah’s friends. They get drunk, and Sarah wakes up the next morning in a post-coital embrace with Therese. Uneasy, Sarah goes off to work. Martin’s still in France, so Therese goes up to his loft and reads his screenplay. In a muted montage, Martin talks with school and adoption officials. Dominic brings Angelique’s things to Therese. She invites herself into his life and moves out of Martin’s place. Martin’s surprised and disappointed, but Therese knows where he went and what he was looking for.
Martin has an odd dream, starting with him and Therese in a boat, which capsizes, causing Therese to drown while Martin does nothing to save her. He wakes up and thinks he sees Angelique. It turns out to be Sarah, dressed in Angelique’s clothes, in an almost pornographic posture. This may or may not also be a part of his dream. All of the central characters gather at the crematorium for Angelique’s service. Therese, now wearing Angelique’s things and her style of makeup, makes Dominic a bit uneasy. The wake is like an unsettling parody of Sarah’s birthday party — all of the same characters, mostly doing the same things, but a bit muted. Therese asks Martin to drive her to the airport. He agrees.
Therese is angry at Martin for sneaking behind her back and investigating her life — mainly because it means he suspects her of killing Angelique. She laughs that she suspected Martin, too, initially. Martin points out that everything she told him about her life was a lie. Therese says that they were, indeed, adopted, by a loving couple, but the father quickly turned to raping both Angelique and Therese, so they killed him, making it look like an accident. In reality, it damaged both of them, and Therese has always felt like the two of them are halves of the same whole — she feels the same things that Angelique does, thinks the same things. That’s how she knew Angelique seduced him — and it’s also how, after spending a few days with him, she knows Dominic killed her. Martin’s surprised by her honesty, but she plays it off by observing that Martin killed his own wife. She leaves Therese with the thought that the two of them are much more similar than he’ll consider. The script fades to black, but the credits are interrupted by the college lecture attendees complaining that Martin can’t end a movie this way. Instead, it’s ended with an oddly theatrical epilogue narrated by Sarah, followed by a curtain call from the entire cast.
Comments:Suspension of Disbelief is clearly trying to be a sexy, surreal meditation on reality versus fiction. Unfortunately, it’s really just a hackneyed, poorly thought out murder mystery that tries to obscure its lack of resolution with a lot of semi-explicit sex and pretentious talk about screenwriting conventions. As written, it merits a pass.
The story starts off well enough: although the opening sequence is a bit long and on the nose, it clearly establishes some of the script’s central themes. From there, the first act focuses on introducing the characters and the murder of Angelique, which drives the rest of the story. Aside from the fact that the writer makes no one other than Martin seem like a potential suspect in the murder, the story works pretty well up until this point.
Problems arise in the second act, as each character’s role in the story grows increasingly unclear. The writer spends most of his time playing with the audience, but that inadvertently drains the story of suspense. If the audience knows nothing is what it seems, how can they get invested in anything that’s happening? The writer tries to rely on cleverness to push the story forward, but nothing about it is as clever as he seems to think it is. For instance, Dominic — ultimately fingered as the murderer, although by an unreliable character — pretty much disappears from the story after his early introduction. There’s no time to suspect him, which is irritating, not clever.
Although the third act tidily explains everything in one long scene full of bland, on-the-nose dialogue, the narrative is still frustratingly scattershot. None of Martin’s actions seem to add up to him suspecting Therese — in fact, whether it’s intentional or not, he frequently seems like he wants Therese to be his next victim — so his trip to France is bizarre and confusing, as is Therese’s sudden decision to spend so much time with Dominic (all of which occurs offscreen). Everything is explained, but the explanations are weak and unsatisfying. At the end of the day, the script lacks a true resolution — two people sitting in a car, filling in the gaps in the plot, doesn’t qualify as resolution. Neither does the coy, jokey epilogue. Watching this unfold onscreen is likely to infuriate audiences.
The characters suffer from the same problems as the story, for the same reasons: the writer is so intent on obfuscating for the sake of alleged cleverness, it’s incredibly difficult to empathize with the characters. Every character is an enigma, almost until the end, because the writer refuses to tip his hand about anything. This isn’t about trying to guess whodunit — it’s about understanding who these people are, how they relate to one another, and why the events in this story occur. If none of this is clear, why does anything in the story matter? The blunt answer is: it doesn’t.
Of course, this all goes back to the theme, but the theme itself begs the question: if this script is an intense exploration of reality versus fiction, why does most of it read like a third-rate Agatha Christie knockoff? It might have been interesting, or at least more entertaining, if the writer had explored how “real” characters might react being thrust into a convoluted Christie-like mystery, but that’s not how the story plays out.
February 3, 2010
Author: David Loucka
Writer’s Potential: 6
Logline:After moving to a new town, a teenage girl befriends the lone survivor of a grisly mass murder, unaware that he has many dark secrets.
Synopsis:In suburban Connecticut, a MOTHER and FATHER are roused in the middle of the night by their teen daughter, MARY JANE, who mumbles incoherently, obviously disturbed. The parents aregue about who should handle it, but before either of them get the chance, Mary Jane kills them both with a hammer before running out into the woods and disappearing. A few years later, ELISSA DONNELLY (16) and her mother, SARAH, travel from Pennsylvania to Woodshire, Connecticut, an old small town. While Sarah marvels at how clean and serene the place is, Elissa complains about how boring it seems. They pull up to their new house, and Elissa is finally impressed — the place is huge. Sarah comments that the house next door was the site of a gruesome murder a few years ago, which drove the property values way down. Over dinner, Sarah takes potshots at Elissa’s absent rock-singer father, to Elissa’s irritation. That night, Sarah sees a car pull up to the house next door. Someone goes into the house. She calls the realtor and learns that RYAN CRAWLEY (19), the son of the couple who was slain by their disturbed daughter, lives there.
Sarah and Elissa enjoy a welcoming barbecue at the Reynolds’ house. KERRI and her husband, BEN, seem like nice people. More than that, their son TYLER is an athlete and an honor roll student. Elissa finds herself attracted to Tyler and is quietly excited when he flirts with her. While they eat, Kerri and the neighbors complain about the Crawley house and the fact that Ryan refuses to sell it. Elissa learns that Ryan missed out on the murder after the Crawleys sent her to an aunt, because their daughter Mary Jane was such a handful. When Elissa finds out Mary Jane was schizophrenic, she wonders why they didn’t put her into a hospital. Nobody knows. What they do know is they want to burn the house down to bring their property values back up. After the barbecue, Sarah and Elissa decide they don’t like their neighbors, although Elissa does sort of like Tyler. The next morning, Sarah prepares for her first day of work — at the radiology lab at the local hospital — while Elissa prepares for her first day of school. They’re both amazed by the size and pristine condition of the high school.
Tyler invites Elissa to a meeting of his friends’ Famine Relief Group. Elissa agrees. After school, Tyler introduces Elissa to his friends. The Famine Relief Group is actually a secret party at the house of whoevers parents aren’t home. Rather than beating the streets for donation, the “group” just asks Tyler’s dad for the money and spends their time partying. Elissa’s uncomfortable with the arrangement, but Tyler convinces her to stay, though she won’t drink or smoke pot. Elissa goes into the bathroom, where she finds JILLIAN vomiting. Annoyed at how wasted everyone is, Elissa tries to leave. Tyler doesn’t want her to. He takes her phone and feels her up, so she smashes him in the crotch and flees the party, accidentally breaking a lamp. Outside, Elissa realizes she doesn’t know her way home. Ryan pulls up in his car, freaking her out until he introduces himself. She accepts a ride home. Ryan is awkward and seems a little creepy, but Elissa doesn’t notice — she’s attracted to his shy yet wounded demeanor. Ryan says he’s heard Elissa singing from his house. She says she wants to start a band here, but she doesn’t know enough people. Ryan drops Elissa off. Sarah spots them and thinks it’s Tyler’s mom. When she finds out it’s Ryan, she’s not happy, fearing Elissa is falling back to the same routines that drove them to move away from the city. Elissa goes to her room and sings, strumming her guitar. Sarah’s okay with this until she spots Ryan watching her from his house.
The next day at school, Elissa is an instant outcast. She bonds with Jillian, a sympathetic ex-girlfriend of Tyler’s. They become fast friends. At the hospital, Sarah befriends a local cop, WEAVER. She asks him about the Crawleys. Weaver’s sympathetic to Ryan’s reasons for not selling the house. He thinks the neighbors are a bunch of assholes for going to such great lengths to push him out of town and buy his house out from under him. Sensing an attraction, he apologizes for his brazen attitude. After school, Elissa drops by Ryan’s house as he’s unloading a huge amount of groceries. She’s made him a mix CD. She looks around the house cautiously and finds that it’s frozen in time, about 20 years out of date. Ryan treats the murder of his family with dark humor, impressing Elissa. She turns on the mix CD, but when she notices him getting lost in seemingly deep emotion, she turns it off. Ryan allows her to see the room where the murder took place — now empty, except for a dark brown stain. It creeps Elissa out, but she’s still strangely attracted to Ryan. As soon as she leaves, Ryan creeps into a mysterious bedroom, where he has Mary Jane chained to the bed. She’s violent and crazy until he injects her with a dose of sedatives. She relaxes and asks about Ryan’s new friend. Ryan gives her enough medication to knock her out.
Sarah gently warns Elissa not to get too close to Ryan — he’s too old for her, and he’s not a lost puppy they can rescue. Woozy, Mary Jane awakens. As Ryan listens to the mix CD, he can’t hear her break free of her restraints and sneak out of the house. When he discovers it, he chases her out into the woods and drags her back. Elissa hears the scuffle but can’t see what’s happening or even recognize it as people. The next day, Elissa and Jillian walk through the woods, talking about Ryan. They’re freaked out when they see a teen girl in a white dress wandering the woods. It turns out to be Jillian’s older brother, JAKE, who’s getting ready for Halloween. Elissa comes home to find Sarah invited Ryan over for dinner. Despite the fact that Ryan is going to community college to prepare for premed undergrad studies and going to regular therapy sessions, Sarah asks Ryan to leave Elissa alone. The dinner gets tense, so Ryan leaves, enraged. Elissa gets mad at Sarah for projecting her own fears onto Elissa.
After much effort, Elissa and Jillian find Ryan’s number and try to call it. The number’s been disconnected. Tyler and his friends come by and harass them. Elissa and Jillian happen to run into Ryan at a store in town. She apologizes for the dinner. Jillian notices Ryan is buying a puzzle, which he claims is for his aunt. Ryan gives them a ride home. After he drops off Jillian, Elissa goes back to Ryan’s house with him. Ryan wonders why she’s so nice to him. Elissa tries to dance around the answer by kissing him. This moves them in the direction of sex, but Mary Jane breaks out of her room and grabs a carving knife. Elissa doesn’t see this, but Ryan does, so he throws Elissa out of the house abruptly. Mary Jane runs out into the woods again. Ryan follows her, but this time he accidentally kills her. Panic-stricken, he puts the body in his trunk and races back home. While in the garage contemplating what to do with the body, Ryan hears Elissa outside. She’s seen the light in the garage and yells an apology. Ryan doesn’t answer. He pulls a gorgeous high-end wig off Mary Jane’s bald head and sets it aside, packing the car with syringes and toys and any other evidence of Mary Jane’s presence other than the wig. He plots a course to the mountains of Maine. There, he buries Mary Jane. On his way back, he stops in Portland and flirts with a pretty 17-year-old waitress.
Over the course of the week that Ryan is gone, Jillian formally introduces Elissa to Jake and his buddy, ROBBIE (who’s instantly smitten). They start playing in a band together. After rigorous practicing, they decide they’re ready for the Battle of the Bands. Ryan calls Elissa, claiming his aunt (the one who likes puzzles) died, which is why he left town. He apologizes. Elissa is immediately back to her focus on Ryan, to the chagrin of her new bandmates. Jillian doesn’t believe Ryan’s story, but Elissa does. They prepare for the Battle of the Bands in the gymnasium. Ryan shows up to support Elissa, but Elissa spots him out in the hall being harassed by Tyler. Ryan storms outside, angry. Tyler and his friends follow, saying hostile things about Elissa until Ryan snaps and beats the hell out of Tyler, viciously snapping his ankle. He’s rushed to the emergency room. Elissa is shocked to find that it’s Tyler, not Ryan, who’s lying on the ground in pain. She races into the woods and finds Ryan. When Tyler arrives at the ER, Sarah is his X-Ray tech. She’s horrified by what Ryan has done — it confirms all her suspicions about him. Worse than that, Weaver mentions offhandedly that Ryan isn’t in therapy or community college.
Elissa and Ryan go back to the Crawley house. Ryan is terrified that he’ll be arrested. Before they can dwell on it, Tyler’s friends throw rocks in the windows, toilet paper the trees, and light his garbage on fire before dumping it all on the lawn. Elissa chases them away and helps Ryan clean up. She notices some odd trash — nail polish, old syringes, vials, and an empty box of tampons. Ryan sends Elissa home when Weaver pulls up to talk to Ryan about the fight. She’s terrified. Sarah shows Elissa photos of Tyler’s leg to shock her into dropping Ryan. The next day, Elissa ditches school. She waits for Ryan to leave the house and sneaks inside, searching for Mary Jane. Down in the cellar, she finds drag marks by the clothes drier. Behind it is a panel, which leads to the secret bedroom of Mary Jane. Elissa is shocked. Ryan arrives shortly thereafter — he’s angry but not psychotic. Elissa tries to convince Ryan to take her to a hospital, where she can get proper treatment. Ryan blames himself for her problems. In flashbacks, we see him at 7, playing rough with a younger Mary Jane, accidentally dropping her from some swings. After he sends Elissa out of the room, Ryan beats on Mary Jane — knocking out one of her sparkling blue contact lenses.
Upstairs, Ryan hugs Elissa sympathetically and finds the contact lens. Realizing the truth, more flashbacks reveal that Mary Jane died, after which his parents dressed Ryan as Mary Jane and forced her to live as their daughter, as punishment for what he did. The identity issue drove him insane. It was Ryan who killed his parents, before coming back years later as Ryan. Elissa has lost her sympathy, so Ryan has no choice but to lock her in the room — but the other Mary Jane is gone. Ryan shoves blue contacts into Elissa’s eyes and shaves her head. He’s interrupted by the doorbell. It’s Sarah and Weaver, searching for Elissa. Acting normally, Ryan lets them search the house. Meanwhile, Elissa breaks free of her restraints and finds her way into a dank series of tunnels built under the Crawley house. It’s here that Elissa finds the former Mary Jane — ostensibly the waitress from Portland — who is disoriented from the drugs. Elissa helps her move through the tunnels, trying to find escape, but it’s a maze filled with hidden dead bodies.
Unable to find any escape, Elissa hears the sound of her mother through the pipes. She takes the girl back through the tunnels and up into the house. Ryan kills Weaver, and just before he can get to Sarah, Elissa hurls an ax through his neck. The FBI digs up the tunnels, finding body after body. They send out a multi-state alert for missing bodies. Elissa and Sarah watch as the waitress is reunited with her terrified parents. A closing scene depicts a grainy home movie of Ryan/Mary Jane’s mother violently beating him, forcing him to wear the wig and act the part of Mary Jane.
Comments:House at the End of the Street strives to be a modern riff on classic suspense thrillers. The story starts with all the right elements, but the third act throws the “modern riff” idea out the window and relies on too many derivative clichés of the genre. As written, it merits a pass.
The first act opens with one of the most well-worn staples of this genre: a grisly murder scene shrouded in mystery, followed immediately by a family moving to a new town. This allows the new people to learn all about the mystery and attempt to draw conclusions based on hearsay and speculation. Although it’s all been done before, the writers combine some fresh takes on old favorites with novel parallels between characters like Tyler and Ryan and the Donnellys and the Crawleys.
The second act settles into an redundant pattern, however. Ryan does something moderately creepy yet easily explainable, Elissa doesn’t find it creepy, and then she consults with Sarah and/or friends, who insist the behavior is indeed creepy, yet Elissa refuses to believe it. It gets tiresome after the third or fourth repeated incident. Although Ryan’s weird behavior escalates — unknown by Elissa until the third act — the writer tips his hand about Mary Jane not being Mary Jane far too soon, robbing Ryan’s struggle to hide her body of any real suspense.
Although the first and second acts are a mixed bag, the third act is a total disaster. For starters, the twist that Ryan spent ages 7-15 impersonating Mary Jane (including killing his parents in that persona) is lifted wholesale from Psycho, one of the most well-known suspense thriller in the history of cinema. Adding insult to injury, the idea that he would go from impersonating Mary Jane to killing teen girls and forcing them to impersonate Mary Jane — all the while returning to the mild-mannered “Ryan” persona with ease — doesn’t ring true. Since these are the big mysteries the story builds to, the fact that they fall flat does a real disservice to the overall narrative. Beyond this, the third act leans heavily on dusty clichés: forcing the heroine to “become” Mary Jane, secret underground tunnels, hapless innocents unaware they’ve walked into a trap, the last-second murder of the big villain in order to save those innocents… All of these moments have been seen before, and the writer does nothing to innovate the conventions or defy expectations.
It’s ironic, considering how muddled and thin Ryan’s psychotic personality is, that the writer devotes so much time to explaining Elissa’s “caretaker” personality. Although he does use her actions to demonstrate this personality, the script includes at least five largely on-the-nose conversations explaining her caretaker tendencies. She’s a character with a fair amount of depth, but repeatedly hammering home this one trait is overkill, especially when it doesn’t add much but a cheap pop-psychology explanation for why she’d find Ryan attractive. It’s not far-fetched to assume a teenage girl would find an older man of mystery attractive, with or without a “caretaker” explanation.
The supporting characters are a mixed bag. As nuanced and subtle as characters like Sarah and Weaver are, the script is also populated with obnoxious stereotypes like Tyler and his parents. While they don’t have much story time, it would have been nice if the writer had tried a little harder to present them as believable people instead of caricatures of provincial yuppies.
Author: Gilles Paquet-Brenner & Serge Joncour
Writer’s Potential: 7
Logline:In 2009 Paris, an American journalist traces the story of a Jewish girl whose family was rounded up during the Holocaust.
Synopsis:In July of 1942, French police come to the Starzynskis’ apartment with orders to take them, along with any other Jewish families in the area. SARAH (10) and her younger brother, MICHEL, hear the police outside and mistake them for their father. MRS. STARZYNSKI, their mother, answers the door. The police want to speak to the head of the household, but she says he’s not there. Frantic, knowing what’s coming, Sarah forces Michel to hide in a closet. She locks it and hides the key, promising to come back later and get him. She returns to the police, and Mrs. Starzynski announces that she doesn’t know where her husband and son are. In the courtyard outside, the apartment concierge rats out all the Jewish families as the police bring them down and line the tearful, frightened people. Because of the heat, the concierge assumes MR. STARZYNSKI slept in the cellar, where it’s cooler. The police don’t need to look — a stoic Mr. Starzynski emerges from the cellar and joins his family. Meanwhile, Michel is alone and terrified in the closet.
In 2009, JULIA JARMOND (40s, an American who has lived in Paris for 20 years) and her family (husband BERTRAND TEZAC, 50s, and daughter ZOE, 12) move into the Paris apartment owned by Bertrand’s family for years. They look around the musty old place, trying to assess what they can do to bring some modern flourishes to the place. Bertrand explains that his family struggled to keep up with the rent, but by the 1960s they had enough money to buy two adjoining apartments and convert it into one large flat. Julia works at a magazine called The Accidental Tourist. Her bosses gripe that the content is far too depressing, and they should focus more on the positive. When they see a blurb that courts have ruled in favor of a Holocaust survivor’s daughter in a case against the French government and transit authority, Julia and her editors are surprised that the younger employees are clueless about France’s role the “Vel d’Hiv” roundup that occurred in 1942. Julia wants to do a story on this, and her editors reluctantly agree.
In 1942, the Starzynskis are crammed into buses and led to the Velodrome d’Hiver, a huge cycling arena, where thousands of Jewish families have been crammed together. Sarah panics about leaving Michel behind in the locked closet. They watch a young brunette woman, ANNA, flirt her way into getting out of the hellish arena. Mr. Starzynski tries to go after her, desperate to give her the key to the closet, but Anna leaves and the police pounce on him. Starzynski turns his anger toward Sarah, further upsetting her. In 2009, Julia and photographer MIKE find the same area unsettling — the Vel d’Hiv is gone, replaced by a building for the minister of the interior. Julia appreciates the irony. At a nearby café, Julia and Mike are mistaken for Americans. They deny their heritage (Mike claims to be English, while Julia’s been in France so long that she passes as a native), then discuss the difficulties of being Americans in Paris. Julia asks the owner if any locals would be old enough to remember the roundup. The owner points her to an old woman, who describes the disturbing scene in detail: noisy and eerie, even from their distant, and within a couple of days they had to keep the windows shut despite the heat — not to block the noise but the smell. When Julia needles her about not doing anything, the old woman observes that they couldn’t exactly call the police.
In 1942, the Starzynskis are ushered onto a truck to a concentration camp in the country. Sarah has developed a fever. In 2009, Julia goes to a rest home to visit MAMé (90s), Bertrand’s grandmother. They talk about the apartment, and Julia’s surprised to learn they moved in during July of 1942. Mamé can’t recall the details of how or why they moved in at that particular time. Julia mentions it to Bertrand, who doesn’t find it strange. In 1942, by the time they arrive at the camp, Sarah’s fever has gotten much worse. The police have little interest. They divide the women and children from the men. Mr. Starzynski doesn’t want to leave his wife and daughter, but he has no choice. In 2009, Julia and Bertrand have dinner. When Bertrand doesn’t recall the significance of the restaurant, Julia observes that it’s the same place where she caught him having an affair some time ago. Bertrand is humiliated. Julia announces she’s pregnant, something they both thought was impossible because of complications with Zoe. Bertrand is not pleased with the news. He fears they’re too old to have a new child. He strongly hints that she should have an abortion. Angered, Julia storms out of the restaurant.
In 1942, Sarah’s fever has gotten so bad, she’s barely lucid. Mrs. Starzynski realizes the men’s barracks are empty. She faintly wonders why Dad went home without taking the key. German officers arrive and split the women and children camp: children under 12 in one barracks, 13 and up in the other. Mrs. Starzynski’s reluctance to part with Sarah causes officers to tear them apart. Sarah drops the key. Struggling on the ground, Sarah uses her last ounce of strength to grab the key. A REDHEADED OFFICER steps on her hand, crushing it. She stares at him, dazed. Ashamed, he removes his hand. In 2009, Julia visits FRANCK LEVY, a researcher who knows a great deal about the Holocaust. He helps Julia trace the history of the Tezacs’ apartment, to see if their apartment belonged to any Jewish families ousted during the war. Levy finds three families in the building and asks Julia what floor they live on.
In 1942, Sarah has managed to get over her fever. RACHEL, another 10-year-old, watches over her. Sarah wonders where all the adults have gone. Rachel’s surprised that Sarah doesn’t remember — but when Sarah thinks about it, she does, and it haunts her. From the other side of the barbed-wire fence, women toss food to the children. Officers chase them away and try to keep the kids away, but the Redheaded Officer takes pity on Sarah and Rachel, quietly kicking them an apple and some bread. Sarah and Rachel hatch an escape plan after finding a gap in the barbed-wire fence and determining that if they wear layers of clothes, they can make it through uninjured and run to freedom. Rachel is uncertain about the plan, but Sarah is obsessed with getting back to Michel. They get to the hole, and Rachel gets stuck. Sarah tries to push her through, but it’s too late — the Redheaded Officer catches them and tries to pull them away. Sarah begs him for help, and he takes pity on them yet again, holding the barbed wire and keeping watch until they get through and make it to the wheat fields beyond the camp. They run through the forest, make it to a pond (where they get much-needed water and are able to bathe), and find a corn field beyond that. They arrive at a farm belong to JULES and his wife, GENEVIEVE. Rachel’s fallen sick, but the farmers send them away without help.
In 2009, Julia mentions Bertrand’s abortion desire to her sister, ALICE (40s, living in New York). Alice tells Julia to do what she needs to do, not what Bertrand wants her to do. Julia and Mike arrive at Beaune-la-Rolande, a village near the concentration camp. A plaque lists the names of victims who passed through the camp. They find the Starzinskys — the names Levy gave Julia — but Sarah’s is not on it. Julia suspects she escaped. In 1942, Sarah and Rachel refuse to leave the farmer. Reluctantly, Jules and Genevieve take pity, especially when they see how ill Rachel is. Jules refuses to get the doctor, because he speaks with the Germans a little too much. Untrusting, Sarah gives a fake name. When the couple sees the Rachel is likely dying, they finally give up and call the doctor and hide Sarah in the basement. The doctor brings German officers. Rachel dies in their care. Willing to trust them, Sarah tells the couple her real name.
In 2009, Julia visits Mamé and is surprised to find EDOUARD (70s, Mamé’s son and Bertrand’s father) waiting for her. She’s been ducking his phone calls. He accosts her for putting the family into turmoil because of her research into the apartment. In 1942, Julies and Genevieve dress Sarah up like a boy and take her to Paris. The police and German officers pay little mind, although the trio are tense throughout. In 2009, Edouard explains that he and his father knew about the Starzynskis, but only after the fact. In 1942, a nine-year-old Edouard opens the door to find Sarah, Jules, and Genevieve. Sarah immediately rushes into the house, pulls a bookshelf out from in front of the closet, and unlocks the door — to find Michel’s bloated, unrecognizable corpse. She’s horrified. In 2009, Edouard explains that when they moved in, they found a dead cat and attributed the horrific smell to it. They’d only been there a few days before Sarah showed up. Edouard tells Julia that nobody knows this — it’s been his secret since his father died. Feeling guilty, Edouard allows Julia to go through his father’s personal files, something he’s been too afraid to do.
Bertrand surprises Julia with a romantic dinner, but it ends in a fight — she’s angry at his attempts at romance despite the fact that she’s getting an abortion in a week. Julia reads through Edouard’s father’s files and finds that he sent 100 francs to Sarah each month. As Julia reads the letters, flashbacks show her getting on with her life — helping the family with the farming, befriending her new cousins, seeming to enjoy herself, but still haunted with a deep sadness. After the war, they visit the D-Day beaches. Sarah decides she wants to start traveling. In 2009, Julia has impressed the entire editorial staff with her emotional, well-written article. Even though she’s done with the article, Julia continues researching, trying to track down living relatives of the cousins mentioned in the letter. Julia stays overnight in a clinic for her abortion. While in the clinic, Julia gets a call from NATHALIE, the granddaughter of one of the cousins. She leaves without getting the abortion. Nathalie disappoints Julia by explaining that her grandfather hasn’t heard from Sarah in 50 years. She left in 1953 with no forwarding address, and two years later sent a wedding announcement from Connecticut as Sarah Rainsferd.
Without telling anyone in her family, Julia jets off to New York and meets up with Alice, who has found all eight Rainsferds in Connecticut. Julia beats the streets trying to find the right one. Eventually, she finds one who has European relatives — but the woman is Italian, not French. However, this is the right family. This MRS. RAINSFERD married MR. RAINSFERD after Sarah died in 1968, the victim of a car accident. Flashbacks reveal that Sarah had become a pill-popping drunk and hints that her death may have been a suicide. Mrs. Rainsferd puts Julia in contact with WILLIAM, the son of Sarah and Mr. Rainsferd. He’s living in Italy, so she jets off there. Meanwhile, Zoe has found out about the baby and gripes to Julia about keeping secrets but admits she’ll be happy to have a brother or sister. Julia’s meeting with William is uncomfortable. He’s gregarious and fun-loving — until she starts showing her research into Sarah’s past. William thinks she has the wrong man, until he shows her a photo of Sarah from 1942. It’s clearly his mother, but he thinks the photo is fake.
Upset, Julia returns to Paris empty-handed. Bertrand is livid that she’d run off all over the world without even consulting with anyone. They agree the marriage is over. At the Rainsferds’ Connecticut home, William shows up and talks to his father about Sarah. He describes the first time he met her, having fun with her at a dance hall despite her obvious underlying sadness. He explains how much energy he devoted to erasing that sadness, but he just couldn’t. Mr. Rainsferd hands William a diary Sarah kept from childhood through young adulthood. Inside is the key.
Two years later, Julia and Zoe have moved to New York. Zoe isn’t happy there. Julia and her two-year-old meet with William. William keeps thinking the baby’s name is “Lucy,” and he doesn’t quite understand when Julia repeatedly insists that Lucy is the name of the baby’s stuffed giraffe. After William apologizes, he says he found Starzynski cousins in Israel who made it through the Holocaust. Julia is happy that the Rainsferds have found some peace with this knowledge, since it destroyed Julia’s family. William is shocked and overcome with emotion when he learns the baby is actually named Sarah. He thanks Julia.
Comments:Sarah’s Key aspires to tell the story of French compliance with the Nazi round-up of Jews through the eyes of an innocent 10-year-old girl. The story set in 1942 is fascinating and remarkable, but it’s intercut with a present-day subplot that serves as a huge distraction to the real heart of the story. As written, it merits a consider.
The first act sets up the parallel stories: Sarah’s family is rounded up, while Julia and her family move into the same apartment nearly 70 years later. From the start, Julia’s storyline detracts from the 1942 storyline. Aside from a few disheartening scenes pointing out how France seems to have forgotten their role in the extermination of Jews, the subplot adds nothing to what’s occurring in the past. Despite the fact that most of Julia’s story revolves around digging up information on Sarah, it never quite connects to Sarah’s storyline in a more meaningful way than simply providing on-the-nose information about the past.
As a result, Sarah’s story feels relegated to a few key sequences, while in the present, characters talk ad nauseam about what happened years ago. Julia interviewing for a story is a crutch that allows the present-day figures to deliver long monologues instead of finding more natural ways to inform the audience. It would be much more interesting, and likely have greater emotional impact, to see these conversations dramatized rather than simply described.
In the third act, the script virtually abandons the past, focusing solely on Julia’s quest to find Sarah’s relatives. As the writer reveals more information about Sarah’s post-war life, it’s clear that they’re telling the wrong story. Sarah’s life, from her harrowing escape to her tragic suicide, is endlessly fascinating, if a bit depressing. Julia’s story could never hope to be this interesting, so it’s frustrating that the writers spend so much time with her at the expense of Sarah.
It feels like Julia and Sarah should share some kind of bond that spans generations, cultures, and religions. They don’t. Aside from her investigative reporter traits, Julia has no clear reason to get so obsessive about learning Sarah’s story. Julia is, quite simply, never shown having any sort of emotional connection to the research — aside from the obvious sympathy any human would feel for children forced into such horrific circumstances. Such a connection would help greatly in showing why anyone in the audience should care about Julia’s story at all. Without it, the 2009 sequences feel like a distraction to lazily spoonfeed information to the audience, rather than finding more compelling ways to reveal the information.
As mentioned, what is learned about Sarah is exceptionally interesting — but the script doesn’t spend nearly enough time with her or her story. Her traumatic childhood led to a troubled adulthood that ended too early. That’s the stuff of great drama, so why do the writers shy away from it? They seem to believe the heart of the story is the mystery of what happened to Sarah after the war. Her life is the heart of the story, not the investigation into it.
However, the possibility exists that a great director and exceptional acting can overcome the narrative obstacles. Beyond that, the script is adapted from a bestselling novel that, one assumes, follows the same Julia-Sarah split narrative. If people liked the novel, they will come to the movie.
February 2, 2010
Author: Benoît Philippon
Writer’s Potential: 6
Logline:When demons steal the sun and the moon, two sworn guardians set off to retrieve them.
Synopsis:On a planet that resembles Earth but has different continental shapes, a huge comet whizzes through the sky. The planet’s inhabitants — anthropomorphic creatures who are all made out of natural substances like dirt, plants, or water — see this as a sign from the gods to select new guardians of the sun and moon. A square-jawed, cocky blacksmith, SOHONE, thinks he’s the obvious choice to guard the sun. He and the other villagers go to an arena where competitions to select the guardians will take place (like a fantastical Olympics). Meanwhile, HYUL, the current moon guardian, asks the moon for guidance in selecting his replacement. The moon reveals the path to MUNE, a sweet but introverted kid. Hyul isn’t sure. He joins XOLAL, the sun guardian, at the arena. Sohone competes — he’s clearly the favorite, but MOX tries hard to outrank him. Mox is a demon currently disguised as a cherub. With his cronies SPLEEN (depressed) and ULLULA (a proudly independent girl), he intends to cheat his way to the guardian slot.
GLIM, a girl made of wax, desperately wants to see the championship games, but her father won’t let her leave the house. She’s to stay indoors, where fans can keep her cool. Angered by his controlling attitude, Glim leaves the house and immediately starts to melt. Glim’s father drags her back inside and begins to massage her shape back to normal before the wax hardens. She’s allowed to go to the “night side” of the arena, which is positioned right at the divide between day and night (depicted more like the moon than Earth). Ullula begins to compete for the moon guardian, but Hyul is unimpressed with her or anyone else. When Mox loses to Sohone, he joins the moon guardian competition. The final event is to stand in a pond of water and wait for a fawn to approach the purest of heart. Obviously that’s not Mox, Ullula, or Spleen — but it’s not anybody else, either. Frustrated, Hyul calls for the moon to send them the right man for the job. The moon dispatches a flurry of bats, who drop Mune into a pond. The fawn responds instantly.
Sohone smugly tells Mune not to make him look bad. The elder guardians lead them to their guardian temples, to show them the ropes. Mox, Spleen, and Ullula transform back to their regular forms, creatures made of lava (which appears hard and ashy on the surface but red and bubbling when they’re in hell). They’re accosted by NECROSS, the Lord of Darkness, who sent them to retrieve the sun. Without the sun in his possession, Necross will never be able to take over the world. He gives them one more chance. Spleen pops antidepressants like candy. Mune is panicky and neurotic in his post. Eventually, he can’t take the distance from the moon anymore. He goes out to the forest and climbs the tallest tree. He reaches up to the sky — and it turns out the stars and moon are tiny and within reach. Mune grabs the soccer ball sized moon and hides it back in the temple, unaware that he’s plunged the entire night half of the planet into total darkness — and has also stopped the movement of the ocean, among other things. Sohone notices the changes right away and knows something’s up. Unwilling to abandon the sun, he throws a huge chain around it and carries it like a helium balloon to the moon temple.
While Sohone and Mune argue, Mox and company steal the sun. This causes a slight tremor as the planet stops revolving — it no longer has anything to revolve around. It also plunges the entire planet into complete darkness — well, except the forest, which Mox sets on fire. Mune goes into the forest to ask the woodland creatures for help. Together, they slowly get the wildfire under control. Thrilled to have the sun back, Necross tosses it into a pit of lava, which will slowly destroy it. Once the fire’s out, Sohone realizes the sun is missing. The woodland creatures tell Mune (who can communicate with them) that it’s fallen into Necross’s hands. Mune agrees to help Sohone find the sun. Sohone balks at it until Glim shows up. Mune is immediately attracted, but Glim ignores him for Sohone. She wants to join the three of them to help get the sun back. Looking for a light source, Mune calls a bunch of fireflies to lead them on their path. Mune leads them to the ocean, where many creatures that have never seen the sun live. They find most of the fish are gone, spooked by the lack of waves, but Glim is attacked by a giant squid. Mune saves her, but Sohone takes the credit. As they’re ready to leave, PHOSPHO, a sea creature whose bioluminescence will light their journey, reveals himself. He agrees to help them by calling “shadow soldiers” to help them.
Meanwhile, in Necross’s creepy laboratory, Mox learns the hellish research on how to destroy the planet with carbon emissions, radiation, and chemical waste. Necross explains that it will take seven days for the sun to burn out completely, so he’s merely waiting before sending his troops to the surface. Mox warns that the guardians have banded together to stop them. Ullula suggests stealing the moon and keeping it as a hostage. Necross thinks that’s a great idea and sends them on their way. Phospho leads the guardians and Glim to the Land of Shadows, where the brightness of his body lures out the shadow warriors — which includes shadows of themselves. Sohone’s shadow immediately attacks the real Sohone. Phospho commands them all with authority. Glim’s attraction shifts to Mune, which Sohone doesn’t like at all.
Birds warn Mune about Spleen being sent to retrieve the moon. Phospho sends Mune and Glim to recover it, while he leads Sohone toward hell to retrieve the sun. Mox and Ullula enter the “forbidden territory,” a land where illusions drive people insane, and take two mysterious doors. They go to a crossroads marking the forbidden territory in one direction and the Doors of Darkness in the other, and use the doors to create the illusion that switch the directions — leading Phospho and Sohone right into the forbidden territory. Glim has trouble keeping up with Mune, but Mune doesn’t want to slow down for fear that Spleen will get to the moon before they do. Another group of bats come and pull them off their feet, in the direction of the moon temple. As they enter the Path of Illusions, Phospho imagines a churning sea that he’s desperate to get back to, but Sohone points out that it’s nothing but jagged rocks at the bottom of a steep cliff.
Spleen gets to the moon first and takes it to a hidden cave. Trying to figure out where to hide it, Spleen recalls a conversation with his therapist and decides the solution will be inside it. He figures out a way to hide the moon within his own nightmares. Mune finds Spleen in his hidden cavern and demands to know where the moon is. Sohone hallucinates seeing the sun behind a tree. When he reaches the tree, he finds a perfect replica of himself. Sohone draws his sword and fights his double. From the perspective of the others, he’s merely hitting himself with a sword. Phospho realizes they’re on the Path of Illusions. Only the shadows can keep their sanity, because illusions don’t cast shadows. Sohone’s Shadow tries to keep their sanity in check, but when that doesn’t work, he knocks them unconscious. In the cavern, Spleen explains what he did with the moon. While Glim watches over them, Mune and Spleen both take a sleeping agent. Mune enters Spleen’s nightmare world. It’s a strange desert world full of creepy flying worms and distorted, terrifying variants of people Spleen knows in real life. They run through a lava labyrinth until they reach an alley where the moon is hidden — but they’re accosted by dozens of huge, terrifying Necrosses. Unable to wake up, Mune decides to take control of the dream, showing Spleen a happy dream for the first time in his life. The landscape changes to a more pleasant, serene environment, and the Necrosses turn into harmless children. Spleen is thrilled to see this.
Mune finally wakes, to see Glim smiling at him. Mune explains that Spleen has decided he’d rather stay in his dream world. Spleen slowly vanishes. Glim thinks it’d be smart to hide the moon in her own dream. They fall asleep together, and Mune sees Glim’s dream: that the two of them will fall in love and spend a long, happy life together, dancing under the light of the moon. An elderly version of Glim gives Mune a key — the key to her dreams. Within the dream, Mune and Glim case. They’re startled awake by Mox and Ullula, who have bound and gagged them. Mox and Ullula take the sleeping agent, but it doesn’t work. They pick up and Mune and Glim to take them back to hell — when they both drop into slumber. Glim uses their lava base to melt herself enough to get out of the ropes. She frees Mune, and they race to the Earth’s core. Meanwhile, Phospho, Sohone, and the shadows arrive in the Valley of Death as the weather conditions grow increasingly cold and bitter. The sun is dying. Sohone tries to cut their way through a bramble patch, but he’s losing his strength as the sun dies. They finally make it to a ravine. Across a bridge are the Doors of Darkness, but as they cross, the bridge and ravine seem to expand exponentially. Mune and Glim arrive on the other side of the bridge, just in time to see it snap under the pressure. Before they can die, THE WIND sweeps them back up and offers assistance. Beyond the Doors of Darkness, they find…an elevator. They get in and take it down to the core.
The heat terrifies Glim, so The Wind surrounds her to keep her cool. Necross announces to his men that it’s finally time to unleash their numbers on the unsuspecting population. Their research into climate change and unnatural destruction will only aid their victory. When Sohone hears this, he gets angry and attacks Necross. They fight, but Sohone is weakened. It’s quite a struggle. Phosphos tries to enter the fray but fails. Meanwhile, Mune and Glim lead the shadows down to the lab, where they finally find the Corridor of Hell. Simultaneously, Sohone and Necross arrive their in their battle. They finally reach the sun, in a cage at the end of the corridor, and see a tiny flicker of light from it. Mox and Ullula get in the way, fighting with Mune and Sohone. Glim, meanwhile, sees what must be done — they can’t get the cage open, so she makes the choice to sacrifice herself to save the sun. She sends The Wind away and melts her way through the bars. She attaches herself to the candle and orders them to blow on it. The Wind springs into action, surrounding the “candle” and quickly bringing it back to life. The sudden brightness and positive energy annihilates the demons for good.
Mune puts Glim in a jar, and the wind ushers them all back to the surface. Mune uses the key to Glim’s dreams to retrieve the moon. In the night half of the planet, he and The Wind reshape Glim into her old self, but she doesn’t reanimate. Mune decides to crumble bits of the moon over it, hoping the moon dust will bring her back to life. It does! They share a warm hug and kiss. Phospho and Sohone watch. Sohone is somewhat happy for them. He returns to his temple. Phospho returns to the sea, and The Wind moves into the forest, creating a gentle breeze on the trees. With the sun shining once again, the Earth begins to reenergize, slowly but surely, starting its revolution and its tides once again. Under the light of the moon, Mune and Glim dance, clearly in love.
Comments:Mune is a visually compelling, sometimes clever children’s story. However, its adult themes take up too much of the story to engage kids, but the story is too simplistic and childlike for adults to enjoy. As written, it merits a pass.
The first act possesses a great deal of visual flair and imagination. Using the ancient notion of solar and lunar gods to drive an adventure about the theft of the sun and moon is a really interesting idea that could easily appeal to kids. Unfortunately, in the effort to add variety to the visuals, the writer frequently loses focus on the story itself in order to concentrate on the unique locations and characters found throughout this story. It’s very vivid and will undoubtedly be animated with a great deal of care — but the visuals don’t make the story compelling.
More than that, in the second act, the visuals take a turn for the creepy, which immediately loses a younger audience. One of the central locations is hell, and two of the big set-pieces involve terrifying hallucinations and even more terrifying nightmares. It’s the kind of material that will give kids actual nightmares, which likely isn’t the desired goal. In that same vein, though, the writer injects an unsubtle political statement throughout the second half about the dangers of global warming that is bound to bore kids and annoy parents. It also doesn’t quite fit the story, which takes place in a world where man-made pollutants don’t exist and the only climate change they need to worry about is the permanent winter caused by the theft of their sun.
The third act succeeds, more or less. The fight sequences and suspense during the showdown with Necross and the race to reignite the son all work fine. However, the writer devotes too much energy to the love story between Mune and Glim. As with other aspects of the story, the writer mostly plays it as too adult for kids to enjoy. There’s nothing depraved or sexual about it, but it’s a surprisingly complex love story — too complex for kids, but too simplified to engage adults. Similarly, the Earth’s core/hell setting in the third act might unnerve kids, although not as much as Spleen’s nightmares.
Personality-wise, the characters are mostly clownish stereotypes, but that’s not a bad thing for this type of story. The writer does give each character fun, unique physical attributes — Glim’s candle wax physique, Sohone made mostly of armor, the demons’ lava skin — which makes them all a bit more interesting and unusual than one might expect.
While the core personal conflict between Mune and Sohone — one shy, one arrogant — comes across well, it’s worth noting that Mune lacks any sort of ambition or interest in what he’s doing. He’s the quiet, bookish type, but he doesn’t yearn to be more like Sohone (thus setting up an intent to prove himself on this adventure) or have any real goals, other than retrieving the sun and moon. On the one hand, it’s nice that the writer avoids the cliché of the nerd wanting to be cool and athletic. On the other, it’s hard to get invested in the character — even on a kid level — when he seems to have no interests or goals to drive a change within him over the course of the story. In fact, he doesn’t change much at all after proving his worth to Glim in the first act. It would have been nice to see a more meaningful transformation in his personality that kids can empathize with or aspire to achieve in their own lives.
The visuals are wonderful, but overall, it’s hard to imagine the creepy imagery and too-adult-for-young-kids tone finding a sizable audience.
Author: Ian Hefler & Jay Reiss
Writer’s Potential: 3
Logline:Over the holidays, two families are turned upside-down when the daughter from one brood has an affair with the patriarch of the other.
Synopsis:VANESSA SCHIFF (22) narrates: in West Orange, New Jersey, the Schiffs and the Basses live across the street from one another. CAROL BASS is a focus group coordinator who’s a terrible listener, TERRY BASS is gadget-obsessed, PAIGE SCHIFF is a “Christmas-aholic” whose life revolves around a caroling group, and DAVID SCHIFF is a workaholic not out of ambition but to ignore failing marriage. Vanessa lives at home and works at Ikea because she wants to be an interior designer. The Basses’ daughter, NINA, has been gone for five years. She and Vanessa used to be best friends, until Nina ditched her for a more popular crowd and gave a handjob to a guy Vanessa liked. Nobody knows much about her life, other than that she’s traveling the world.
Right now, Nina’s in San Francisco, living with pretentious photographer ETHAN (27). It’s her birthday, and he throws her a surprise party. Terry has set up a pointlessly elaborate cell phone/speakerphone infrastructure, so both the Basses and the Schiffs (including a reluctant Vanessa) can wish Nina a happy birthday. Carol tries to pressure Nina into coming home for Thanksgiving, because she hasn’t been home in five years, but Nina has no interest. In fact, she says, she can’t leave right now because Ethan proposed to her two weeks ago — they’re engaged! After the phone call, Nina catches Ethan fooling around on her. Enraged, she returns to West Orange.
It’s warm for late November, so Paige and Carol lay out a backyard barbecue while David and Terry hole up in David’s “man-cave,” a plasma-TV-dominated fortress of solitude that used to be a poolhouse. Nina shows up at her home, but nobody answers the door. Reluctantly, she crosses the street and rings the Schiffs’ bell. David answers, and Carol and Terry are overjoyed. They help Nina bring her luggage to her old room, which they’ve converted into a “second den,” as Carol and Nina have a sniping conversation about Nina’s plans for the future (she has none, except to get out of the house). The subject then turns to TOBY, Vanessa’s older brother, who’s essentially been waiting for Nina since she left. Carol thinks he’s a great catch (he’s “gotten very attractive” and has a good job), but Nina is openly hostile about the idea. Meanwhile, David tries to make romantic getaway plans and cozy up to Paige, who freezes him out.
Toby arrives in time for Thanksgiving dinner, and he is attractive and warm, confident yet unpretentious. Nina’s shocked. He announces business plans to go to China, which impresses both the Basses and the Schiffs. After dinner, David struggles to get ice cream out of the tub. Nina enters with dirty dishes and suggests running warm water over the spoon. David’s surprised and impressed, but Nina plays it off — she’s worked at a lot of restaurants. David is cautiously sympathetic about Ethan. Nina asks about David’s job, which is going well, and his marriage, which is not (but David tries to deny it). Paige interrupts, demanding to know why he hasn’t returned with dessert. After dessert, the families discuss Black Friday, a foreign concept to Nina. Paige is both excited by and obsessed with the day, making the others uncomfortable. Later, Toby and Nina get drunk and stoned. A lightweight, Toby passes out. Nina goes upstairs and finds David, making a late-night snack to take back to his man-cave. She tells him he shouldn’t, because she doesn’t think David would look good fat. After considering the option of going back to a passed-out Toby or following David to the man-cave, she opts for the latter. They share a brief, intense kiss.
The next afternoon, Carol and a hungover Nina overhear Paige returning from her shopping spree. Carol and Nina snipe at each other some more, until they’re interrupted by Toby, who invites Nina for a dinner date…with David and Paige. At the Schiffs’, Toby mentions the invitation, which leads to an argument with Vanessa, which in turn leads to Toby chastising her for continuing to work at Ikea. David doesn’t like the idea of the dinner date. After dinner, the foursome play a game, which Paige wins. When Paige and Toby go off to do the dishes, an uncomfortable David decides to go to the video store. Nina volunteers to go with him. In the car, they discuss the kiss — Nina insists it’s nothing, but David believes it was most definitely something. He doesn’t want it to happen again, but nonetheless they make out. The next day, Paige barks orders at David as he struggles to set up an elaborate Christmas lawn display. That night, Nina bails on a family dinner, claiming she’s going out with Toby. A surprised Terry tells Carol that Toby was called away to China early. She hops in her car and follows Nina, who receives an apologetic text message from Toby. She’s mortified but presses on, oblivious to Carol tailing her. Nina arrives at a motel. Carol spies her entering a room, then bumps into David, who holds an ice bucket engraved with the same room number.
Leaping to the obvious conclusion, Carol first vomits, then rushes home to tell Paige. David and Paige fight about it. David first plays it off as a simple kiss and a mistake, then tells Paige he’s not happy and that trust and commitment “aren’t enough” for him. Paige leaves. Nina deals with her enraged parents, who are flummoxed to discover she doesn’t see this as a simple mistake or moment of passion. She goes across the street to David’s house. They share an awkward but tender moment, interrupted by a disgusted Vanessa. After an obscenity-laced tirade from Vanessa, Terry arrives to get into an awkward fistfight with David.
Vanessa goes to Ikea and discusses the situation with co-workers MAYA (20s) and HENRY (30s, a Thai immigrant). Henry believes the situation has more to do with gold-digging than anything else. Vanessa narrates a montage as David breaks down at work; Nina moves into her friend MEREDITH’s apartment; Carol traces Paige to a coastal bed and breakfast, where she attempts a peace offering with Christmas gifts; Terry, still angry, monitors the Schiff house with some high-tech binoculars; After the montage, Vanessa consults once again with her Ikea co-workers, who decide she must move out. Vanessa balks, but they talk her into at least looking for a place to live. Nina and David meet at a Starbucks for the first time since the pseudo-affair was discovered. Nina still tries to pretend it was nothing, but David disagrees. As they talk, they come to realize there’s something real between them and decide to go for it. They jaunt off to Atlantic City, leaving Vanessa to find an explanatory note. She discusses it with Maya and Henry, who don’t know what to make of it. Nina’s impressed by David’s knowledge of craps. At a steakhouse, David runs into a co-worker and his wife. Initially, Nina’s nervous about being seen, but they both realize they don’t care.
When David returns, Vanessa interrogates him, knowing full well that every answer he gives is a lie. David confesses the awkwardness and frustration to Nina, who sarcastically suggests they just tell everyone. Cut to: David telling everyone. Carol and Terry are, once again, shocked and horrified. Vanessa’s enraged. David gives a long speech about how, even though it’s selfish and on the surface seems wrong, he’s happy so it shouldn’t matter, and therefore he shouldn’t have to stop. Carol and Terry reluctantly accept this explanation. Carol eventually begins asking some inexplicably dirty questions, causing Nina to cast her out of David’s house. Vanessa narrates a montage showing the changes creep into the families — David mostly stops going to work to spend time with Nina, leaving Vanessa to hide in her room and get high; Terry, although unnerved, admires how lively David has become and decides to rekindle his passion for Ultimate Frisbee and his wife; Carol tries to get in touch with Paige but can’t find her anywhere; Paige, although MIA, sends some out obnoxious Christmas cards and gifts for David and Nina; and as Vanessa turns to her friends for support, she finds them rooting for David and Nina and, yet again, encourage her to move out.
While shopping, Paige runs into a rep for an organization called Barnyard International and asks about the organization, which buys animals to provide food for starving children. David gets Nina a job interview with a restaurateur. Her cell phone rings, startling her. It’s Ethan. She turns it off, apologizes and promises she always keeps her phone off while working. The restaurateur warms up to her, and she gets the job. Paige abruptly quits her Christmas caroling gig, horrifying the other carolers. She keeps mentioning barnyard animals and makes herself laugh, baffling the others. David drops Nina off for her first evening of work. As she leaves, he tells her he loves her. Nina’s playfully angry because she wanted to say it first. Vanessa and Maya tour a large, overpopulated loft. Maya encourages Vanessa to take it; she reluctantly agrees. At the restaurant, David shows up to have dinner in support of Nina. He’s surprised when Paige shows up. They have an awkward, unpleasant conversation. She brings him up to speed on Toby’s work in China. After her shift, Nina storms out of the restaurant, past a waiting David. Nina explains she got fired her after realizing what’s happening between David, Paige, and Nina. He refuses to get in the middle.
Ethan shows up in West Orange. Carol is unpleasant at first, then realizes what this could do for David and Nina. She sends him across the street. Ethan confronts David and Nina. He tells Nina he’s seeing a therapist and trying to understand his problems so he can be a better person for her. She won’t take him back. David approaches Terry. After an awkward conversation, David admits he loves Nina. Terry leaves. Paige works at the Barnyard International call center, impressing her boss. She sneaks and dials home but is surprised when Nina answers. Paige claims to be from “Homewreckers International” and says some hostile things, but Nina quickly realizes she’s talking to Paige. Nina hangs up. She catches Vanessa leaving and insists what she has with David is real. Vanessa knows, but she’s not happy about the disaster this has caused.
Ethan sets up shop out on the sidewalk, with a sign begging Nina to take him back. Nina confronts him, but but he won’t budge. On Christmas Eve day, Toby returns from China. He’s baffled by the sight of Ethan on the sidewalk. As Maya continues to pressure Vanessa to take the apartment, her phone rings — it’s Toby, steaming because nobody’s informed him of the changes that have taken place over the past month. He then confronts Nina and David, who disregard his feelings. The carolers arrive, followed shortly thereafter by Paige, who bitterly runs over the entire Christmas lawn display. When David hears the calamity, he runs out to investigate, and Paige aims the car at him. Toby manages to stop her, but she does clip David’s thigh.
Inside, both families gather and have an awkward gift exchange. Toby has given them all various gifts from China. Paige has bought them all adoptive cows and goats, who provide milk for starving babies. Nina presents each of them — except David — with a gift, old photographs of themselves at younger ages, looking happy. Paige slaps Nina in the face — hard. In the bedroom, Nina ices her face down. David comes to console her. He suggests moving to another city, which Nina dismisses as impractical. She hands one last photo to David — it’s him, much younger, happier, with a baby (Nina) in the background. Once she found that, she realized this had to end. Meanwhile, Ethan has convinced the carolers to sing a song for her.
Vanessa narrates a montage explaining that David moped for awhile but eventually got over it when he started smoking pot with Vanessa and founded a new company building “man-caves” for other middle-aged men, Nina told Ethan about David but still refused to get back with him, Carol and Terry bought a vacation home in the Poconos, Paige made amends with all the neighbors before going to Africa with Barnyard International, Toby married a nice girl, and Vanessa got a slightly better job and moved to New York City. At the end, Vanessa bumps into Nina, working at an organic restaurant in the city. Nina introduces Vanessa to MARK, a chef at the restaurant. They’re not dating. After an awkward conversation, Vanessa and Nina decide maybe they can be friends.
Comments:The Oranges strives to tell a wacky story about how crisis drives families apart as much as it brings them together. However, it relies far too much on stereotypical caricatures and inconceivable plot developments to tell a compelling story or hint at any real universal truths about families. As written, it merits a pass.
The first act starts with an immediate hiccup, relying on lazy narration over a montage that explains each character and their relationships to one another. This tactic repeats several times throughout the script, but it always feels like a cheap way to spoonfeed information to the audience and allow time to pass. Once the actual plot kicks in, the writers do an efficient if unenthusiastic job of setting up what will drive the story: the relationship between David and Nina.
This development causes the deterioration of the Schiff and Bass families, as well as their longtime family friendship, over the course of the second act. Rather than building suspense or complexity as the relationship intensifies and the other family members get angrier, the writers cut to another montage and pick it up after the relationship’s in full swing. From there, it’s pretty much a series of sketch-like comic scenarios instead of an actual story. The story ambles, seemingly without direction, until it sputters to a third act that’s shrill and over-the-top.
When Ethan and Paige finally reappear after what feels like a 60-page absence, it’s an enormous letdown. Ignoring the fact that Paige’s apparent psychotic break is played for laughs (although the “ironic destruction of Christmas decorations” physical schtick has been done in at least a half-dozen other holiday movies), these characters stopped mattering to the story long ago. The writers bring in these sources of external conflict because they have no real interest in exploring what has allegedly been driving their story — the romance between David and Nina, and its effects on the family. If they’d devoted more attention to what Paige was going through or the development of David and Nina’s relationship, this third act might feel like the natural course of the story. As written, it doesn’t.
It’s difficult to address why the story doesn’t work without digging into the characters. For starters, the relationship between David and Nina does not feel real for one moment. It’s not that it’s inconceivable that a middle-aged man would dump his wife for the hot daughter of his best friend — in fact, that’s the most believable part of their relationship. As mentioned, the writers gloss over the meat of the relationship — starting with its foundation and skipping to them as a happy, supportive couple, all in the span of a few weeks — and shy away from the way their behavior affects the family. More than that, the writers never take the time to contemplate what has caused David’s marriage to Paige to collapse, or why Nina would disappear without a trace for five years for a sex- and drug-fueled trip around the world. The writers never treat these characters like real people with real problems — and worse than all that, they’re not funny.
A key example of the writers’ disinterest in its own characters is Paige’s only personality quirk: her obsession with Christmas. As described in voiceover by Vanessa, Paige’s whole live revolves around shopping, decorations, and her caroling group. The writers never really consider what she does from January through, let’s say, October, in which it might be sort of odd (and, frankly, funnier than most of the material Paige is given) to see a woman with a mindless obsession with Christmas. The same is true for every other character — their quirks and traits exist either because the story requires them or because there’s some sort of cheap joke attached to them. None of it feels believable, which makes it hard to empathize with the characters. This, in turn, makes it hard to laugh with (or even at) them, which should be a comedy’s main goal.
February 4, 2010
Author: David Riker
Writer’s Potential: 8
Logline:After unsuccessfully attempting to bring a group of Mexicans across the border into Texas, an American woman finds herself caring for a young Mexican girl.
Synopsis:ASHLEY COLEMAN (mid-20s but worn out) works at Wal-Mart. She quietly steals a child’s toy and is caught almost immediately. Her manager is stunned that she’d steal something so cheap, but Ashley explains her payday isn’t until Friday and then requests a raise. When the manager refuses, she accuses him of favoring the Mexican workers over her. Ashley drives to a small house in North San Antonio, where she finds GEORGIE (5) playing on the front lawn. Georgie is her son, but he has a foster mother, GLORIA, who urges Ashley to keep her distance, for Georgie’s own good. Angrily, Ashley leaves. As she drives home, she gazes mournfully signs advertising homes for sale. She lives in a dingy trailer park, and when she gets home, she finds her father’s rig parked in front of it. TOMMY COLEMAN is gregarious and a little obnoxious. Ashley immediately assumes he’s in some sort of trouble. They haven’t seen each other in a very long time. He lives in Mexico and hauls goods across the border. Tommy invites Ashley back to his place. She’s uneasy, but she’s so depressed, she goes.
Along the way, Ashley brings up her mom. Tommy thinks she’s still trying to get them back together. They cross the long bridge over the Rio Grande, into Nuevo Laredo. Tommy takes Ashley to a cantina, where she gets smashed on tequila. Tommy is surprised to learn she speaks fluent Spanish. Tommy pulls out a wad of $100 bills and peels off a few for Ashley. She’s confused about how he got the money, but she takes it. Ashley spends the night at Tommy’s house. The next morning, they ride back across the border. Along the way, Ashley’s startled when she hears banging coming from the trailer. She realizes there are people inside. They pull up along the bridge, where trucks are stacked up for miles, and the U.S. border patrol simply ushers them through. Tommy explains it’s a simple, easy ruse, and he’ll never get caught.
Not long after Ashley gets home, she gets a surprise visit from SALLY, her Child Protective Services case worker. Ashley’s uneasy about the condition of her place, despite Sally’s reassurances. Things get awkward when Sally finds a bottle of tequila, a gift from Tommy. She accuses Ashley of falling off the wagon, which she denies. Ashley angrily accuses CPS of trying to keep her from her son, before throwing Sally out. Feeling trapped and unsure of where to turn, Ashley returns to Neuvo Laredo to find her father for help. He’s gone, so she wanders Plaza Juarez alone. A Mexican man offers to pay her $500 a head to take his friends to Austin. She refuses. Ashley crosses the bridge back into Texas, then goes offroad, driving along the river bank. She finds its shallowest point, finds an empty wooden shack on the Texas side of the river, considers it. She returns to Plaza Juarez to pick up as many Mexicans as she can fit in her Cherokee (including FELIX, PANCHO, little ROSA (8), and her MOTHER). Ashley charges the Mother for Rosa.
Ashley takes them to the narrow spot in the river, tells them to cross and wait in the shack until she gets to them on the other side. The Mexicans are uncomfortable with the arrangement. They want inner tubes to help them across. She tells them to strip down and carry their clothes over their heads. Reluctantly, they agree. Ashley drives away. As she heads back toward the road, she sees a helicopter flying overhead. When she gets to the other side, Ashley drives along the riverbank with her headlights off. Eventually, she makes it to the shack. The only people there are Felix, Pancho, and Rosa — and none of them are happy. The chopper came right over head, trying to force them out of the river. They were the only three to make it across. Ashley tries to reassure them and herself that the others problem just went back to the other side. Felix and Pancho force her to drive them to Austin, but they don’t pay her, and they don’t take Rosa. Rosa is convinced her mother is at the river and demands that they go back. Reluctantly, Ashley takes her back, but they find no one. Ashley catches sight of a border patrol van and instructs Rosa to hide behind a tree. She tells the agent that she needed to stop and pee. He warns her that it’s unsafe. When the agent leaves, Ashley gets Rosa, who wants to follow the river. Instead, Ashley drives her back to Plaza Juarez, where she tries to leave Rosa with a stranger until Rosa’s mother shows up. Rosa starts yelling and making a scene, so Ashley stays with her and agrees to help her look for her mother. She asks Rosa to retrace their steps. Rosa remembers them staying with a priest and leads the way to Casa Migrante, a halfway house for immigrants.
Seeing Casa Migrante is a nice place with good people, Ashley tries to leave Rosa there. When she finds Felix and Pancho are there, they finger her as a coyote. The entire group swarms after her and Rosa. Ashley grabs Rosa and gets out of there, quickly. With nowhere left to turn, she goes to Tommy’s. Tommy is shocked and enraged that Ashley has taken it upon herself to become a coyote. What he does is low-risk, but what she is doing can be incredibly dangerous. He also warns her against keeping Rosa around for too long, so she doesn’t get attached. His perspective has echoes of his abandonment of Ashley, upsetting her and strengthening her resolve not abandon this little girl. So Ashley takes Rosa to the cantina, where she gets hammered on tequila while Rosa looks on. Things get ugly with a man in the cantina, so Ashley stumbles out, dragging Rosa with her. Rosa chastises her for drinking, but Ashley’s too drunk to care.
The next morning, a disheveled and hungover Ashley wakes in a hotel. Rosa digs through Ashley’s wallet and finds a photo of Georgie as a baby. Ashley calls Sally from a payphone to apologize. Sally reminds Ashley that her next court date is tomorrow. Ashley is shocked and a little terrified. Rosa insists that they go to a church that Rosa’s mom frequented. They can look for her, and if they don’t find her, there’s a photo of her there that they can use to try to find her. Ashley gets lost trying to find the church. Frustrated, Ashley stops the car beside some train tracks. Rosa brings up Ashley’s baby, which gets her a little emotional. Assuming Ashley’s mad about the money, Rosa insists her mother will pay her once they find her. Rosa starts talking about her grandmother’s house in San Juan, a little town in Oaxaca. Ashley relaxes a bit. When she hears a train coming, she shows Rosa how to put a penny on the tracks so the train flattens it. When the train passes, they realize they’re sitting right across from the church.
Rosa finds the photo of her mother in a mosaic of hundreds of churchgoers. When a church caretaker hears Rosa’s mother was lost at the river, she takes Ashley aside and explains the firemen pulled two women out of the river yesterday. Ashley insists this can’t be Rosa’s mother, but she goes to the police anyway. She tells her story to a missing persons officer, who shows her the photos of the two women pulled out of the river. One is bloated and unrecognizable — but the other is clearly Rosa’s mother. Ashley can hardly bear to look. A social worker pulls Rosa away, to be put into the care of nuns until she can be placed with a family. Ashley tries to stop them, but she can’t. Ashley drives back across the border, but she stops and has an emotional breakdown before turning back. She goes to the Casa de las Ninas and, with considerable effort, snatches Rosa back. Rosa is not happy, about the abandonment or her obviously dead mother. She’s silent in the car. Ashley calls Sally to reschedule the court date. The best she can do is six months. Ashley has a decision to make — and she sticks with Rosa. Ashley gets a map, so she can figure out how to get to San Juan, but Rosa wants to go to the river. Reluctantly, Ashley takes her there. Rosa makes a circle of rocks on the bank. As she asked earlier, Rosa wants to follow the river to its end. Ashley drives Rosa to the beach. Rosa views the gulf, possibly for the first time, and breaks down in tears. Ashley comforts her.
Ashley and Rosa cross Mexico. To get her mind off her mother, Ashley asks Rosa what she’ll do when she gets home. Rosa describes it in detail, seeming to forget and viewing Ashley as her mother — but then she slips and remembers, and it upsets her again. They drive deep into the mountains. Finally, they see a distant church, which marks the entrance of the village. A fiesta is happening when they arrive, and many of the villagers recognize Rosa. They call for her GRANDMOTHER, who knows upon seeing Ashley that her daughter is dead. It saddens her. Ashley apologizes for her mistakes in helping them cross the border. The Grandmother expresses gratitude that Ashley brought Rosa back. They hold a ceremony for Rosa’s mother. Ashley’s surprised by how many children populate the village. The Grandmother explains that all of their parents went north to the U.S., leaving the elders to care for their children. Ashley says a tearful goodbye to Rosa, finally admitting her baby is no longer a baby — he’s five. She has no new photos because he was taken away. She tells Rosa that her mother clearly loved her a great deal to take Rosa with on the journey to America. Rosa is heartened by that. Ashley gets in her car and starts driving. The mountain terrain is difficult, so she has to drive slow. She hears Rosa shouting after her. Rosa gives Ashley the flattened penny, to give to Georgie. The villagers set off fireworks. Ashley tells Rosa to go watch them for her, then continues her journey, a glint of hope in her eyes for the first time.
Comments:The Girl is a depressing yet optimistic story of a woman who finds redemption after a lifetime of mistakes. Although it is quiet and deliberately paced, the strong characters and deceptively complex narrative make this script a very compelling, rewarding experience. As written, it merits a recommend.
The first act takes its time in establishing Ashley, a woman whose anger and alcoholism prevent her from doing anything worthwhile in her life. She has a miserable job and home, abandoning parents, and a child of whom she’ll possibly never regain custody. For somebody as reckless and ignorant as she’s portrayed, it makes perfect sense that she’d dive into the coyote game without having a clue what she’s doing.
It’s when she’s forced to care for Rosa that the story really comes alive. Although the pairing of a youthful innocent with a hard, cynical adult is nothing new, the writer does a great job of drawing parallels between Ashley and Rosa, Tommy and Ashley, and Ashley and Georgie. The writer also doesn’t make it easy for stubborn Ashley to redeem herself. Even as their bond slowly forms, Ashley is willing to drop Rosa off with whoever will take her. It isn’t until Ashley learns that Rosa’s mother is definitively dead that she realizes this girl’s life will head down the same rotten path that Ashley’s did, unless she takes action. In a nicely unexpected turn, Ashley is smart enough to realize she’s no more fit to take care of Rosa than Georgie is. It’s her mission to get Rosa back to the people who will love and care for her properly.
After taking time to allow Rosa to grieve, the third act focuses mainly on the newly bonded duo’s journey back to Rosa’s isolated village. Despite the bittersweet parting of Ashley and Rosa, the story still manages to end on a positive note, as it becomes clear that Ashley has made some realizations about her priorities, while Rosa is back in a nice, nurturing environment.
Ashley’s character is extremely strong and vividly rendered. The writer wisely doesn’t apologize for her mostly awful behavior in the first two acts. She’s a miserable, angry person who’s portrayed as adrift, overwhelmed, and unable to handle adulthood. The transformation over the course of the story is well-drawn. The writer never makes the mistake of having her do a complete 180. At the end of the story, Ashley’s still angry and still an alcoholic — but she’s learned a fair amount about what’s important in life, and the script ends with the feeling that she’ll slowly make the changes she needs to in order to have a worthwhile existence. Rosa is equally solid, in her own childish way. She never feels cloying or precocious. The writer draws subtle parallels between her and Ashley, depicting them both as stubborn and a little hostile. He never overplays the slow formation of their bond..
The supporting characters exist primarily to reinforce the lives and conflict of the two main characters. As such, few of them appear in the story for more than a scene or two, and they aren’t incredibly nuanced. However, Ashley’s interactions with characters like Tommy and Sally do a terrific job of showing who she is and how she ended up that way. In that sense, these characters are successful.
The characters are strong, but it’s essential that strong performers play these roles. Any missteps in the casting will be detrimental to the success of this script as a film.
February 5, 2010
Author: Michael Brandt & Derek Haas
Writer’s Potential: 5
Logline:A retired CIA agent and an FBI profiler team up to track a Cold War assassin who has started killing again.
Synopsis:Paris, 1988. A Soviet assassin known only as CASSIUS stalks his target through the streets, before finding an isolated spot in the park. In a brutal, swift attack, Cassius disarms and kills the man by cutting his throat with a wire coiled in his wristwatch. Cassius calls his Soviet contact, who chuckles about the press giving him the name Cassius and the men he trained “Cassius 7.” The contact gets menacing, noting that Cassius hid something from them, which has made them unhappy. Cassius knows exactly what he means. He races to a chateau in the country and finds his wife and child dead. He takes a photo of them and marches straight to the American embassy, where he meets with Agent TOM HIGHLAND of the CIA — speaking perfect American English and introducing himself as a CIA analyst who has come up with ideas on tracking the Cassius 7 assassins. “Six months ago,” on the Mexico-U.S. border, coyotes usher a group into the U.S. One of them, a Russian named BOZLOVSKI, kills the coyotes as soon as they’re past the border, then gets into a U.S. Border Patrol truck. Inside are two dead Border Patrol agents and a group of comrades.
On Meet the Press, senators discuss the looming threat of a Russian attack, suggesting that they’re using the U.S.’s preoccupation with the Middle East to their advantage. “Today,” PAUL SHEPHERDSON — once known as Cassius — watches a Little League game in suburban Washington, D.C. A fellow spectator is surprised to learn he has no children on the team — he just lives nearby. Meanwhile, two FBI agents monitor a meeting between a Congressman and a Russian. They’re surprised that the Congressman was planning to take a payoff, but it’s a moot point because the Congressman backs out of the deal. Before the agents can sweep in to arrest the Russian, a shadowy figure steps out of the alley and kills the Russian with a thin wire. The two agents are surprised when Highland — now the director of the CIA — shows up and takes over the case. They question his jurisdiction but are quickly convinced of his authority. Paul walks home and enters his modest home. Highland is waiting inside, startling Paul. Highland tells him they have a murder that looks like Cassius’s M.O. Paul isn’t convinced, but Highland takes him to CIA headquarters to look at the investigation. Paul is surprised to see the CIA and FBI working jointly on the case. Highland introduces Paul to AGENT GEARY, and FBI profiler who idolizes Paul. He wrote a master’s thesis on Cassius, which Paul quickly reveals he read, leading quickly to some mutual respect. Despite that, Geary cannot convince Paul that Cassius is the killer. Paul is ready to go home when Highland tells him they have Brutus, one of the Cassius 7, locked up in prison. This surprises Paul, who leaves nevertheless.
When Paul gets home, he’s aware that the CIA is watching him. He picks up his phone and demands to speak with Highland. After a moment, the dialtone clicks off and Highland gets on the line, urging Paul to finish what he started. Paul insists it’s not Cassius, so Highland tells him to prove it. Paul is teamed up with Geary, who rambles on about Cassius and his thesis, irritating Paul. Geary asks why they wouldn’t tell Paul about Brutus. Paul says they knew he would have killed him. They arrive at a federal penitentiary to interrogate Brutus, a vicious Russian assassin. Paul clings to the shadows while Geary takes the lead, offering a radio in exchange for information about Cassius. Brutus doesn’t tell him much other than the story of Cassius training them — putting 10 men in a room and assigning each to kill another. The six who survived became Cassius’s team. Brutus says, after training, he never saw Cassius again. Geary wonders what happens to him, but before he can say, Paul orders Geary to give him the radio, and they leave. On the way out, Geary asks why. Paul calls Brutus a liar and says they’ll get more information tomorrow — when they threaten to take his radio away. Meanwhile, Brutus pops the batteries out of the radio and swallows them. Hours later, he’s rushed to the hospital, from which he quickly escapes. Paul confronts Brutus in the parking lot, accusing him of killing his family. Brutus denies it, but Paul kills him with his watch wire.
Paul drives to a residential street. He tries to sneak into a house when Geary calls — just before stepping into the backyard of the house Paul is breaking into. Keeping to the shadows, Paul lets the call go to VoiceMail and listens as Geary leaves the message. The next morning, Geary pores over Cassius-related files when he’s called in to Brutus’s murder scene. Playing a hunch that Cassius watches the investigators at work to see who he’s up against, Geary demands that the police photograph every gawker looking at the crime scene. Meanwhile, from a secret perch, Paul watches Geary intently. Eventually, he reveals himself and asks Geary to brief him. Geary insists it’s Cassius, but Paul disagrees. They spot a Russian in the crowd and give chase. The Russian gets the drop on Paul and threatens to cut his throat. Paul tells Geary to shoot, but Geary doesn’t. The Russian gets away. Geary brings Paul home to meet his wife, NATALIE, and his children, LUCY (5) and NICHOLAS (infant). As usual, Geary goes on and on about Cassius. When he says he feels a connection with and some respect for Cassius, Paul is disgusted. He calls Cassius a vicious monster. When Geary excuses himself to use the bathroom, Paul warns Natalie that Geary is probably in danger now that he’s investigating Cassius. Natalie begs Paul to protect him. After dinner, Paul and Geary shoot the breeze on the front stoop. Geary subtly accuses Paul of being Cassius. Paul tells him to call the Little League stadium and ask around — that’s where he was when the Congressman was killed.
Paul visits Natalie at the bookstore where she works. He orders her to get Geary off the Cassius case, warning her again that he’ll die. Geary brings his friend, OLIVER, in on the Cassius case, asking him to try to find a meaningful connection that might show Paul is actually Cassius. Paul stalks Geary through Washington, only revealing himself after Geary finally gets a call from the Little League manager saying he knows Paul and he was there the night of the Congressman’s murder. Paul tells Geary to drop the investigation, but Geary explains he just got word of Paul’s innocence and apologizes. Paul won’t let it go, continuing to warn of the danger and to think of his family. Geary refuses to give up. Highland leads Paul and Geary to a situation room, where their border control analyst shows them video of Bozlovski entering the country. Bozlovski conveniently fits the profile of Cassius, and it fits to Geary and the others that bodies would start dropping not long after he entered the U.S. — tying up loose ends. Geary calls Oliver and tells him to drop the Paul angle and look into Bozlovski.
Paul takes Geary to a contact who deals exclusively in Russian goods, and therefore knows all the Russian activities going on in the area. This man leads them to AMBER, a whore living in a nearby trailer park. When they get inside, she starts shooting at them. Paul throws Geary out of the way of the shots, saving his life. Paul dives on Amber and gets the gun away from her. Paul drags her to the nearby river and threatens to kill her and dump the body if she doesn’t tell him where Bozlovski is. Geary urges Paul to cool down. He talks more reasonably with Amber, who softens and leads them to her brother, LEO. Leo agrees to take them to Bozlovski, who works out of a cannery in an industrial park. Paul instructs Geary, who has no field experience, to wait in the car. Geary insists on following, so Geary puts him on the door and tells him to shoot at anyone who tries to leave. Leo leads Paul into an office, where Bozlovski is waiting. The ensuing shootout results in a small fire that quickly grows. Before Paul can kill Bozlovski, Leo holds his gun on Paul — it was a trap all along. Paul accuses Bozlovski of killing the Congressman, which makes him laugh. Paul says it couldn’t have been Cassius, because Paul didn’t do it. Bozlovski is stunned, but before he can even register it, Paul disarms both Bozlovski and Leo and kills Leo with his watch wire. Paul pursues Bozlovski, but he’s too fast. Geary, who heard the gunshots, comes upon Leo’s body, but he’s not blocking the door. Bozlovski gets away. When Paul explains what happened, Geary thinks it can’t be a coincidence that Cassius’s M.O. shows up, once again, when Paul happens to be there. In kind, Paul accuses Geary of involvement in the Congressman killing, because who would know the M.O. better than a Cassius expert?
Geary returns to FBI headquarters. Oliver has set up a “null hypothesis” to assess the most likely Cassius suspect. Using the crime photos, Oliver has found an enormous probability that Paul is Cassius, because he’s in nearly every Cassius-related crime photo, dating back to his original murders. Geary is stunned. Paul tails Geary to a hospital, where he sees Geary conspicuously toss a newspaper into the trash. Paul picks up the newspaper and sees a code on the crossword section. Now Paul is stunned. Geary finds a photo stuck in his windshield — of Paul and his family in France. Geary returns to his office and finds a folder marked as a copycat. In fact, it’s the murder of Paul’s wife and son. In the background of the crime scene photos, he sees Bozlovski. Geary’s figured it out: Paul went after the other Cassius 7 members to get revenge, but it was Bozlovski all along. Geary is contacted by a Russian — Paul’s contact who sells Russian goods — about the photo. The Russian gives Geary a travel itinerary for Bozlovski. Paul brings Geary in on the arrest of Bozlovski, who intends to leave the country.
Knowing Paul is going to try to kill Bozlovski before they can arrest him, Geary chases them across the tarmac in a mobile lounge. After a scuffle with Paul in his own mobile lounge, Bozlovski kicks through the windshield and runs away on foot. Geary is ready to arrest Paul when Paul presents the crossword code and accuses Geary of being a double, tasked with bringing Cassius out in the open so the Russians could finally take him out and allow their other agents to enter the U.S. without fear of revenge killings. Geary admits it’s true and that he’s been assigned to return to Moscow as soon as he gets Cassius. Paul convinces Geary to do what’s right for his family, so they agree to go after Bozlovski together and pin the Cassius killings on him. Bozlovski ends up killing Paul before Geary can kill Bozlovski. Geary lies to Highland, painting Paul as a hero killed in the line of duty. Geary returns home, considers abandoning his family to return to Moscow, but instead decides to go back inside to his wife and children.
Comments:The Double aims to pay homage to Cold War spy tradecraft. Instead of the loving homage it could have been, the writers use every cliché in the book to craft a story that lacks surprises and suspense. As written, it merits a pass.
The story tips its hand way too early. Nearly everything in the script that’s supposed to surprise the audience (as indicated by frequent use of underlining to indicate shocking reveals late in the script) is telegraphed in the first act. Obviously, there’s no question that Paul is Cassius. The opening sequence shows this very clearly. It doesn’t make much sense that the writers continue to attempt to twist the possibilities around in the second and third act. Similarly, from the moment Geary’s Cassius obsession is introduced, it’s obvious that he’ll be responsible for the murder of the Congressman. Why? Because that happens in every twisty thriller where the expert profiler knows too much about one particular killer.
The second act tries to build a tense cat-and-mouse game around whether or not Geary will catch Paul or Paul will murder Geary. It’s not quite as tense as the writers think it is, however, as a consequence of the predictability. It simply goes in circles: Paul warns Geary not to investigate while secretly spying on him; Geary continues to investigate and is easily but briefly bamboozled into thinking Paul is innocent. Worse than that, the moment that convinces Geary of Paul’s guilt — a bunch of crime scene photos in which a criminal investigator is on the scene — is based on laughably specious reasoning. This leads to an incredibly unsatisfying third act, in which the audience is treated to reveal after reveal of information even the dullest audience member would have guessed in the first ten minutes.
These reveals shouldn’t surprise Paul or Geary, either, which is more than half the problem. Neither character seems as intelligent or as ruthless as they’re ultimately supposed to be. At least the writers give Paul some weak motivation for not immediately killing Geary: Geary has a family, and Paul doesn’t want to take away their father/husband. The writers attempt to draw a parallel between Paul and Geary and their family lives. This would be a much stronger parallel if not for the fact that so little is revealed about Paul’s feelings about what happened to his family. As for his Cassius M.O. — is there a more eye-rollingly familiar Cold War weapon than the wristwatch that secretly has a strand of razor-sharp piano wire coiled inside? This is just one of many clichés the writers fall back on instead of finding something a little more clever or interesting to make the story seem a little bit fresh.
As a result of the “twist” that Geary was actually trained by the Russians to identify and kill Cassius, his character doesn’t hold up very well under scrutiny. His “Russian assassin” persona doesn’t quite jell with how he behaves throughout the script — as a remarkably inept FBI profiler. He relies on huge leaps in logic and very thin evidence to rule out Paul as Cassius, despite intuition and much stronger evidence suggesting that he is. He relies on a similarly huge leap in logic in finally deciding, once and for all, that Paul is Cassius. Aside from his allegedly brilliant profiling and analytical skills, the writers don’t give Geary much depth. This causes the sloppy writing of his investigation to make him seem much stupider than he’s supposed to be, to the detriment of the character.
The writers make no effort to develop the supporting characters. They exist for no other reason than to give the characters information.
The Double’s relentless mediocrity will make it difficult for any amount of technical or artistic prowess to turn it into something worthwhile. Its reliance on clichés, dull action sequences, and uninspired plot all add up to a big, tedious dud.
February 6, 2010
Author: Donald F. Ferrarone
Writer’s Potential: 5
Logline:In Texas, police detectives track a serial killer who preys on young prostitutes.
Synopsis:As a storm builds on Galveston Bay, Texas City detectives JAKE SOUDER (30s, hard-nosed native Texan) and BRIAN HAY (30s, soft-spoken New Yorker) are called to a murder scene. It’s a young prostitute whose hands are missing, and the body is fresh. They wait for the crime scene investigators to show up. Pimps LEVON (black, ex-con) and RULE (white, fierce) prowl the streets, making sure their hookers don’t get out of line. Meanwhile, LITTLE ANN (12) waits for her brother, EUGENE, and his friend, RHINO, to pick her up. Rhino quietly starts touching Little Ann, who tries to pull away. She panics and jumps out of the car. Eugene lets her go. Little Ann walks through a marshy bayou area known as “the killing fields.” She passes through an eerie area blocked off by old crime scene tape, and a Mitsubishi that’s been recently abandoned in a hurry — engine still idling, door hanging out. Later, Brian and Jake spot her walking the streets. They know her, and that she’s on juvenile probation, so they drive her home. LUCIE, Little Ann’s mother, doesn’t seem to care that her daughter’s out in the middle of the night. Angered, Jake bursts into their trailer and pulls out Eugene and Rhino. He threatens to send Rhino back to prison if he doesn’t leave the family alone. Rhino’s not afraid. Brian gives Little Ann his card, and they leave. Brian warns Jake that he may have made things worse for Little Ann. Jake just says he has a bad feeling about Rhino.
Jake’s ex-wife, PAM, calls from the county sheriff’s office. They found the Mitsubishi and have learned a girl is missing. Brian and Jake tell her about the dead body they found, but it’s not the same girl. Brian tells her to call if she finds the body. Volunteers search the killing fields for the bodies. Little Ann tries to sleep as Lucie has sex with someone. Jake gets drunk and plays with his dog. Brian comes home to his wife, GWEN, and immediately goes to sleep. The next day, Brian and Jake interview madame FRANCINE and her neighbors about the body they found. They learn the girl was a 15-year-old crack whore from Dallas. Nobody knows why she’s dead. Little Ann walks home from school when Rule pulls up, leering and offering her a ride. Little Ann turns him down. Francine leads Brian and Jake to Levon, who’s sullen and doesn’t want to talk. All he’ll say is that the dead girl came to him claiming someone was stalking her. They instruct Levon to come by the station the following morning for a proper interview. Pam interviews men on the sex-offender registry while waiting for a city homicide detective to arrive. She asked for Brian, but the chief sends Jake to ensure he won’t become too involved in county matters. Pam is not happy.
LILA, a young Hispanic single mother, is attacked in her home by a naked ASSAILANT. She manages to get away from him long enough to dial 911. Police are dispatched. Brian and Jake hear the call and show up. They find men’s pants on the front lawn. Brian spots the assailant in the backyard and gives chase, calling for backup. He chases the assailant into an old woman’s house. The assailant shoves a refrigerator onto Brian, pinning him to the floor. He gets away. Jake follows quickly, pulling the fridge off of him. Jake chides Brian for not waiting for him. They interview Lila, who can’t help them identify the suspect but gives some helpful tidbits — the assailant chose her because she hangs her underwear on a clothesline and doesn’t live with a man. While they interview her, a call comes in. It’s unintelligible, so Jake clicks it off. Another call, and they listen — and hear the assailant struggling with another woman. They hear her die over the phone. Lila is stunned. Brian is deeply upset. At home, Gwen consoles Brian about the case.
Lucie’s boyfriend starts beating on Little Ann, so she runs outside. Eugene and Rhino are out there, acting a little menacing. She goes to the 7-Eleven to wait it out, but Rule is there. Before he can do anything, Brian shows up at the same stripmall, looking for Little Ann. He offers her a ride, which she accepts. He takes her home to have dinner with his wife, his mother, and his many kids. Little Ann is stunned to see how a well-adjusted family operates. It makes her uneasy, but she lightens up quickly. In a ditch in the killing fields, Pam finally finds the body of the girl who owned the Mitsubishi. She calls Brian for help. As a storm begins, Brian spots a perfect thumbprint in the mud. As the water mounts, they have a choice: preserve the thumbprint or move the body to preserve whatever physical evidence may be present. They choose the body, to Brian’s annoyance. Jake shows up moments later, and Brian blames him for them losing the thumbprint. Brian believes this is the girl who was killed over the phone, which means the killer kept her alive for a few days. He also thinks this makes it personal, against them, but he doesn’t know why. Jake insists the killers are Levon and Rule, but Brian doesn’t think this murder fits their possible M.O.
Alone, Jake follows Rule to a small pink house, where a black woman, LADY WORM, stashes his car. Jake gets a call that Levon has arrived for questioning. Brian and Jake interview him. Jake gets belligerent almost immediately, so Brian takes over the questioning, taking the “good cop” approach. Levon accidentally admits he knew the prostitute was underage, why the killer would cut off her hands (as a warning to others not to steal money), and Rule’s last name. They go to a nearby shelter to ask about the dead prostitute. Brian’s surprised to see Little Ann there. The woman running the shelter says Little Ann comes by all the time. Some girls at the shelter ID the prostitute, finger Levon and Rule as her pimp, and say that Rule always used to beat her up. Jake and Brian argue about how to proceed on the case. Jake leaves in a huff. Brian drives Little Ann home, watches her approach the trailer, then walk away.
Jake and Brian show up at Lady Worm’s looking for Rule. They don’t find him or his car, but Jake finds another car that’s filled with blood. Brian warns him that this is an illegal search, but Jake isn’t concerned. Brian meets with Pam. They’re led to a bunch of redneck poachers who hide out in the killing fields. Brian spots one of them wearing a ring that belonged to the Mitsubishi owner. When he asks for it, a fistfight breaks out. Jake shows up and fires a warning shot to stop the scuffle. Pam is amazed. Jake is angry that Brian went behind his back. He starts needling Brian about the New York case Brian botched that landed him here. Pam has to separate them. Back at the station, Brian is told that a phone company technician left an urgent message — and Little Ann was arrested for trying to sell a driver’s license. Brian is fed up with her. He starts yelling at her for constantly getting in trouble, upsetting Little Ann. He drives her home, stopping at the phone company along the way. He talks to the tech, JIM, who has traced the murder call to the killing fields. Jim thinks this is lucky because those fields are notorious for poor reception. Nobody will build towers there because they’re scared. Brian, still an outsider, wants to know why. Jim explains that these lands once belonged to an Indian tribe who used to kill and eat white settlers, notably children and young women. This is how the killing fields got their name. Jim has traced the cell phone to the Mitsubishi owner. Despite the legalities, Brian convinces Jim to monitor the phone so they can catch the killer.
When Brian returns to his car, he finds Little Ann gone and signs of a struggle. CSIs show that it looks like she was pulled out of the car. Brian immediately bolts out of there, heading for the killing fields. Jake searches for Levon and Rule unsuccessfully. Dispatch calls with a sighting on Rule’s car. Meanwhile, Jake sneaks into Lady Worm’s garage and watches her attempt to set the bloody car on fire. Jake tackles her, which Rule sees. His car speeds away. Levon is with him, and so is Lady Worm’s daughter, SHEILA — tied up. Squad cars pursue Rule and Levon. Levon wants to stop, but with one hand Rule trains a gun on Levon, and with the other he starts firing at the police. Jake gets into the chase. Mid-chase, Rule stops and carjacks another driver. He and Levon abandon Sheila and manage to get away while the police are distracted with his abandoned car. Meanwhile, Brian moves through the killing fields, leading to an island in the bayou where he finds signs that they took Little Ann. He calls Jake with his location. Jake tells him about Levon and Rule. He drives out to the bayou with his bloodhound. Brian has stolen the pants from Lila’s crime scene. He has Jake’s dog sniff them, and the dog immediately catches the scent. They follow and are led quickly to Little Ann — who’s not dead. They take her and run back toward civilization.
Meanwhile, Rule and Levon are out in the middle of nowhere. Levon wants to give up, so Rule shoots him and keeps moving. Brian orders Jake to take Little Ann to the hospital. Brian wants to go back in — he knows the killer will be back to finish off Little Ann. As he waits, Jake speeds toward the hospital but ends up at a crime scene instead. Medics load Little Ann into an ambulance. Jake sends Pam to go to Brian. Brian, meanwhile, hears someone in the brush. The man picks up a wood saw and comes after Brian. Jake receives an anonymous phone call saying, “He’s dead.” Jim calls Jake to say the phone he’s monitoring just dialed out, localized near Lucie’s trailer. Pam leads police into the bayou, where they find Brian. Jake surveils the trailer as he calls the cell phone number. Inside the trailer, Rhino answers. Jake orders him to put Lucie on the phone and explains that Rhino and Eugene killed her daughter. Lucie pulls out a knife and stabs Rhino, who shoots Eugene as Rhino shoots Lucie. Jake lets Rhino bleed out.
Several months later, Little Ann has recuperated. Jake takes her to Brian’s house — he survived, although he’s lost weight and must walk with a cane. She’ll be living with his family now.
Comments:The Fields aspires to make thought-provoking statements about crime and the human condition under the guise of a twisty thriller. However, its lack of compelling characters and suspense prevent it from accomplishing any of its lofty ambitions. As written, it merits a pass.
The story is grim and violent from beginning to end, but it’s never terribly interesting. Part of this is because the writer never really lays out any sort of stakes for Brian and Jake. In the first act, it’s just another case — a particularly violent one, but nothing special. Even as things intensify in the second act, and Brian decides the murders are personal, there’s still nothing real at stake: the killers never come after them directly, their jobs aren’t on the line as the body count rises, and nobody ever seems to be in any real danger until the third act.
The third act does move quickly (especially compared to the slow-as-molasses first two acts), but the revelations are incredibly unsatisfying. Little Ann always feels out of place in this script, and never more than when she falls victim to the killers. After shoehorning her into a plot where she doesn’t belong, the writer finally turns her into a bland plot point to help lead Brian and Jake to the killers, her brother Eugene and his thug pal Rhino. Worse than that, although the writer does give a weak explanation for why they went after Little Ann — she kept bringing the cops around — he fails to make it clear why these two paired up to kill prostitutes.
At the end of the day, the only characters who matter to this story are Jake and Brian. The writer overloads this story with characters — both good and bad — as the narrative equivalent of three-card monte. The script is never as complex as the writer wants the audience to think, so he stuffs it so full of people that it seems extremely complicated. That’d be fine if any of these characters felt authentic or had any interesting traits or personality quirks. None of them do. Even Little Ann exists to trigger treacly sentiment instead of feeling like an actual person.
Because the supporting characters are a blank rabble who explain the plot to Jake and Brian, it’s disappointing that the two detectives aren’t much more interesting than the rest. Although the writer gives them some interesting traits — like Brian’s obsession with religion — their personalities are inconsistent. In each scene, they switch from supporting each other to arguing and splitting up, without much purpose except that the plot sometimes needs them split up, and sometimes it needs them together. As with the lack of personal stakes, everything they do is artificially dictated by the plot. Even the attempt to generate conflict and develop Jake’s character by bringing his detective ex-wife into the story doesn’t make either character more interesting. It’s just another meaningless layer to make the plot seem denser than it is.
It’s hard to imagine great filmmaker redeeming a script this mediocre. The best anyone can hope to accomplish is making the action sequences a little suspenseful. Overall, it feels like a subpar Law & Order episode. Audiences won’t want to pay for that.
February 10, 2010
Author: Joe Carnahan and Ian Mackenzie Jeffers
Writer’s Potential: 8
Logline:After surviving a plane crash, oil workers must struggle across the Arctic tundra — with a pack of bloodthirsty wolves hot on their trail.
Synopsis:OTTWAY works in an oil camp with thousands of others, but he has a peculiar job. Stationed on the edge of the camp, his job is to watch for predatory animals (such as wolves) approaching the camp and kill them. He writes a letter to an unknown woman, explaining his job and his rather cynical feelings about it, and in flashback we see him about to commit suicide — when a huge bear nearly kills him. Ottway kills the bear before it can kill him. Instead of sending the letter he’s writing, Ottway tears it up. He gets on an oil-company plane to get to the camp, where a kid named FLANNERY sits next to him. He talks nonstop, so Ottway turns his back on him and naps. Flannery’s insulted. The plane flies into a storm, hits turbulence, starts going down.
Ottway wakes in the wreckage, immediately rushes out to help the others. Flannery made it, but he’s injured. So did LUTTINGER, so he and Ottway help carry Flannery away from the flaming wreckage. They pass another man, whose leg and arm have been cut off. He’s dying. HENRICK stands over yet another, whose gut is ripped open, blood flowing fast. PIKE, BURKE, and TALGET argue about the usefulness of a cell phone in the middle of nowhere. Ottway gathers these survivors and tries to organize a plan. He thinks they need to build a fire, then find food, then wait for daylight and start walking. The others argue with him, insisting they’ll be found. Ottway makes a compelling argument against them being found and points out the wives and children they all need to get back to. The only option is to follow his lead. They all help to build a fire. While gathering wood, three wolves attack Ottway. Henrick notices and comes to help him. Together, they get cut and bruised but manage to ward off the wolves.
They all gather warmer clothes from the victims, which Pike takes as permission to loot their wallets. Henrick and Ottway yell at him for this behavior, but Ottway does believe they should gather the wallets for the victims’ families. They also grab the meager food stored in the plane — frozen dinners and peanuts. They discuss the wolves, and Ottway explains their habits. They travel in packs, so the fact that there’s three suggests they’ve abandoned their pack, which is good for the survivors. They can smell that this entire group has been wounded, which is bad for them. Ottway hopes the wolves will leave them alone. The wolves do come back, though — and they are part of a pack of nine, bigger than average from being in the wild and having to adapt genetically to hunt bigger game. They simply stare at the survivors. Ottway decides they need to sleep in shifts, and he’ll keep the first lookout. During his shift, Ottway begins hallucinating that the woman he was writing the letter to is standing nearby. Dazed, he eats a packet of instant coffee to keep himself awake and stabilized. Later, during his watch, Luttinger sneaks off to urinate — and the wolves get him. At daybreak, the others wake and find his remains, horrified. Ottway decides they need to get away from the wreckage, out in the open tundra so the wolves can’t sneak up on them. He points out that they only have two hours of daylight, so they need to make it count.
As they walk, Ottway finds his gun bag. He digs through it and finds all the guns twisted and useless from the crash, but he takes some usable shell boxes. Burke and Pike ask how Ottway got to know so much, and Ottway explains he was once a poacher. Ottway’s big plan of not getting sneaked upon fails — wolves kill Flannery without much effort, then back off. Henrick is baffled, not understanding why these wolves are taking them out one at a time. Ottway fishes out Flannery’s wallet, and they keep moving. They continue through the open tundra to a forest, which Ottway hopes will give them some protection. He’s wrong — the wolves are waiting at the tree line. Ottway tells them to walk — don’t run — to a distant edge of the trees. Burke defies the order and runs, the wolves nearly killing him until Ottway reminds Burke to use his knife. He stabs a wolf, causing the others to run away. The crash survivors run into the thick of the forest.
Deep in the forest, they find a protected area and build a fire. They hear the wolves in the distance, fighting among themselves. Ottway grabs some branches, tapes shotgun shells to the ends of them, creating spears for each of them. Henrick wonders how well wolves see at night; they’re nocturnal, so they’re bred to see at night. This fact makes none of them happy. Henrick digs through his pack and finds some mini-liquor bottles from the plane. He distributes them. Their discussions turn into heated arguments, turning into a fistfight — when a wolf is upon them, attacking Pike. It takes a great deal of effort, but with the knives, shell-spears, and empty liquor bottles, the entire group manages to take down the wolf. Proud of their victory, Ottman insists on roasting the wolf and eating it, because the wolves will sense and smell what they’re doing and think twice about attacking again.
Later, Ottway and Henrick assess Burke’s wolf injuries. They fear he’s hypoxic, an altitude sickness that will kill him if it goes untreated. Later, the group falls into a discussion about faith. The conversation is cut short when Burke begins raving about his daughter. They know he’s at death’s door and try to calm themselves by talking about their own families. A storm rages upon them, wind blowing furiously. Burke ends up dying as a result. They try to make some distance during the day, then struggle to build a fire in the wind. Ottway ends up setting his hand on fire, but eventually they get the campfire lit, blocking the wind with their bodies. After the wind dies down, Ottway hears the distant sounds of a river. They’re thrilled, thinking the river will lead them to civilization. They rush to investigate…and find a high cliff edge.
The only way to get to the river is to scale the cliff — 30 feet out, then 20 feet down. They construct a crude tether from a trussing rope and clothing from the wreckage. Terrified, Henrick makes the first dive and successfully gets to the trees, securing the tether. Pike goes next, followed by Ottway, leaving Talget, who has a vertigo attack and ends up falling. The trees blanket his fall, but not by much. Nonetheless, he’s alive when the wolves come upon him. He hallucinates his little girl is with him and doesn’t seem to notice as the wolves eat him alive. Pike freaks out, concerned the wolves are never going to let them go. Ottway tells Pike not to think about dying — just fight. Pike looks uncertain as they march toward the river.
As they trudge along the bank, Pike simply collapses. Ottway and Henrick try to convince him to keep going, but Pike refuses. He’s stopped caring, content with the idea of going out on his own terms. There’s nothing for him back in the real world, so why fight to get back there? The others accept this decision and wait for him to die. Afterward, Henrick asks Ottway where he was headed “that night.” Ottway doesn’t know what this means, but Henrick explains he saw Ottway leaving the bar — the night he attempted suicide, at which point it becomes clear that the flashback bear attack from earlier immediately followed Ottway sticking a shotgun in his mouth and preparing to pull the trigger. Henrick’s only seen the look in Pike’s eyes one other time — that night, in Ottway’s eyes. Ottway has no answer to the question. Henrick asks another: what made Ottway change his mind? Ottway shrugs: “Fear.” They continue trudging along the river ice floe when it caves in, bringing Henrick down with it. Ottway struggles to pull Henrick out, but the current is too strong. Henrick freezes to death before he even has a chance to get pulled under.
Ottway keeps moving, yelling at himself for getting everyone killed. He comes upon an icy bottleneck, followed by a clearing, where animal carcasses are strewn about. As Ottway keeps moving, he sees a cave. Sitting at the mouth of the cave — one of the wolves, watching, waiting. Ottway has walked right into their den without realizing it. Angry and reflecting on all the lives lost on this journey, Ottway takes his own advice to Pike and confronts them head-on — taking on the six remaining wolves with unabashed fury. It’s an unfair fight, and the wolves kick his ass, but they don’t kill him. They’re scared away by something — the noise of an approaching helicopter. It lands and brings Ottway to the hospital, where he lies in bed with the woman glimpsed earlier.
Comments:The Grey is a modern take on Jack London-style arctic adventures, with elements of grim disaster movies like The Perfect Storm and Alive. The script contains a number of harrowing, adrenaline-pumping set pieces, but its overall lack of character development causes the many deaths to lack emotional impact. As written, it merits a consider.
The first act does a nice job of setting the tone, establishing the stakes, and giving some idea of what this script will be about: man versus wolf in the arctic tundra. However, the writers misfire almost immediately by focusing far too much on Ottway and not enough on the ensemble. Ottway is a fairly compelling character, but this story follows seven of the plane crash survivors, and all of them (including, to some extent, Ottway) lack depth.
Over the course of the second act, there are a lot of dialogue scenes — characters discussing what to do about the wolves, where to go next, etc. This should add some dimension to the other characters, but it really doesn’t. They’re each assigned a single personality quirk (Flannery the chatterbox, Pike the remorseless thief, etc.), but they don’t develop into more compelling characters as the story goes on. When the body count starts going up in the second act, the deaths have minimal impact as a result of this poor development. The narrative simply moves on without dwelling.
In the third act, this flaw becomes especially apparent, in which Ottway ultimately becomes the lone survivor. While it’s satisfyingly ironic to see Ottway accidentally stumble into the wolves’ den, the reflection on his fallen colleagues doesn’t pack the punch it should, on either Ottway himself or the audience. Finally, Ottway awakens in a hospital with his mysterious lost love by his side, and it becomes clear where the writers went wrong: they took a gritty ensemble piece and attempted to turn it into a half-baked story about one man searching to reclaim his lost love.
What might help the characters’ believability is a chance to see them in the real world, working their oil rig or drinking at the bar. All the writers show is Ottway, not introducing any of the other characters until they get on the plane. If the writers give a better understanding of what drives the others, the rest of the story will fall into place and their untimely deaths will have some meaning.
Instead, these deaths just prompt lingering questions like, “Why was Pike’s life so rotten that he decided to simply wait to die instead of muddling through until they found rescue?” The script wants his death to seem like a noble reward for a man who led a tough, impossible life — but they never develop the character fully enough for the audience to understand his tough, impossible life. Ironically, Ottway is the only character who has his mysterious questions answered, but his love story feels ambiguous and tacked-on. It’s never clear if this motivates him to stay alive to get back to the woman he loves, or if the fact that he know he’ll never see her again haunts him and makes him both fearless and reckless.
The overall beats of the post-crash story are pretty solid and loaded with variety. The writers do a very good job of exploiting their setting without feeling too much like similar movies (e.g., Alive). Really, the poorly developed characters are the only thing keeping The Grey from being a great survival story.
February 12, 2010
Author: Michael Winterbottom & Laurence Coriat
Writer’s Potential: 5
Logline:British police attempt to quell Jewish terrorism in World War II-era Palestine.
Synopsis:Archival newsreel footage is accompanied by CHAMBERS narrating the violent history of the Jewish return to Palestine: after several failed attempts starting in 1897, during World War I a Zionist leader finally convinced the British Empire to establish a “National Home for the Jewish People” in Palestine, controlled by the British. This didn’t make the Arab population happy. Throughout the 1920s, the British allowed more Jews to emigrate into the area, increasing the population significantly. Despite British control, the Jews looked after themselves, with their own self-run union, military force, and schools. With the rise in Arab attacks, the British established a police force modeled after Scotland Yard. Ironically, the Arab terrorist attacks caused the Zionists to create their own terrorist organization, the Irgun, to fight back. The British police spent more time chasing them than the Arabs. Chambers introduces the major players: British detectives WILKIN and MORTON, and Irgun leaders JABOTINSKY and AVRAHAM STERN.
GOLDBLUM, leader of the local Haganah military, brings a group of women (including SHOSHANNA) to a hotel with orders to use their feminine wiles to lure British police into relationships and slowly bring them over to the side of the Jewish cause. The Haganah works with British forces to protect their land, but it’s not good enough for the Irgun — they want all of Palestine to themselves and are prepared to fight for it. Stern and a few others are sent to rob a bank to fund the Irgun’s plans. Wilkin and his boss, CID leader CAIRNS, identify Stern easily but do not catch him with the other robbers. Wilkin and Shoshanna attend a party. They flirt with each other and dance. After, Wilkin walks her home, and she propositions her. Surprised but eager, he brings her back to his apartment. Chambers goes to Jenin, an Arab village, to meet with Morton, the superintendent of their police force. Morton tricks villagers into giving up their cache of illegal weapons by faking the execution of a prisoner. In voiceover, Chambers describes how things with the Irgun really got started: after an Arab killed a Jewish settler, Irgun member SHLOMO BEN YOSEF led a group on an incompetent mission attacking an Arab bus. Shlomo was arrested and executed, and he became a martyr for the Irgun cause. Stern uses the execution to his advantage, writing frequent newsletters calling his countrymen to action — against the British as well as the Arabs. Stern begins manufacturing explosives that are detonated in crowded markets throughout Palestine.
Cairns and Wilkin struggle to track down the bombers, but they’re good at blending in and fleeing before the bomb even goes off. Eventually, they track down a few Irgun members, hoping they will provide better leads. They find out the name of the bomb maker, but nothing else. Several months later, at another party, Goldblum congratulates Shoshanna on her choice of Wilkin. Chambers reintroduces Wilkin and Morton, who trained together. The British High Commissioner imposes a limit on the number of immigrants in an attempt to curb the terrorism. This only fuels the Irguns’ resolve. Stern declares an official war on the British and Arabs. More bombs are set off throughout the nation. Cairns finally finds the bomb maker, when he accidentally blows himself up. He dies without giving them any information.
Shortly thereafter, Cairns is targeted and shot down in the street. Despite the increasing violence and the tension between Britons and Jews, Wilkin takes Shoshanna on a trip to Jerusalem and asks her to marry him. Shoshanna asks for time to think about it. The following day, the heat causes Wilkin to start lashing out at Shoshanna. They both realize marriage might not be right thing. The British police begin following a lead, whom they track right to Stern’s secret headquarters. The police storm the house and arrest everyone there, including Stern. Wilkin interrogates Stern, who won’t give up much information. He does tell them he wants a Jewish homeland and unkindly suggests the Arabs can go to one of the neighboring Arab countries. Stern’s imprisonment is short-lived. When war breaks out with Germany, the Irgun announces they will start working with the British against the Germans. In an act of good faith, the British release all Irgun prisoners. Stern quickly forms a splinter organization, Freedom Fighters of Israel, which has no such goodwill toward the British.
Morton is promoted to replace Cairns. Morton’s tactics and personality quickly rub Wilkin the wrong way. Stern and his men resume robbing banks to finance their work. Wilkin takes Shoshanna to a dinner party hosted by Morton and his wife, ALICE. Morton is somewhat hostile toward Shoshanna, but Alice is polite. At work, Wilkin explains the threat Stern poses. Morton says he wants to use informants to find Stern, but Wilkin doesn’t think that will be as easy with the Jews as it was with the Arabs. Morton ignores him. Shortly thereafter, Morton announces a complaint has been filed against Wilkin, alleging that he knew about a Haganah member working for the police but didn’t nothing. Wilkin tries to argue, but the committee investigating it seems preoccupied with his relationship with Shoshanna. Realizing he’s being railroaded, he storms out of the meeting. Wilkin confronts Shoshanna about her brother, whom the committee insisted has Irgun ties. Shoshanna tells him she hasn’t seen her brother in years. Wilkin demands to know whose side she’s on. Shoshanna leaves, for good.
Morton takes Alice to pick up SHMUEL, his informant. Shmuel tells them about a Haganah arms cache. The next day, Morton prepares for a raid. Wilkin is livid, trying to explain that the Haganah hate Stern as much as the British do, but Morton doesn’t care. To him, an illegal organization must be stopped, whether they’re sympathetic to the British or not. Wilkin tries to get Shoshanna to talk to him, but she won’t. Schmuel turns up dead, executed by the Haganah for his treason. This fuels Morton’s disdain for the Jewish population. Shoshanna goes to Chambers to tell him that she has ended her relationship with Wilkin, so there’s no need to continue investigating him. Stern’s group robs another bank. The police catch two of the robbers and torture one, who refuses to talk. Not long after, the two officers who tortured the robber are killed. They do this to suss out Wilkin, their newest target. Their bomber won’t detonate the bomb because too many women and children are around. An informant comes out of the woodwork to tell Morton and Wilkin the alleged location of Stern. They check it out, fearing an ambush, and they’re not wrong — three men start shooting at them. Morton believes they will find a fourth. They do and arrest him.
The fourth man receives a letter, allegedly from his wife. They track down the address of this “wife” and find Stern. Morton is called in once Wilkin and his detectives have arrested Stern. Morton shoots Stern dead, claiming he tried to escape. Not even Wilkin believes this. Fearing she might be a target, Wilkin seeks out Shoshanna and tells her everything that happened with Stern. They make love and get back together, but not for long — Chambers reassigns Wilkin to Jerusalem, fearing he’s a target. They confirm Morton is a target, so the British assign bodyguards to himself and his family. Wilkin convinces Alice to convince Morton to return to England. She does, which leaves Wilkin as the main target of the Irgun’s ire.
Wilkin is tracked in Jerusalem. Assassins are dispatched. They make the long trip from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. They wait for Wilkin to leave his secure government housing on the way to work. Wilkin sees them and is immediately suspicious, but before he can draw his weapon, he’s gunned down in the street. The assassins speed away. Chambers tells Shoshanna that Wilkin has been killed. She’s horribly upset. Shoshanna, along with the rest of the Haganah, joins forces with the Irgun and the Freedom Fighters of Israel to force the British out. In voiceover, Chambers admits some relief to leaving, but he’s disappointed that they made such a mess of things. In 2008, real interview footage with a blasé DAVID SHOMRON — one of Wilkin’s assassins — finds him describing the difference between murder and execution. Shomron felt nothing about what he did — he executed him because he was ordered to.
Comments:The Promised Land is never quite sure if it wants to be a sweeping, ensemble-driven epic or an intimate love story set against the backdrop of British-occupied Palestine. The emphasis on the overall story of this time in history marginalizes the love story, making it seem forced and unconvincing. Simultaneously, the focus on this love story undermines the many other people involved in the historical events, making the overall struggle less compelling than it should be. As written, it merits a pass.
The first act is devoted almost completely to historical background information narrated by Chambers, a peripheral character. While this background is necessary for many audience members to understand what will unfold in the second and third acts, the story doesn’t focus at all on Wilkin, the person who eventually emerges as the main character. Without tying the story to Wilkin and/or Shoshanna from the start, it becomes a major structural problem as characters enter and leave the story in rapid succession. There isn’t much, dramatically, for an audience to sink their teeth into.
This presents a problem when the writers do finally start telling Wilkin and Shoshanna’s story. After so many characters enter the story and either die or outlive their usefulness to the historical events, it’s hard to know that these are the people audiences should care about. Neither Wilkin nor Shoshanna are presented as having any clearly defined goals or desires, making it even harder to differentiate them from the numerous supporting players in the story. This is partly because, even after the script brings them into focus, the script spends more time on the historical events than these two characters. It’s only in the third act, when the story closes with Wilkin’s tragic death followed by an apathetic interview from his killer, that it becomes evident that the Wilkin-Shoshanna story is supposed to be more than just a romantic subplot.
Overall, the writers simply don’t spend enough time developing the relationship between Wilkin and Shoshanna into something more interesting than a mere story beat. For instance, it’s poignant conceptually that Shoshanna gets involved with Wilkin because of orders from Goldblum but then truly falls in love with him, but their romance is never made convincing. They spend too much of their time discussing plot-related political affairs instead of getting to know each other in more significant ways. It makes moments like Wilkin’s proposal seem far-fetched and confusing instead of loving and romantic. Developing the relationship would, in turn, give these characters more depth. They’re based on real people, yet they never feel like more than cardboard cutouts. Only the fact that they have more screen time signifies Wilkin and Shoshanna as more important than any of the many other characters.
Ironically, the time the writers spend dramatizing the relationship comes at the expense of all those supporting characters. The story is rather complex, but the writers are content to merely dramatize the historical events rather than depict the people behind these events. While the characters don’t necessarily fall victim to ridiculous stereotyping or clichés, they also don’t stand out as anything more interesting than historical chess pieces. For the most part, they don’t seem to have any motivations or feelings regarding the things they are doing or that are being done to them. The only exception is Avraham Stern, whose desire to see a Jewish state very clearly drives every one of his actions.
It’s possible that a skillful director can overcome some of the narrative obstacles, and maybe great actors can fill in the gaps on what drives these characters to do the things they do.
February 9, 2010
[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 don’t really make New Year’s resolutions, but I did tell myself, “Make an effort to blog more in 2010.” Careful readers will know how well that’s going so far. I’ve just been swamped, and unlike the last time I anticipated a swampy future, I didn’t stockpile a bunch of boring script reviews to autopost so I could ignore my blog. Instead, I’m making do with the hallmark of the blogosphere: infrequent posts of dubious quality. I’m starting with the promised script review of Clive Barker’s Dread, a movie that came out on the 29th for an extremely limited engagement as part of the fourth annual After Dark Horrorfest (as I understand it, after the theatrical engagements it’ll be shuffled onto DVD fairly quickly).
Before I get to that, though, I’d like to toss out a cautious recommendation for Adam Green’s Frozen, which opened over the weekend. As usual, I haven’t actually seen the movie. However, I did read the script awhile back and was blown away — except for the part where the third act was missing. Not like it was a complete, 120-page script that simply, structurally, lacked a third act. This was a 70-page script that ended with TO BE CONTINUED… right as it geared up for the third act. What a tease! So maybe the third act is a disaster, but the first two acts are as solid as the frozen urine that soils the characters. Might be worth checking out, despite the limited release, minimal promotion, and middling reviews.
On to Dread…
Let’s start with the twist ending that I don’t want to ruin for those of you who might actually take the time to see this (don’t worry, I’m just going to draw an analogy to a movie you’ve seen). Longtime readers know that I’m not the world’s biggest fan of twist endings. I don’t get angry at every movie that has a twist ending — but I do have a problem with twist endings that either come out of nowhere or are too telegraphed. Twist endings require a delicate balance of elements in order to achieve an “inevitable but unpredictable” moment of surprise, instead of a frustrating mindfuck or an eye-rollingly obvious moment.
Dread suffers from a twist ending that’s obvious from, I dunno, page 20 or so. See, it opens with a flashback sequence in which a family comes home, unaware a killer is in their house. The lone survivor is a young boy, who may or may not grow up to be one of the main characters. The way the script is structured, though, it’s clear early who the young boy has grown up to be, yet it wants us to believe this is a great, unsolvable mystery. Finally getting to that analogy, it’s like if Psycho opened with a scene of young Norman killing his mother. Except for that one addition, everything else is exactly the same — first trying to make us think it’s some kind of thriller about stolen money, then trying to make us think the killer is Norman’s mother before the big twist that she’s long dead and Norman is dressing up like her and murdering people. Would you be happy about a movie that reveals its own big twist in the first scene but still tries to make a suspenseful mystery around it?
Dread even has the semi-subtle genre switch that Psycho has. Ignoring that opening scene, it starts out as a straightforward dramedy about college students struggling to move toward adulthood. Then, it shifts into a sort of bland combo of psychological thriller and torture porn fest. The story follows Stephen and Quaid, a pair of college students who form an awkward friendship in a boring ethics class. The first act isn’t much more than pretentious philosophizing from the two of them, which I bought into because the endless pretentious philosophizing I both endured and espoused during my first two years of college. It’s not terribly compelling, but at least it’s believable. We find out the most relevant information about the characters: Stephen is an introverted nerdy type who’s tethered to routine. Quaid is also pretty nerdy, but he’s more extroverted and pompous about it. Stephen is quietly in awe of Quaid’s misguided confidence, and that sets up the early conflict: Stephen wants to be more like Quaid but can’t figure out how to make it happen.
Quaid catches on to this and decides to teach him, starting with a prank. After a night of drinking, Quaid walks Stephen to his modest suburban home. While Quaid fixes himself a drink, he sends Stephen upstairs to his room to grab a DVD. In it, he finds a husband and wife sleeping. They wake, terrified to see someone in their house. They don’t know Quaid. Naturally, Stephen panics and runs. Quaid follows, amused. He explains this was a psychological experiment on both of them: when Stephen’s afraid, he simply reacts — that’s something he needs to harness to get what he wants. Meanwhile, the couple will spend years in sheer terror as a result of two harmless idiots breaking into their house. Quaid’s pleased with himself, but Stephen starts to see the cracks in his personality’s façade.
Nevertheless, they team up with Zooey (a hot girl from their ethics class) on a class project that seeks to study the long-term effects fear has on people. Stephen and Zooey just want to interview subjects about their greatest fears, but Quaid is obsessed with taking the research to the next level. He begins playing terror-inducing pranks on the other two, which escalate to horror-movie proportions in the third act. Can you guess who the little boy was in the opening scene? Can you?!
Dread has a number of third act problems beyond the twist that isn’t a twist. I don’t want to get into them with too much specificity because of spoilers, although maybe I shouldn’t care because the movie’s already on DVD in the U.K. and is out in theatres here. But I do care, so no spoilers. The main thing is that the script pusses out on completing Stephen’s character arc. Remember, he’s the one who spends most of the script afraid to go after what he wants. Stephen doesn’t overcome this — in fact, the script brings in a red-herring character to do the things Stephen is too wimpy to do himself. This really undermines the script, but it’s clear the writer was more interested in a nihilistic torture porn ending than allowing the character to finally stand up for himself.
That leads me to one of the more interesting aspects of the script, though. It portrays Stephen as the protagonist because, well, it follows him around and leaves Quaid an unmysterious mystery. And, of course, Quaid is the antagonist because he’s nuts, right? Well, think about the protagonist-antagonist relationship, which in its simplest form is defined thusly: a protagonist has a goal that he struggles to achieve, mainly because the antagonist hurls obstacles in his way. In Dread, Stephen has some weak, ineffectual goals (mainly, wanting to get laid), but it’s Quaid who has the real goal: he’s hellbent on “experimenting” on innocent people. Stephen inhibits Quaid’s goal by being a total puss.
It’s an interesting reversal of expectations that would have been made much more interesting if the writer hadn’t tried so hard to make Quaid an enigma. If the writer had laid Quaid’s backstory out in the first act, let his behavior start escalating in the second act, the trajectory from “weird, semi-depressed nerd” to “psychopath” wouldn’t feel so rushed. Building a mystery out of whether or not Quaid’s really crazy, followed by building a mystery out of why he’s crazy, doesn’t do much for the story, and it does literally nothing with the themes about how fear can either cripple a person or force them into action. As mentioned, Stephen the scaredy cat is never really compelled into action, but it’s not his fear that prevents him — it’s the machinations of the writing, which lets the character down. Maybe the writer, ironically, was too afraid to have his “hero” sac up and kill the “villain,” because that’d make him just as bad, right? (Hint: wrong.)
Because Quaid is the true protagonist of the story, it simply feels like his character doesn’t have the proper development. Whatever the protagonist/antagonist relationship, the script focuses on Stephen as the main character. Keeping the point of view with Stephen limits our understanding of Quaid, and the audience’s inability to empathize with whatever Quaid’s going through is the source of all the script’s problems. When the writer finally reveals the essential information late in the game — well, as mentioned, it’s no surprise, which makes it all the more frustrating that he spends so much time trying to hide it. Quaid will never be the true hero of the story, but his character drives the narrative. Obfuscating his personality does the script no favors — in fact, it’s the script’s fatal flaw.
I will reserve judgment, though. Producer/writer/director Anthony DiBlasi has had varying success bringing other Barker stories to the big screen (by which I mean the giant plasma TV on which you watch your favorite direct-to-video content), ranging from the meh The Plague to the pretty good Midnight Meat Train. I have no doubt DiBlasi remains faithful to the source material, which contains a lot of Barker’s trademark grim atmosphere and unsettling imagery, but like many of the adaptations I’ve reviewed, it’s the sort of thing that probably works better as a short story than a film.