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May 1, 2010

A Beginner’s Guide to Endings

Author: Jonathan Sobol
Genre: Comedy
Storyline: 5
Dialogue: 6
Characterization: 5
Writer’s Potential: 5

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

When three brothers learn they only have a few months left to live, they each embark on death-defying activities.

Synopsis:

In voice over, DUKE WHITE (60s) explains that he’s done something horrible to his sons, and his only way out is death. He attempts to hang himself, but the tree branch snaps, so he decides to throw himself over Niagara Falls without a barrel. The “Li’l Chapel of Love” (a cheap, kitschy chapel run by UNCLE PAL, Duke’s brother) hosts Duke’s funeral. Uncle Pal eulogizes him by quoting the lyrics to “Freebird” by Lynyrd Skynyrd. Duke’s five sons gather in the front row: MILO (30s), the jittery hipster; TODD (10), precious and half-Asian; JUICEBOX (22), muscular and dopey; NUTS (30s), a grizzled, paunchy version of Juicebox; and CAL (30s), handsome and quick on his feet. As the brothers pass by the casket to mourn, they toss in mementos of their father. Unaware that he would have to do this, Juicebox tosses in a bus schedule. Cal steals Juicebox’s gold watch and tosses it in. Juicebox punches Cal, then Nuts punches Cal to show the correct way to throw a punch. Pal has to break them up.

The brothers, along with Uncle Pal, go to a bowling alley and get drunk, in honor of Duke’s memory. Cal eyes an attractive waitress who has “BAD NEWS” tattooed on her lower back. Uncle Pal reads Duke’s will. He leaves Nuts a silver bar, Cal the family wedding ring, and Milo a rhinestone-covered jumpsuit worn by Elvis in 1972. To Juicebox and Todd, he leaves $380 to split. Then, Duke’s will announces that he’s done a bad thing, and that his three eldest sons only have a few months to live. In need of cash, Duke offered them up to a pharmaceutical company; they took an experimental drug, and Duke got paid. Duke also received a packet from a lawyer showing that each of the sons got $100,000 in a settlement with the drug company — which he bet on a losing horse. Angry and shocked, the sons decide to get as drunk as humanly possible.

Title card: EDWARD “NUTS” WHITE - 1973-????. Nuts wakes to the sound of his cell phone. FITZ asks Nuts if Juicebox is ready for his boxing debut against TANK BOY. Turns out, after Nuts bottomed out of the boxing world, he started training his dull younger brother. Nuts is horrified to find Todd has given Juicebox two black eyes. He hopes Juicebox does better against Tank Boy. When Cal wakes up, they talk about their death sentence. Nuts insists they’ll be fine, because Duke was such a liar. Milo steps into the house, announcing he saw a doctor who confirmed their impending death. Todd’s hamster chews through the TV power cord and dies. The brothers have to bury and mourn the hamster. Nuts goes to Fitz’s boxing club, where he sees Tank Boy in action and decides to cancel the fight. Fitz says it’ll cost him $20,000 to cancel the fight. Nuts offers himself up to fight Tank Boy. Fitz laughs, bringing Tank Boy over to hear the story of how Nuts got his name: boxers’ fists have a gravitational pull toward his nuts, resulting in a great record for Fitz, because he always won when the boxers got disqualified for hitting below the belt. Nuts is humiliated, but Fitz allows him to fight.

Nuts seeks out Uncle Pal, hoping to get some of his old boxing equipment. Pal warns Nuts against fighting Tank Boy. He explains that Duke never really thought Nuts was a good fighter — he actually sold Nuts out, rigging fights and betting on them. The reason everyone punched him in the nuts is because Nuts has a medical condition where any blow to the head will kill him. When Nuts insisted on changing that — changing his name and his win-by-disqualification record — Duke paid the referee to beat the hell out of Nuts, ending his boxing career. Nuts is disappointed and a little frightened by this revelations, but he decides if he’s going to die anyway, he’d like to do it preventing Juicebox from humiliating himself. He goes to Fitz’s gym to train and gets his ass kicked by a sparring partner. He tries to pay Fitz off with the silver bar, but it’s not enough. He has no choice but to let Juicebox fight. When he sees how loyal and stupid Juicebox is, he decides once again he can’t do this to his brother, and decides to fight despite the odds. He steps into the ring, and as the bell rings, the action cuts to black.

Title card: CAL WHITE - 1975-????. Cal wakes up next to Bad News. He’s horrified to learn she also slept with Duke. He flees quickly and returns home, where he unloads on Milo, terrified that he’ll end up just like Duke. Cal decides he’s going to marry MIRANDA, “the one that got away.” He goes to get the ring from Uncle Pal, who tries to talk him out of it by showing Cal she’s been a “three-peat” at the Li’l Chapel of Love. All Cal takes away from it is that Miranda is currently single. Cal gets dressed in his nicest suit and goes to Miranda’s house. She doesn’t recognize him and assumes he’s either selling something or religious. Cal tells her who she is, and she’s thrilled to see him. They decide to “play tourist” throughout Niagara Falls. He takes her on the Skywheel and begs her to give him another shot. Miranda informs him that she’s not easy prey, but Cal is undaunted. He loves her and is up for any challenge she can throw at him. Miranda takes him to a biker bar, Satan’s Finest, where her ex-boyfriend, BIG MITCH, hangs out.

Cal realizes she’s using him as bait to make Big Mitch jealous, so he decides to confront the situation head-on. Big Mitch decides to resolve their differences using the bar’s “Wheel of Misfortune.” The wheel lands on “stick and nail fight,” so Big Mitch and Cal take 2x4s with nails poking out of them and go out to the parking lot to fight. Big Mitch sends Miranda home. Cal fights Big Mitch ineptly, but by coincidence, Nuts passes by, throwing the silver bar out the window. It nails Big Mitch in the head, knocking him out cold. When Big Mitch regains consciousness, he allows Cal to date Miranda — but he handcuffs himself to Cal, to make things as awkward and creepy as possible if Cal attempts to do anything with her. Undaunted, Cal attempts to walk away. As he goes over some railroad tracks, Big Mitch handcuffs his free hand to the tracks. A train is approaching, which Big Mitch didn’t plan for. Terrified, he pulls a machete out of his jacket and orders Cal to cut through the handcuffs. It doesn’t work, so Big Mitch insists Cal must cut Big Mitch’s hand off — it’s the only way. Cal doesn’t want to do it, but he realizes he also doesn’t want to die, so he chops off Big Mitch’s hand, then drives him to the hospital. Covered in blood, Cal shows up at Miranda’s place. She’s shocked to see Cal there. They go to the Falls, where Cal attempts to propose to Miranda. The scene cuts to black in mid-sentence.

Title card: MILO WHITE - 1979-???? Milo wakes in the middle of the night, unable to sleep from the anxiety of his impending death. He goes to the emergency room, where the doctor explains they won’t know anything for sure until his blood work came back, but if he did indeed take “Affektorol,” he’s as good as dead. Milo immediately starts making a list of things he wants to do before he dies. He calls his job and quits over the phone, insulting a wide variety of coworkers. He withdraws all the money from his bank accounts, buys a ‘68 Torino fastback, and dresses up in the Elvis jumpsuit Duke left him. Amused, Todd decides to tag along on Milo’s adventure. Milo gets a tattoo, only to discover how painful it is. He goes to Niagara Raceway, sets up a ramp and six mannequins, and attempts the world’s lamest jump (not even clearing the mannequins’ heads). Milo and Todd spot Cal and Miranda. Milo immediately knows what Cal is up to and orders Cal to give him the ring. Cal refuses, instead telling Milo he should get a girlfriend for himself before he dies. Milo and Todd do reconnaissance on Milo’s crush, MINDY, who works at a tourist-trap haunted house. Milo asks her out in a rambling, inept sort of way. She’s flabbergasted.

Meanwhile, the boys’ mother, GOLDIE, shows up at the empty house. Milo steals a barrel from the Niagara Falls Daredevil Museum. Milo drops Todd off at home, then goes to a scenic overlook to attempt to go over the Falls in a barrel. As soon as Goldie sees Todd, she suspects something is up. He refuses to tell, until she offers him $5. Goldie and Todd race to the scenic overlook, with Todd explaining Milo’s motivation for doing something so dangerous and stupid. They spot Todd’s car. He’s positioned the barrel on an incline a great distance from the river, trying to push himself over it but only moving an inch or so with each motion. As Goldie explains that she would not let her children do something so risky as take experimental pills and replaced them with Tic Tacs, both Goldie and Milo attempt to get him out of the barrel, but only push it closer to the river. It rolls into the river, at which point Milo declares that he wants to live. Cut to black.

Title card: DUKE WHITE - 1941-2009. As Duke narrates about his desire for a miracle to redeem the mistakes he’s made with his son, we resume where each vignette left off: in mid-sentence, Cal is horrified to see Duke White’s bloated, two-week-old corpse shoot out of the river and land at Miranda’s feet. Calling it a sign, he opts not to propose and leaves her alone. An ambulance crashes into a power line next to a hydroelectric power station, knocking the lights off in Fitz’s boxing ring. When the lights come back on, Tank Boy is on the canvas, and Nuts stands victorious. Milo’s barrel is stopped just shy of the Falls by the noose and branch Duke threw into the river before diving in himself. A tourist calls 911. Goldie leads the family through a nice, civilized dinner, and Duke now knows a miracle has officially happened — and it made him so happy, he must be dead.

Comments:

A Beginner’s Guide to Endings is a fairly funny script about a dysfunctional family. Despite a well-written first act, the story deteriorates rapidly with barely related vignettes that cut to black just as they’re building up a head of steam, and characters who become more grating than endearing. As written, it merits a pass.

The first act is solid, establishing Duke, Pal, the five brothers, and the setup with a number of well-earned laughs. It’s really entertaining and shows what this script could have been if the writer hadn’t made a variety of poor choices. After the first act, the script loses its structure, focusing on three vignettes (depicting how Nuts, Cal, and Milo react to the news that they’re dying) that feature some moderately amusing situational jokes, but the stories as a whole fall flat, playing like the sort of Saturday Night Live sketches that have a one-joke premise but last for 12 minutes. Then, just as they seem to be heading somewhere more interesting, the writer cuts to the next segment. It detrimentally affects the momentum of the script, and although each “sketch” has some amusing moments, it’s difficult to get invested in the characters.

The ending doesn’t redeem this. It relies on two of the worst crutches of writers: wacky coincidences (none of which are as clever as they could be) and lazy voiceover narration, explaining how the actions sum up the script’s themes rather than letting the actions speak for themselves. It’s a deeply unsatisfying resolution for a script that had a lot of potential that’s ultimately wasted.

The main characters suffer as a consequence of the writer’s joke-first mentality. Brief opportunities arise to really dig deep into each character, his feelings on mortality, and his complicated relationship with a deceitful, drunk, obnoxious father, but the writer eschews these moments in favor of easy laughs. The audience will leave each vignette feeling like they spent 20 minutes watching this character in action without really getting a sense of who he is. Ultimately, the brothers serve as lightning rods for wacky situations and wackier supporting characters. As a result, it’s difficult to empathize with their struggles.

The supporting characters don’t fare much better. By design, they’re a menagerie of over-the-top weirdos who provide a great deal of laughs, but don’t really provide any insight into the main characters. They just say and do strange, often cartoonishly violent things, while the main characters react like dull straightmen. Even Duke, whose poor parenting should cast a shadow over each of the characters, isn’t much more than a walking joke dispenser, with the exception of his uncharacteristically sentimental, philosophical voiceovers.

The biggest change necessary to save this script is something that could happen in an editing room: dropping the “vignette” idea in favor of cutting back and forth between each brother’s story, giving a better sense of narrative drive as it races toward the finish line. Without a major change like that, this script is a disappointing lost cause.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 10:15 AM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

May 5, 2010

Wickie and the Treasure of the Gods

Author: Christian Ditter
Genre: Adventure/Family/Comedy
Storyline: 7
Dialogue: 7
Characterization: 6
Writer’s Potential: 7

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Consider

Logline:

A nerdy Viking boy must lead warriors on a quest to find his kidnapped father and Thor’s hammer.

Synopsis:

Led by warrior HALVAR, a group of Vikings sail through the foggy sea. Halvar has to encourage his terrified 10-year-old son, WICKIE, to accompany them on the raid of a castle. Halvar sends Wickie to search a dungeon on his own, reminding him he’ll soon be chief and will have to be brave. A group of friendly ESKIMOS are held prisoner in the dungeon. Despite their pleasant demeanor, Wickie fears them. Once he realizes they’re no threat, Wickie releases them. Meanwhile, Halvar is disappointed to find that someone has beaten them to this castle’s treasure — all that’s left are a few barrels of mead and sacks of potatoes. Wickie can tell from a broken-off metal spike (from a mace) that Terrible Sven beat them. The castle guards regain consciousness and sound the alarm. The Vikings retreat. Wickie uses a grappling hook to keep the castle drawbridge closed, preventing the guards and knights from pursuing them.

On the ship, Halvar ridicules Wickie for burying his nose in a book. The ship returns to the village of Flake, where Halvar and Wickie reunite with YLVA (Wickie’s overbearing mother) and YLVIE (Wickie’s best friend, a girl with a crush on him). Ylva and the other wives want to know what sort of treasure and food they brought back. Nobody’s happy to find potatoes and mead is all they got. The warriors keep promising jewels and geese, but all they ever come back with are potatoes. As they unload the barrels, Wickie and FAXE (a warrior) see one start to move on its own. The lid pops off, and out leaps SVENJA, a girl Wickie’s age, who immediately runs off. Halvar orders Wickie to chase her. With some effort, Wickie gets her (but she immediately pins him to the ground), and Halvar declares her their new slave. Wickie shows Ylvie a book he looted, which chronicles the adventures of Thor, who destroys ships with his lightning hammer and lives in an Ice Palace filled with treasure. Unimpressed, Ylvie points to an odd lock in the Ice Palace illustration. Wickie realizes it matches the shape of Halvar’s amulet. Wickie tries to tell Halvar about the amulet, but Halvar won’t listen. The villagers make a feast from their potatoes and mead, but the mead is drugged. It knocks them all unconscious, and when Wickie awakens, Halvar is gone — he’s been kidnapped, and all signs point to Terrible Sven. Because Halvar is gone, Wickie defaults as their leader. The other Vikings lack confidence in Wickie, so they want to take a vote, but ultimately the votes go toward Wickie, who wants to lead a charge to rescue Halvar. Tearfully, Ylva gives him Halvar’s sun dial. Ylvie gives him a sugar beet for good luck.

Wickie takes the helm of the ship, but he’s so incompetent, it moves every direction but forward. Eventually, after destroying the pier and several fishing boats, they go out on the high seas. Wickie tries to give orders to the crew and get them to work together, but they don’t listen. Svenja mocks Wickie’s leadership skills. A violent storm tosses the ship about. The Vikings awaken on a sandy beach on the Isle of the Valkyries, their ship damaged. Wickie leads them into the jungle to find cloth to repair their sales. Instead, they find the Valkyries — beautiful, athletic women, who capture the Vikings in a huge net, which they care to a volcano. Wickie struggles to negotiate with them. He sees they have a sail, but they have nothing to offer the Valkyries for it. Wickie insists he can get the treasure from Thor’s Ice Palace. This gives the Valkyries pause. The VALKYRIE CHIEF asks if Wickie has the amulet, but Svenja pipes up that Terrible Sven stole it. The Valkyries are fearful at the mention of his name. They help the Vikings repair the ship and find Cape Fear — Terrible Sven’s island — under the condition that they get the amulet back and never seek the treasure, which will grant its owners great power no human should have.

Wickie and the Vikings set sail. They get lost on the way to Cape Fear, but with Svenja’s help, they make it there. It’s a frightening place with black volcanic rock and ashy ground, full of gloom and fog. They pass Odin’s Gorge, an extremely dangerous passage from which no man has returned. The ship beaches within sight of Terrible Sven’s huge castle. Wickie comes up with a brilliant idea to get into the castle — they’ll dress up like clowns and pretend to be the court jesters. Svenja confesses she’s impressed with Wickie’s emerging leadership skills. The castle guards think the group look like Vikings dressed up like clowns, but their appearance distracts them long enough for Faxe to knock them unconscious. They creep silently through the corridor when Wickie accidentally knocks over 10 suits of armor in a domino effect. POKKA, Terrible Sven’s assistant, hears the noise and is pleased to see the court jester’s have arrived. He leads them into the banquet hall, where they’re expected to perform an act. They have nothing prepared, so ULME starts singing “Scarborough Fair” while Wickie leads the others in terrible dance movements. This eventually turns into a violent altercation, which to the amusement of Terrible Sven and his court. They burst into wild applause, and the Vikings prepare to leave when Terrible Sven orders them back — because they forgot to take their pay.

Wickie leads the Vikings to the dungeon, where he attempts to negotiate the release of Halvar with the guards. The guards are confused by the idea of diplomacy, so the other Vikings beat them up. Wickie leads the Vikings into Halvar’s cell, and after a gleeful reunion — Svenja slams the door shut, informing them she’s Terrible Sven’s daughter. Terrible Sven browbeats her, and it seems like Svenja immediately regrets her actions. The Vikings make a human ladder to an opening 30 feet above, ending with Wickie. Halvar is shocked to see his normally fearful son scale the Vikings with gusto. Wickie finds a donkey outside. He attaches the sugar beet to a stick, which he ties to the donkey’s head. He tries to use the donkey to pull the men out of the cell, but instead, they pull the donkey down into the cell. Wickie’s on his own. He sneaks around the castle until he finds Terrible Sven’s bedroom. Sven sleeps, snoring loudly. Wickie sees the dungeon key hanging around Sven’s neck. With some effort and physical schtick involving Sven tossing and turning while Wickie tries to grab for the key, Wickie manages to remove it. He also spots the amulet on Sven’s nightstand, so he takes that, too. On his way out, Wickie steps on a creaky floorboard, waking Sven immediately. Wickie hides in a barrel as Svenja busts into the room, having heard the quiet creak from her room. Together, Terrible Sven and Svenja go to search the castle for intruders. When they leave, Wickie returns to the dungeon. He frees Halvar and the others, but they hear Terrible Sven — he knows the amulet is missing. Forced to flee quickly, Wickie leads them up to a tower. Their only option is to plummet down into the ship. Halvar is shocked by Wickie’s bravery.

As soon as their ship sets sailed, they discover they’re surrounded by Terrible Sven’s forces. The only way out is Odin’s Gorge. Despite the Vikings’ protests, Wickie orders them into the Gorge. Terrible Sven witnesses this, shocked. Svenja is smitten, certain this was Wickie’s brainstorm. Terrible Sven takes a ship into the Gorge, quickly catching up to Halvar despite the treacherous waters. Terrible Sven hops over to Halvar’s ship, while Wickie hops over to Sven’s. While Halvar battles Sven for the amulet, Wickie battles Svenja for his book. Sven manages to get the amulet, and Wickie narrowly escapes before Sven can capture and hold him prisoner. There’s a fork in the Gorge. The Vikings choose the wrong path and end up getting stuck in the frozen Arctic Ocean. Halvar is disappointed that Wickie can’t think of an idea to get them out of it. The crew is forced to spend the night huddled up against each other, trying to keep from freezing.

They’re awakened by the Eskimos Wickie freed earlier. These Eskimos lead Wickie and the Vikings to the Palace of Eternal Ice. The amulet sticks out of the lock, but it hasn’t frozen over, meaning they may not be too late to get to Sven. Inside, the Vikings confront Terrible Sven and his men. Wickie opens his book, which contains cryptic clues on how to get the treasure. While Halvar fights Sven, Wickie realizes he needs to use some frozen ropes to tie together various elemental runes in a specific order. Sven corners Halvar. His men hold the Vikings hostage while Wickie sneaks off to find the treasure. Svenja spots him and runs after him. Inside the treasure chamber is Thor’s hammer. Wickie and Svenja are awed. The ice begins to crack under Svenja’s feet. He has to make the choice between using the hammer to save the Vikings or saving Svenja. He’s not big or strong enough to pull her out. The only way to get her out is for Svenja to give up her treasured sword. She does so, reluctantly. Wickie pulls Svenja out of the treasure chamber just as it collapses. Terrible Sven manages to get the hammer, firing lightning bolts at the Vikings — but he’s melting everything, destroying the chamber around him. The Vikings try to flee before the entire palace is destroyed. Wickie holds up a mirror as Terrible Sven shoots a bolt, reflecting it back to him. Sven drops the hammer, which slides to Svenja. Sven orders her to finish off the Vikings, but she hurls the hammer into the huge crevasse that has formed in the collapsing Ice Palace.

Seeing Terrible Sven is about to fall into the crevasse himself, Wickie leads the Vikings back to help pull him up. Wickie shows Terrible Sven the value of diplomacy, which he grudgingly accepts. Wickie, Halvar, and the other eskimos load the ship with treasure and geese. Wickie and Svenja part ways amiably. Back in the village of Flake, Halvar bestows the Amulet of the Brave on Wikie. The villagers cheer.

Comments:

Wickie and the Treasure of the Gods is a sequel to a 2009 film version of a 1970s animated series popular in Germany. Judging it strictly as a movie for kids, the script’s combination of fun story, bizarre comic characters, and amusing one-liners will undoubtedly make it entertaining. As written, it merits a consider.

The first act sets up a simple but engaging conflict as bookworm Wickie is ridiculed by all the Viking warriors — most hurtfully by his own father — for reading instead of taking heroic action. The writer puts Wickie on a believable journey from socially awkward nerd to truly heroic leader of men, making his arc — and the story as a whole — satisfying despite its flaws. The writer also does a pretty good job of setting up the other major characters and the story that leads them all on a course to fight over Thor’s hammer. There’s nothing outstanding here, but it’s all solid.

The second act diversion to the Isle of the Valkyries, while amusing, feels pretty unnecessary. I plead ignorance regarding the source material — if the Isle of the Valkyries is a memorable component of the first film and/or the animated series, it’s reasonable to assume audiences will enjoy it. Narratively, though, it doesn’t quite fit. Aside from providing a few amusing jokes, the Valkyries don’t do much but deliver exposition through disappointingly lazy, on-the-nose dialogue. This sense of wheel-spinning actually does continue as the Vikings reach Sven’s castle. The “court jester” sequence is an amusing diversion, but it stops the story in its tracks. The saving grace is how short the second act is — the script gets bogged down, but never for too long.

The third act keeps up the combination of goofy comedy and action-adventure. All of the set-pieces are brief, entertaining, and satisfying. Halvar’s shock at how much his son has changed is a nice touch, but it’d be more successful if the second act spent more time showing Wickie as a strong leader and less time distracted with wacky comedic moments. Svenja’s betrayal is obvious from the moment she pops out of the mead barrel (come on, the first for letters of her name are “Sven”), but the writer actually does a nice job of making her seem human — she’s not simply fooling Wickie. All of this leads to a tidy resolution and a cheerfully upbeat ending.

Other than the second act weaknesses, the biggest problem with the script is that the humor (particularly the rampant, unabashed sexism and many jokes about slavery) may not play well abroad, being that this is a kids’ movie. Much of the script is amusing, and may even entertain parents, but certain audiences won’t necessarily want their kids exposed to such dark humor.

The characters are simple but solid. It’s tough to complain about a character whose name is “Terrible Sven” not being multifaceted. Still, the writer does a nice job of giving each character in this large cast individual quirks to differentiate them from one another. Wickie’s arc, which effectively shows that the brainy and brawny can learn from one another equally and strike a good balance rather than being one or the other, which seems like a pretty good message for the target audience.

This is one of the better kids’ movie scripts out there, but it will be difficult for it to find a large international audience when most kids outside of Germany and Austria are unfamiliar with the source material.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 11:02 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

This Must Be the Place

Author: Paolo Sorrentino & Umberto Contarello
Genre: Drama
Storyline: 2
Dialogue: 3
Characterization: 3
Writer’s Potential: 3

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

A washed-up rock star embarks on a trip across the U.S. to find the Nazi soldier who tormented his recently deceased father.

Synopsis:

In Dublin, CHEYENNE (50s) performs a ritual of putting on black clothes and applying goth-like makeup. Meanwhile, MARY (teens) performs the same ritual. These two depressed souls meet at a mall, where they see a band butchering a cover of a familiar song. Cheyenne and Mary go to a coffee shop in the mall, and it becomes clear that this a routine, and they have an awkward friendship as a result of Cheyenne’s celebrity. DESMOND, a clerk at another store, awkwardly asks Mary out. She treats Desmond like crap and sends him away. At a grocery store, two girls laugh at Cheyenne’s appearance. When they aren’t looking, he smashes everything in their cart and disappears. Cheyenne meets his best friend, JEFFREY, at the bank where he works. Jeffrey talks nonstop about sex and wonders why Cheyenne isn’t similarly focused. That evening, Cheyenne goes home and has dinner with his wife, JANE, who tells him MTV wants his band to reunite and perform at their music awards. Cheyenne refuses. Cheyenne slips Desmond a rare bootleg CD to give to Mary. She’s thrilled, but she quickly realizes Cheyenne set this up and still turns down Desmond. Cheyenne and Mary visit the graves of two boys who died as teenagers. Their ELDERLY PARENTS are there, and they yell at Cheyenne, reminding him he’s not welcome at their sons’ grave. Mary starts crying, but Cheyenne seems unaffected by this. He merely leads Mary out of the cemetery.

STEVEN, the leader of the cover band Cheyenne and Mary passed by earlier, comes to Cheyenne’s home. He begs Cheyenne to produce a CD by his band, the Pieces of Shit. Cheyenne agrees to listen to their demo CD, but he tells Steven he’s not a producer. Cheyenne drops by Mary’s house to meet her, but comes upon her MOTHER instead. Mary’s Mother is angry, blaming Cheyenne for the disappearance of her son, Tony. Cheyenne invites Mary, Desmond, and Jeffrey to a dinner party. Desmond attempts to impress Mary but fails. Jeffrey remains preoccupied with his uninvited girlfriend, who brought a dog. That night, Mary’s Mother is found by police, wandering down the middle of a highway on a rainy night. Cheyenne and Mary attempt to comfort her. Cheyenne learns his father is dying and wants to see him, but he’s petrified of flying. Jane encourages Cheyenne to do it. He’s given special permission to sit in the cockpit with the pilots to put him at ease, but they’re obnoxious and unprofessional, so Cheyenne opts not to fly. He takes a ship across the Atlantic. When he arrives in New York, he learns his father has died. His brother, RICHARD, takes him to view the body as the tahara is performed on him. Cheyenne notices several Auschwitz tattoos on his father’s wrinkled skin. Cheyenne meets with friend and ex-Talking Heads frontman DAVID BYRNE, who performs a special concert at the Knitting Factory in honor of Cheyenne’s dad. Cheyenne confesses that Byrne is a real artist, while Cheyenne just exploited depressed kids with bad pop songs.

At the funeral, Richard points out MORDECAI LEVY to Cheyenne. Cheyenne doesn’t know who he is. At a Benihana steakhouse, a man named ERNIE RAY strikes up a conversation with Cheyenne, strongly hinting that he wants Cheyenne to drive his truck to Oklahoma. Cheyenne turns him down. Richard gives Cheyenne their father’s diary and drawings, which he wanted Cheyenne to have. They give clues about Aloise Muller, the man who tortured him at Auschwitz. Richard tells him to take the information to Mordecai Levy, who has brought to justice hundreds of Nazis. Cheyenne meets with Levy, who doesn’t give him any realy help. Cheyenne agrees to transport Ernie Ray’s pickup truck, after all. Cheyenne drives all day and calls Jane from a motel room, claiming he’s just boarded the ship to return to Ireland. The next day, he arrives in a small town in Indiana. Based on his father’s notes, Muller’s wife, DOROTHY SHORE, lives in this town. Cheyenne tracks her from church back to her house. Claiming to be one of Dorothy’s former students (she’s a teacher), Cheyenne gets her to invite him into her home. He tells her that he has fond memories of her lecture on the Holocaust. Dorothy is surprised, because she usually ran out of time and skipped the World War II unit. Cheyenne asks Dorothy why she thinks the Jews were persecuted. She believes the Nazis wanted their money. That night, Cheyenne stakes out Dorothy’s house. He breaks into it while she sleeps and digs through her possessions until he finds some letters and drawings from Dorothy’s granddaughter and great-grandson, in Texas.

At another motel, Cheyenne begins listening to the Pieces of Shit’s demo. Despite the name, the music is good. Cheyenne drives to Texas, picking up an Indian hitchhiker along the way. He stakes out the home of RACHEL MULLER, watching her break down crying, then follows her to the diner where she works. When he enters the diner as a customer, Rachel recognizes Cheyenne from his music. Cheyenne challenges some teenagers to a ping-pong game, which he wins. After she gets off work, Cheyenne follows Rachel to a disco, where he approaches her and dances with her. Cheyenne tracks Rachel back to her home and watches from his truck as she tucks in her 10-year-old son, TOMMY. The next day, Rachel tells Cheyenne that Tommy has a fear of the water. Cheyenne hires contractors to install an above-ground pool in Rachel’s yard. It doesn’t help Tommy. Rachel invites Cheyenne to stay for dinner. After she puts Tommy to bed, Cheyenne and Rachel start talking about parents. She reveals her parents moved to Hong Kong because of bad blood with her grandparents, who retired to Huntsville, Utah. Cheyenne leaves the next morning. As he makes his way toward Utah, Rachel and Tommy bond, and Tommy finally gets into the water.

Over the phone, Cheyenne finally confesses to Jane that he’s not on the ship. She’s shocked. While stopped at a gas station, Cheyenne watches as Ernie Ray’s truck suddenly explodes. A mechanic explains that somebody must have put in too much oil. Cheyenne buys a brand new truck and takes a bunch of oil rig workers back to Oklahoma. Cheyenne shows up at Ernie Ray’s home with the new truck. Cheyenne visits a gun shop, where he buys several pistols. A goth girl recognizes Cheyenne, but he denies he’s Cheyenne. In Huntsville, Utah, Cheyenne stops at a bar, where he needles an OLD MAN about any German residents in the town. The Old Man is evasive, but after rambling about himself for awhile, he admits there is one German resident in town — but his name is Peter Smith, not Aloise Muller. Cheyenne stakes out Peter Smith’s house. It’s empty, so Cheyenne breaks in and digs through Peter’s possession while he gets drunk on Peter’s liquor. He calls Steven and agrees to produce his CD, telling him to rent the most expensive studio in Dublin and charge it to Cheyenne. While on the road back to the motel, Cheyenne thinks he sees TONY from behind, but it turns out to be a total stranger.

Mordecai Levy has tracked Cheyenne to the motel. He knows Where Aloise Muller/Peter Smith has fled to: Canada. They drive up to the snowy plains of Canada together, where they find Aloise’s house, isolated in the middle of the frozen wasteland. Cheyenne goes into the house alone, while Levy waits. ALOISE simply sits, waiting, resigned to his fate. Before Cheyenne can do anything, Aloise melodramatically explains why the Nazis did what they did (they were all obsessed with fitting in and imitating each other, which the Jews had no interest in, so that led them to persecute the Jews for having higher self-esteem), then explains he knows everything about Cheyenne and his father. He shows Cheyenne his missing hand, which was blown off in a letter-bomb Cheyenne’s father sent when he discovered Aloise’s whereabouts. This ruined Aloise’s carpenter livelihood and forced him into hiding. Aloise feels this makes them even. Cheyenne doesn’t agree. He forces Aloise to strip naked and start marching through the snow. Levy watches, shocked, as the elderly man struggles through the knee-high snow. Cheyenne waits with Levy at the airport, then takes a ship back to Dublin. He calls his home, and Mary answers. Mary tells Cheyenne not to get too swept up in death and sorrow.

Mary’s Mother sits on the porch of her house, smoking a cigarette as usual. A figure appears in the distance, heading toward the house. At first, she thinks it’s Tony, but as the figure gets closer, it turns out to be Cheyenne. To his surprise, she raises her hand in greeting and smiles. Cheyenne smiles, too.

Comments:

This Must Be the Place desperately wants to be a deep, thought-provoking examination of the multigenerational impact of the Holocaust. However, it barely even qualifies as a dramatic story; it’s more like a series of barely connected scenes fumbling for some kind of purpose. The story, if one can call it that, is a structural disaster — plus, it doesn’t even follow a worthwhile character. As written, it merits a pass.

The first act is devoted to establishing both Cheyenne and a number of characters and conflicts (Desmond wanting to date Mary, Mary’s Mother blaming Cheyenne for the never-explained disappearance of Tony, Cheyenne growing bored in his marriage to Jane, Jeffrey irritating both Jane and Cheyenne with his sexual compulsion) that have nothing to do with anything. The writers make a vain, somewhat embarrassing attempt to tie everything back together in the end, but reminding us of these characters at the end does little more than underscore how aimless this story actually is. It wastes a solid 32 pages before Cheyenne’s dying father is even mentioned, and another 20 before Cheyenne starts his tedious spiritual quest across the U.S., which is supposed to be the main thrust of the story.

The second act focuses on the death of Cheyenne’s father and his search for Aloise Muller, the Nazi who tormented him. Why does he feel compelled to do this? Who knows? Why does he warm up to Rachel and Tommy and do such nice things for them? Preemptive guilt? The writing is subtle to the point where nothing makes any sense. Cheyenne simply does things and goes places without any rhyme or reason, while the writers repeatedly mention how blank and impenetrable Cheyenne’s face is. Guess what? A blank-faced, taciturn lead character with nothing but internal motivations (as opposed to having an external character like Mordecai Levy nudging Cheyenne in a direction for clear reasons) is a recipe for the world’s dullest character and the world’s least interesting story.

The third act does nothing to redeem the tedium. Bringing Levy back into the story actually gives it a little bit of well-defined forward motion, but it feels like far too much of a convenient cheat to bring this seemingly extraneous character back into the story just when Cheyenne has lost his lead on Aloise. Cheyenne’s confrontation is similarly unsatisfying: like the rest of the script, nothing really happens. Aloise rambles, as if speaking for all Nazis, and then accepts his fate with no argument. The antagonist giving up after a blandly preachy speech is not exactly scintillating drama.

There’s no kinder way to put this: Cheyenne is boring. He’s a lobotomized Morrissey with nothing interesting to say on the rare occasions he does speak, and the writers struggle like hell to make this journey mean something — have some kind of impact on the character. However, he’s too much of a cipher, which makes it impossible to care about anything he does. Even when he gets revenge on Aloise, it’s never clear that that’s what he really wants, or if he does want it, it’s never clear why. Who cares that he finally starts smiling in the last few pages, when the writers never give a strong sense of why he wasn’t smiling prior to that? The world’s greatest actor would have an extremely difficult time making this character worth watching.

The other characters in the script simply exist. None of them seem to serve any particular purpose — if Cheyenne sees something in them that helps him come to realizations about himself, that’s never made clear. As mentioned, every character introduced in the first act (including Cheyenne’s wife) completely disappears from the story until the last two pages, making the long, slow setups of their personalities and conflicts meaningless distractions. On the other hand, it seems like Cheyenne’s encounters with Rachel and Tommy are supposed to have some sort of deeper meaning — if they don’t, then why the hell does it go on so long? — but that deeper meaning is never, ever crystallized, no matter how many montages involving swimming pools and floating paper boats the writers throw into the script.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 7:04 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

Safe

Author: Boaz Yakin
Genre: Action
Storyline: 3
Dialogue: 3
Characterization: 4
Writer’s Potential: 4

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

After saving the life of a Chinese girl who was kidnapped and forced to work for a mob boss, an ex-boxer attempts to rid the girl of her enemies.

Synopsis:

On a New York subway platform, MEI (12) waits, alone and afraid. Across the tracks is a homeless-looking man who makes her nervous. One hour earlier, Mei is shoved onto the floor by EMILE, a Russian Mafia kingpin, who accuses Mei of lying to him. He demands to know “the numbers.” One year earlier, Mei impresses her Shanghai schoolteacher with her impressive ability to quickly memorize numbers and instantly calculate complex equations in her head. Just when she’s going to be sent to a special school in Beijing, she’s kidnapped by gangsters. Meanwhile, at an Atlantic City sports arena, LUKE wins a mixed martial arts match, nearly killing his opponent in the ring. Luke is enraged that his fight fixer put him up against such a miserable opponent — Luke was supposed to take a dive, but the opponent’s incompetence made it impossible. His promoter warns Luke that the Russian mob will not be happy to learn they all lost high-profile bets on this fight. Mei is dragged to a warehouse, where she meets HAN JIAO. He explains that his daughter is a classmate of Mei’s, and that she has an extraordinary gift he would like to take advantage of, because he needs a bookkeeper who can work without leaving an electronic or paper trail. He threatens to kill her mother if she doesn’t agree to work for him. Mei has no choice.

Terrified that the mobsters might go after his family, Luke calls to warn her to leave the house. He’s too late, though — VASSILY (Emile’s son) and his hired goon CHEMYAKIN have already killed his wife and children. Against all odds, they decide to let Luke live, to wallow in a miserable existence. Vassily promises they’ll keep eyes on him and kill anyone he attempts to befriend or fall in love with, and they’ll kill him if he achieves any kind of success. The goal is for him to be miserable, and if Luke commits suicide in the meantime, all the better. Mei is sent to New York, where a crooked police captain, WOLF, sets her up with fake papers stating she is the daughter of YAO CHANG, the local crime boss. Mei quickly learns that this entire precinct is on the take, and that their prices have just gone up.

One year later, Mei is now a hardened member of Yao Chang’s syndicate. She informs him that an underground casino is losing money. Enraged, Yao Chang leads some men to the casino to beat the manager and tear the place apart. Meanwhile, Luke works at a soup kitchen and lives at a homeless shelter. At the shelter, he meets a reasonably nice guy in need of new shoes. Luke hands over his own. That night, he wakes to find the new friend has been stabbed in the throat, and his shoes have been removed. Han Jiao gives Mei a sheet of paper with a long, complex number written on it. She’s memorized it before he’s finished asking her to memorize it. He burns the paper and tells her she’ll be taken elsewhere to memorize another, similar number. Luke is harassed by some cops, who it turns out recognize him from his pre-homeless life. They beat the shit out of him, laughing the whole time. On her way to learn the second number, a Russian convoy runs the car she’s in off the road and kidnaps her. She’s dragged to Emile’s office. He orders her to tell him the number, but she pretends to not speak English. The police surround Emile’s warehouse. This distracts the mobsters enough that nobody notices Mei has left until it’s too late. Turns out, Yao Chang sent the police to get Mei. He negotiates a higher percentage with Wolf, but when they bust in, she’s gone. Yao Chang thinks Wolf has screwed him.

Mei arrives on the subway platform from the opening scene. Luke is revealed as the homeless person who creeped her out. He’s suicidal, ready to finally jump on the tracks — when he sees Mei, fragile, haunted, and pursued by both police and Russian killers. She hops onto a train, and the Russians follow. So does Luke. Chemyakin recognizes Luke. Luke takes one of the killers guns, then kills everyone on the train, including a surprised Chemyakin. Luke tries to console Mei, but she runs out seconds before the doors shut, trapping Luke inside the train. Luke goes to the back and dives off the moving train, then follows Mei out of the subway station. He sees police and overhears them talking about finding the girl. Mei runs through the downtown streets when she’s approached by some of the detectives who beat up Luke earlier. Luke beats them up once again and flees in a stolen car. The police and Russian mob pursue the car in a long chase. Luke narrowly manages to elude them.

Wolf, Han Jiao, and Emile are all angry to find that their people had Mei and lost her. Luke has stolen the wallet of one of the men he killed. He and Mei buy new clothes to blend in, then check into an upscale hotel, thinking their pursuers would not think they’d stay at such a place. Unfortunately, the Triad has placed a tracking device in Mei’s cell phone. Han Jiao dispatches men to retrieve her. In their hotel room, Mei wonders why Luke saved him. Luke tells Mei she saved him, and now he has to pay back the favor by getting everyone off her back. In order to do that, he needs details. Mei doesn’t want to divulge anything, but she starts to warm up to Luke and eventually explains her role as Yao Chang’s bookkeeper, that she was asked to memorize a long number and on her way to memorize a different long number when the Russians kidnapped her. Luke asks about the number. She says it was an odd number because it was very long, but the numerals 3 and 7 appeared too frequently to be random. Luke determines that the code isn’t numbers — it’s words, like “left” and “right”: a safe combination.

Yao Chang leads a team through the hotel. They threaten guests, and when the guests don’t cooperate, they start shooting. Luke and Mei hear the cacophony and flee. Luke’s embarrassed that he’s so out of practice, he didn’t anticipate the tracer. Luke leads Mei through the hotel, and after a number of fistfights and gunfights, Yao Chang manages to get Mei back. The cops arrive, looking for Luke. He has no choice but to flee through a rear entrance. He carjacks a man, drives over a few blocks, and hops in a cab. He’s angry at himself for losing Mei. Luke has also stolen the cell phone of a dead killer. He dials one of the recent calls and speaks to the man on the other end in flawless Russian, impersonating the killer. He realizes he’s talking to Vassily. Luke claims to have the number and asks to meet Vassily. Vassily gives a location. Mayor TRAMELLO learns from Wolf that Luke is in New York City. He’s petrified. He explains to Wolf that, after 9/11, the Vice President hired a ruthless assassin to kill anyone they deemed a “terrorist threat” — only most of them weren’t terrorists. They were New York gangsters, and Tramello, the Vice President, and his cronies split the millions left behind by the fallen kingpins. Someone in the government found out what they were up to, so they quietly eliminated the “program.” Wolf wants to know why someone with Luke’s connections ended up a third-rate prizefighter. Tramello doesn’t know or care. His assistant, ROSEN, tells Tramello about the gunfight at the hotel. Tramello orders Wolf to close every exit out of Manhattan and make sure Luke and Mei don’t get out of the city.

Mei reassures Han Jiao and Yao Chang that she didn’t tell Luke a thing. He isn’t sure he believes her, so he calls someone who can help — Rosen, who tells them to change their meeting location. Luke shows up at the bar where Vassily is supposed to be and immediately starts killing Russian mobsters. Luke beats Vassily to a pulp and shoves him into a car. He calls Emile and explains he knows about the safe and wants to know what’s in it. Emile tells him $30 million. Luke asks what’s in the second safe, the one Mei didn’t get the combination to. Emile says, “Something worth $30 million.” Luke orders Emile to tell him where the safe is in exchange for Vassily’s life. Luke calls together Captain Wolf and the detectives who beat the hell out of him. After showing them a tortured, beaten Vassily, Luke explains that Han Jiao has $30 million stored in Chinatown’s biggest casino, hidden from the police so they won’t take a cut. He tells them the Triads plan to pay Tramello $30 million for the combination to another safe. He offers to cut them all in on the loot if they help him rob the casino, making it look like a raid while pocketing the money. They agree.

The detectives charge into the casino, most of them dying in the epic gunfight while Luke opens the safe and steals the money. The remaining detectives attempt to betray him, so Luke kills them. When other cops show up, Wolf explains it was a raid that went bad. Luke takes Wolf’s phone and calls Tramello, threatening him until he gets Rosen’s number. Luke threatens to burn the money if Rosen doesn’t tell him what’s in the other safe. Rosen tells him it’s a disc containing all the names and money trails leading back to the Vice President’s scheme. Since Luke has the money, Rosen threatens to stop without giving the number to the Triad. Luke orders him to retrieve Mei. Rosen shows up to the exchange and kills everyone except Mei. Luke breaks into the mayor’s mansion and threatens Tramello at gunpoint until he gives him the disc. He does so, reluctantly. Luke knocks him out and meets with Rosen, who is going to exchange the money for Mei. Rosen tries to double-cross Luke, so Luke shoots him. Luke gives Wolf $50,000 to keep him quiet, then returns the remainder of the $30 million to Han Jiao. Mei encloses a letter saying that she and Luke are not to be touched — and if they are, Mei will expose all their secrets. Luke and Mei place copies of the disc in safe deposit boxes all over New York City, to be sure the information will get out if they’re killed. Mei wonders if they’re safe.

Comments:

Safe makes a vain attempt to turn a basic shoot-‘em-up action into a thoughtful, twisty thriller. The writers aren’t up for the challenge, resulting in a script that combines unimaginative action sequences with bland characters (particularly protagonist Luke) and attempts to up the ante with cheap shock value. As written, it merits a pass.

The script starts on a bad note, with a horrible and needless attempt at flashback structuring to bring audiences right into the action before going back a year to show how the characters ended up where they did. There’s no mystery or intrigue to these opening scenes before it flashes back a year — in fact, the script catches up to those scenes after about 10 pages. Worse than that, Luke’s “one year ago” flashback contains a truly awful scene that makes virtually no sense, leading him down a path that makes even less sense in light of the fact that he’s eventually revealed to be a secret master assassin: the Russians kill his family but decide to let him live, in the hopes that he’ll commit suicide? The writers try to make this seem like poetic justice, but mostly it’s just a stupid excuse to keep Luke alive while attempting to give a lazy “revenge” motivation to his actions later in the script.

Once the mysteries are set up in the first act, Luke and Mei are smashed together in the second, which splits its time evenly between bluntly explaining all those mysteries and dull action sequences. Even if these action sequences had any sort of novelty or innovation (which they don’t — every single second of action has already been seen in at least a half-dozen cheesy action flicks), it would be undermined by the fact that each individual action set-piece overstays its welcome by at least five pages. As for the on-the-nose explanations of why everything is happening: the writers do make the convoluted conspiracy clear, but they’re not up to the task of making it really believable that Luke feels any sort of kinship or bond with Mei. This is the sort of script that tries to get away with flat-out bad dialogue like, “I didn’t save you — you saved me,” instead of doing the hard work of forging an actual relationship between the characters.

The third act is an unsatisfying mess. It’s not much more than Luke kidnapping the major players in the Triad, Russian Mafia, and police force and forcing them to give him information, which they do without him having to apply much pressure. Leading it back to the mayor of New York City, who’s in bed with the unnamed “Vice President” who was in power when 9/11 occurred, adds an attempt at a thought-provoking political statement that just comes across as trite. Even though the Vice President is painted as the mastermind of the conspiracy, there’s no showdown with him. Instead, the showdown is with a bland mayor’s aide.

Perhaps some of the goofiness of the story could have been redeemed through its characters, but as mentioned, Luke’s motivation for everything he does — ostensibly an attempt to save Mei — comes across as extremely thin. Even when it eventually becomes clear that he also wants revenge against the NYPD, the Mayor’s Office, and the Russian mob, he comes across like a mindless psychopath. Trying to show his humanity by having it all be for a little girl is just cheap manipulation, and not very effective at that. On the other hand, Mei’s biggest problem is her age: there are only two reasons (both bad) to make her 12 years old: the first is the deplorably sleazy shock value of watching adult gangsters beat on her, and the second is the treacly attempt at showing Luke’s more than a government-programmed assassin. She could easily be 10 or even 20 years older without affecting the story much, and it wouldn’t change the story much. Every other character — of which there are many — is pretty much an interchangeable villain: slimy and pragmatic, but decidedly uninteresting when there are 10 guys who have the exact same reactions to every situation.

This is a terrible script, and nothing short of a page-one rewrite will change that.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 9:42 AM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

May 4, 2010

Transit

Author: Michael Gilvary
Genre: Action/Thriller
Storyline: 7
Dialogue: 7
Characterization: 7
Writer’s Potential: 7

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Strong consider

Logline:

A vacationing family becomes embroiled in a bank robbery when they discover the loot hidden in their luggage.

Synopsis:

Four criminals (MAREK, a cool-headed sociopath; EVERS, the hired muscle; LOSADA, the loudmouthed worry wart; and ARIELLE, the token woman) navigate uncooperative traffic as they try to flee a crime that remains unmentioned at first (it ultimately turns out to be a bank robbery). The foursome argue about the route to take. When they see a roadblock, Marek pulls off at a rest stop until they can come up with a plan. After nixing the ideas of splitting up and meeting later or walking 120 miles to the Mexican border, Arielle comes up with the plan to hide their $4 million loot among the luggage in the SUV of a vacationing family brimming with suitcases and camping equipment; after they all make it past the roadblock, they’ll track the SUV until it stops, steal the loot back, and disappear to Mexico.

The family are the Sidwells: NATE (late 30s) seemingly a bored suburban pencil pusher; ROBYN (late 30s) his attractive wife; KENNY (12), a pudgy dork; and SHANE (14), hip and athletic. While the Sidwells uses the restroom, the robbers ditch their guns and hide their huge black duffel bag inside the Sidwells’ tent packaging. Marek refuses to give up his police scanner. The Sidwells and the robbers ease back into the unmoving traffic, gradually making their way toward the roadblocks. The robbers make it through in part because of Marek’s belligerence regarding why he has a police scanner (Marek later claims that no bank robber would be stupid enough to argue about this at a police roadblock). The Sidwells make it through because they have no cause to be searched. Arielle is thrilled that her planned has worked, even though they have lost sight of the Sidwells’ SUV. Before long, they find it on the horizon. It occurs to Marek that there are no campgrounds in the area, which suggests that this family is planning on roughing it in the middle of nowhere. In the Sidwells’ SUV, tension creeps into the family. It becomes evident that Nate has spent time away from the family, and this trip is an awkward attempt at bonding.

Robyn spots a diner and wants to stop. This pleases the criminals tailing them, but they’re quickly frustrated when she changes her mind and the SUV continues moving. Nate notices the sedan following them — its turn signal went on after Nate’s, and went off after they decided not to stop. Suspicious, he starts speeding up. The sedan matches their speed. Robyn orders Nate to slow down, but he refuses. Arielle spots a speed trap ahead, and the sedan slows to below the speed limit — but Nate keeps going and gets pulled over by an officer, PAOLO. Against Paolo’s orders, Nate hops out of the SUV to explain the situation as the sedan speeds past. Paolo doesn’t believe him and informs Nate that his speed (109 mph) qualifies him for a misdemeanor. Nate pleads with Paolo, telling him he’s an ex-con — just released from a federal prison for real estate fraud. Paolo’s concerned about Nate crossing state lines while on parole, but Nate insists he cleared it with his parole officer. Paolo is sympathetic, but he has to do his job. When Nate reaches to Paolo to grab his arm, he accidentally puts his hand on Paolo’s gun. Paolo freaks out, draws his weapon, and arrests Nate. Meanwhile, the criminal gang waits in the nearby town of Gila Bend, staring at the Interstate for signs of the SUV. They’re surprised by how long the routine traffic stop has taken.

Nate is dragged into the Gila Bend station. He begs Paolo to take some pity on him. The police decide to put the rest of the Sidwells up in a motel. Kenny is upset that his dad has been arrested; Shane is irritated; and Robyn is frustrated with the feeling that she doesn’t know her husband. The boys are given a room separate from Robyn. Realizing something has gone awry, the criminals check out the motel and find the SUV, which has been completely unpacked by the boys (who notice the heavy bag but don’t realize it’s not theirs). They break into Robyn’s room, waking her up. Terrified, she calls 911, but they bust into the room too quickly, so she hangs up and hides in the bathroom, breaking the window and screaming for help. The motel is empty, so help doesn’t come. Nate overhears the police radio report of an incomplete 911 call. Paolo is dispatched, and Nate begs to go with. Arielle listens to the police scanner while the men bust into the hotel. She honks the horn to let them know the police are on their way, and they bail without finding the money, which is in the adjoining room. They’re all baffled as to why somebody would break into their room, mess things up, and not take anything. Nate speculates they were drug addicts looking for cash or jewelry. Meanwhile, the criminals snipe at each other over how badly this plan has played out.

The next morning, Losada buys a bunch of tools to help the gang bust open the SUV. They continue to wait by the Interstate and are frustrated to find it has a police escort. Listening to the police scanner, they’re pleased to hear the escort has ended at the town line. The sedan roars into action, following the SUV. A bungee cord goes slack, banging against the roof, driving the Sidwells insane. Nate stops, and he and Robyn adjust the luggage. Nate innocently tosses the money bag onto the ground. Robyn notices it doesn’t belong and unzips it, finding the money from the bank robbery. She flips out, accusing Nate of being in on the robbery. Nate vehemently denies it, but Robyn tears off in the SUV, with the kids and all the luggage but the duffel bag. Meanwhile, nobody in the sedan notices Nate on the side of the road. They’re focused on the SUV. Nate lugs the heavy bag filled with money to some railroad tracks. He sees a utility truck on the tracks and calls for help, but the man ignores him. Nate sees the sedan in the distance, headed right for the SUV. He drops the bag of money and runs across the desert, back to the highway, trying (and failing) to warn them as the sedan smashes into the back of the SUV, running it off the road.

The criminals descend on the SUV like vultures, going through all the baggage, horrified to find the money is gone. Robyn screams that they don’t have it. Marek realizes Nate isn’t with them. Shane tries to fight back, but it’s no use — these are bad people who are big and armed with hammers and crowbars. Marek and Arielle hop into the SUV with the Sidwells. Nate is baffled as they pass him again, in the opposite direction. Nobody notices him on the side of the road. He sees Losada and Evers following in the van. They stop and demand the money. Nate refuses to tell them where he hid it until they give him his family. They shove him into the sedan and follow the SUV. Losada calls Marek, who turns around. Nate orders Marek to let his family go. Marek threatens the family, so Nate leads them all to the mile marker where he left the money — but it’s gone. Nate tries to play this off like it’s his plan to mislead them so they’ll release his family. They don’t buy it, but it’s distracting enough that Nate makes a break for it, running on foot down the highway. His running distracts them enough that Robyn is able to speed away in the SUV with the kids. Down the highway, they pick up Nate, while the criminals scramble to get back in the sedan. The SUV is overheating, so Nate doubles back toward Gila Bend so they can repair the radiator.

Nate explains that the robbers used the family to get through the roadblock unscathed. Robyn demands to know why he didn’t give them the money. Nate sidesteps the question by telling her getting the money won’t spare their lives — they’ve seen the criminals’ faces. Marek orders the others to kill Robyn and Shane but keep Kenny as leverage to get Nate to talk. Nate sees an oncoming car in the distance — it’s Paolo. Nate explains everything to Paolo, but Marek speeds up and plows into Paolo, killing him instantly. The Sidwells drive away, panicked. The sedan follows. Marek has stolen Paolo’s gun, which he fires at the SUV, finally destroying the radiator. They flee into the desert, hidden by the brush. Eventually, they lose the criminals and come upon the railroad tracks and the utility truck. Nate tries to beg for help, but Shane accuses the driver of stealing the money. He claims to not know what they’re talking about. The conversation goes on long enough that the criminals find the Sidwells. They kill the railroad worker, but the Sidwells get away in his utility truck, driving it until the railroad ends.

Arguing over what to do about the family, Marek kills Arielle, to Losada’s surprise. Shane notices an abandoned shack near the end of the tracks. They hope for a phone, but all they find is a shortwave radio — and the bag filled with money. Robyn feels bad for doubting Nate. Shane turns on the radio, which surprisingly works. He calls for the police, but the soonest they can get there is 30 minutes. They can hear the criminals in the distance. Nate goes after them, and Marek shoots, wounding Nate. Marek demands to know where the family is. Shane finds a hunting rifle in the shack, along with some shells. He starts shooting at the arriving criminals. Shane spots a gas-powered generator and starts dumping out gas onto the money. He threatens that he’ll burn all the loot if they don’t let the Sidwells go. They threaten to slit Nate’s throat if Shane doesn’t give up the money. Desperate, Shane drops the money outside, but Losada prepares to slit Nate’s throat, anyway. Robyn shoots Losada before he can, which starts the gunfire again. In the chaos, Shane drops his lit Zippo. A gasoline trail works its way toward the lighter, sending a burst of flames across the shack, engulfing the money in flames. The Sidwells narrowly escape the shack, which is also in flames. Nate uses the distraction to steal Marek’s gun and kill Marek and Evers. Nate’s injured, possibly dying, but he’s saved the family, who gather around him, hoping he’ll last until the distant sirens get closer.

Comments:

Transit is a fun, fast-paced action script with a surprising amount of heart. Its most significant problem is that the four villainous bank robberies are entirely interchangeable. However, the engaging plot, interesting family conflicts, and entertaining action sequences merit this script a strong consider.

The first act does a solid job of establishing the two sets of characters (the bank robbers and the Sidwells) and the somewhat convoluted machinations that will pit them against each other throughout the rest of the script. The writer also manages to throw in some genuine surprises, like the reveal that mild-mannered Nate is a recently paroled ex-con. This automatically adds an additional layer of intrigue to the Sidwells’ interactions, and the writer does an excellent job of using the family’s inability to trust Nate to generate conflict and develop the characters throughout the story.

The raid on the motel that starts the second act goes on a little too long, and the writer rushes past the thin explanation for Nate’s release. He also focuses too much on the criminals’ side of the story without ever making them particularly compelling characters. Nevertheless, once Robyn discovers the money among their luggage, the story kicks into high gear and doesn’t let up until the end. While entertaining, the action sequences aren’t anything that hasn’t been seen before. However, the writer does a capable job of keeping the suspense palpable and stakes high throughout the second and third acts.

The third act keeps the action level high, but it’s somewhat undermined by how worthless the villains are as characters. Rather than putting the villains up against a metaphorical wall and testing their loyalty to one another when their lives are at stake, the writer simply uses them as additional fodder for the Sidwells to come after. The inexplicable murder of Arielle is an off-putting, fairly meaningless moment that solely exists to remind the audience that these are bad people, as if they’re likely to forget that detail when the entire second and third act involves them chasing, beating, and threatening the Sidwells. Where the third act shines is with the Sidwells’ realization that Nate never lied to them — he didn’t hide the money or have anything to do with the robbery — which allows for a tidy (but not too tidy, as Nate lies wounded on the ground) resolution as the Sidwells finally get what they wanted out of the trip: to reconnect as a family.

As characters, the Sidwells work and the bank robbers don’t. The reason for this is that the writer wisely gave the Sidwell family a personal conflict that affects all of them in different ways. How they react to Nate’s prison term allows their personalities to shine through and, to some extent, motivates the actions that drive their story. Nate works better than most “everyman” action heroes, because he’s an everyman with a dark side. It makes his transformation into wild, murderous protector more believable. Robyn, Shane, and Kenny aren’t quite as well-developed, but their unique responses to Nate and the bank money add a certain level of nuance that’s usually missing from the stock “family in need of protection.”

Conversely, the bank robbers have very little interpersonal conflict. They argue a little bit about the money, but it shows nothing about the characters that isn’t already abundantly clear. The four of them are ruthless sociopaths, differentiated only by nationality and gender. The script would work a little better if at least one of these characters had some kind of well-defined need for the money (other than greed). There are a lot of vague references to them needing to deliver this money to somebody in Nogales, but this seems less like a motivation than an excuse to kill a defenseless family — something they all seem like they’d be more than happy to do even if they weren’t giving part of the money to some offscreen mystery man.

Despite the story and character problems, this is a very entertaining thriller that can only be enhanced by a solid cast and good action director.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 6:50 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

May 3, 2010

A Dangerous Method

Author: Christopher Hampton
Genre: Drama/Historical
Storyline: 5
Dialogue: 7
Characterization: 6
Writer’s Potential: 6

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

In the early 1900s, Carl Jung’s working relationship with Sigmund Freud is jeopardized by Jung’s love affair with a patient.

Synopsis:

In 1904, 19-year-old SABINA SPIELREIN is brought to a hospital in Zurich by her abusive father. DR. CARL JUNG (29) introduces himself to her. He explains that he’d like to come to her room and talk to her each day for an hour or two. Sabina is confused by this treatment. Jung asks her a series of questions that dig into her feelings of humiliation and how they relate to her father beating her as a child. She starts to break down and clams up. Jung tells his wife, EMMA (22 and pregnant), that he thinks he’s found a prime candidate for the experimental “talking cure” treatment. In another session, Sabina tells Jung about her mother’s lack of love for her father. Jung politely tells her he must leave for a few weeks for mandatory military service. Sabina responds with rage, a complete 180 from her somber but polite talking. While he’s gone, Sabina escapes the hospital. She’s found, wet and covered in mud, and brought back by a team of orderlies, struggling the whole time. Later, Jung returns and hires her as his assistant. She’s ecstatic.

Sabina takes notes as Jung performs a word-association exercise with Emma. After, Jung asks for observations, and Sabina tells him Emma is ambivalent about motherhood and afraid her husband will lose interest in her — and that she’s Jung’s husband. Jung is surprised and impressed by her insight. Emma has the baby, a girl. She apologizes to Jung for not giving him a boy. Jung doesn’t seem to care. During an analysis session with Sabina, Jung goads her into talking about her father beating her. She explained that it became a ritualized thing, starting at the age of four, where she had to go into a small room and remove her clothes for her father to beat her. It started to excite her, sexually. It reached a point where she’d get aroused when he’d beat her brothers, or when she faced any sort of humiliation. Sabina breaks down, wailing that there’s no hope for her.

Two years later, Jung visits SIGMUND FREUD (50) in Vienna for the first time. After corresponding for so long, they know each others’ case work and theories well. They find themselves challenged by one another, particularly because Jung downplays the importance of sex while Freud believes it motivates everything a person thinks and feels. When Jung returns to Zurich, he praises Freud to Sabina but admits concern that Freud is so persuasive, even his more dubious ideas seem believable. Sabina asks how Jung feels about Wagner, then begins talking about his interpretation of the Siegfried myth, which shocks Jung, because he’d just begun work on a paper about Wagner’s Siegfried interpretation. Jung invites her to see one of Wagner’s operas, saying Emma doesn’t have much interest. Freud writes to Jung, asking him to hire a protégée temporarily, until Freud is able to hire the man himself. OTTO GROSS (30, cocaine addict), who has to live in the shadow of a father who invented modern forensic science, comes to work for Jung and also undergo analysis by him. Gross has some theories Jung considers radical (including a disdain for monogamy), and they immediately disagree on virtually everything — though Jung is intrigued.

Jung and Sabina perform a test on subjects’ reaction to Die Walküre. They play the opera on a phonograph and observe facial changes, taking copious notes. Afterward, Sabina draws an analogy to Wagner’s theme that perfection can only be attained through sin. When Jung argues with her, she kisses him. Jung backs off, but Sabina is undaunted: she points out where she lives and tells him she’ll be there when he’s ready. Gross is shocked to learn Jung has never slept with a patient. His feeling is that if it’ll make her happy and free her from her worries, it’s in Jung’s best interest as a doctor to do as she asks. The more he talks to Gross, the more Jung buys into his point of view. He worries about Gross’s ability to “seduce” him. One day, Gross disappears, leaving a note instructing Jung to tell his father he died. Jung immediately goes to Sabina’s apartment and deflowers her. He immediately feels guilty because Emma (pregnant yet again) has spent a great deal of time and expense having a sailboat and jetty built for Jung. He gripes about it to Sabina, who feels the best solution is to approach Sabina in a different way: she wants him to punish her sexually.

Emma is thrilled to finally give birth to a boy. Emma implies she knows something is going on, and she hopes the birth of their son will bring Jung back to the family. Instead, Jung starts sleeping with Sabina on his new sailboat. A year later, Jung visits Freud in Vienna. Freud gripes about Gross’s addiction ruining their movement. Freud also worries that Jung’s preoccupation with more superstitious means of understanding the world, such as telepathy and alchemy, will undermine the movement. He believes their findings should be rooted in the scientific method. Jung doesn’t disagree, but he sees no harm in studying “superstition” through scientific means. This starts to cause a rift between them. When Jung insists the surprise cracking of Freud’s bookshelf is something he predicted psychically, Freud dismisses it. Freud returns to Zurich with Jung, surprised and impressed with his methods. Freud lets Jung know that a rumor is circulating in Vienna that Jung is sleeping with a patient. Jung denies it, and Freud believes him.

Jung promptly breaks it off with Sabina. When Freud leaves, Emma admits she knew about the affair, wrote anonymous letters telling people, and wonders if Freud mentioned it. Jung is shocked. Sabina comes to Jung’s office, demanding to know why she won’t see him. Jung tries to explain his feelings, but Sabina wants him back. She gets violent, so Jung sends her away. Sabina writes a letter to Freud, outlining her affair with Jung in detail. Freud writes Jung to ask about it. Once again, Jung denies it, assuming she’s spreading rumors as revenge for his rebuffing her advances. Freud sends a scathing letter to Sabina admonishing her for spreading lies. Jung is asked to leave the hospital as a result of the rumors. Sabina visits him as he’s packing to leave, angry about the letter she received from Freud. She demands that Jung write and tell him the truth — because she wants to start seeing Freud as a patient. When Jung refuses him, Sabina implies that she can and will make life worse for Jung. He writes a letter, coming clean with Freud.

Freud, Jung, and another psychologist sail to the U.S. to spread the word about their theories. On the boat trip there, Jung is surprised to find Freud treating him coldly. Freud radically interprets one of Jung’s dreams to make it very insulting to Freud himself, then refuses to tell Jung one of his own dream, so as not to “risk [his] authority.” Jung is shocked and insulted. Two years later, Sabina returns to Jung to have him edit her dissertation. Jung is quietly satisfied to discover that Sabina’s theories on psychoanalysis run contrary to Freud’s and closer to his own. They have sex again, after which Sabina admits she’s leaving Zurich after she graduates. Two years later, she is hired by Freud to take on some of his pateitns. After a lecture, Jung and Freud have a vicious disagreement about monotheism stemming from patricidal urges. Later, Jung writes Freud a vicious letter chastising the man for treating friends like patients and bullying them. Freud politely writes back that Jung is nuts, and they won’t lose much by severing their tattered relationship. It seems a difficult decision for Freud, especially when Jung writes back in agreement.

A year later, Emma and Sabina meet for the first time. It’s awkward, especially since Sabina is married and pregnant. Emma pleads for help, because Jung has become sullen and withdrawn since the collapse of his relationship with Freud. Sabina doesn’t believe Emma — until she sees Jung, worse for wear. Sabina tells Jung she and her husband plan to return to Russia, where she’ll practice psychoanalysis at a Soviet hospital. Still angry that she chose Freud’s side, Jung is happy that she’s leaving Vienna. Sabina tries to make him realize it’s not about choosing sides, but Jung complains about Freud’s narrow-minded perspective. Jung admits he has a new mistress, who is very similar to Sabina. He sadly tells her that the baby she’s carrying should be his, and with that, she leaves to catch her train.

Closing titles explain that Freud was driven out of Vienna by the Nazis and died of cancer in London in 1939; Sabina returned to Russia to train Soviet analysts and practice in her hometown, before the Nazis occupied it and killed her in 1941; and Jung suffered a prolonged breakdown during World War I, after which he emerged as the world’s leading psychologist. He outlived Emma and his new mistress, dying in 1961.

Comments:

A Dangerous Method tells an interesting story in a fairly dull way. While most of the characters have a fair amount of depth, Jung himself remains an enigma throughout the script. Worse than that, the characters don’t do much more than have long, circular conversations — and although the dialogue is fairly good, it’s not good enough to be the driving force of this story. As written, it merits a pass.

The story focuses primarily on two relationships: Jung and Sabina, and Jung and Freud. The first act gives an introduction to Sabina and allows her backstory to come out via long analysis sessions. However, Jung remains a dashing, intelligent enigma throughout. The writer shows some of his home life, mainly to set up domestic issues with Emma that will pay off later, but it’s never clear what’s really motivating him or why psychoanalysis has become his field of choice. All that’s ever clear are his passionate feelings about the subject of psychoanalysis, to the detriment of the script.

The second act sets up the affair with Sabina in such a way that Jung is totally blameless for its strangeness: Otto Gross is the one who has to convince Jung to act (and he disappears from the story right after he’s outlived his usefulness), and Sabina has to coerce him into beating her while they have sex. It’s a good impulse for the writer to want to avoid having his main character gleefully dive into such actions, but it turns him into a bland, passive character. He’s similarly passive when he interacts with Freud, which becomes the downfall of that subplot, as well: despite Jung’s clear passion for his own theories, he allows the more aggressive Freud to steamroll over him quite easily, followed by Jung whining in private to Sabina, Emma, or Gross. As a result, his conversations with Freud go in circles and don’t move the story or characters forward. These scenes mainly exist to keep Freud in the story for the inevitable deterioration of the friendship and working relationship in the third act. The script also doesn’t focus at all on their attempts to legitimize psychology and psychoanalysis, aside from them going to or leaving various lectures and Freud mentioning fears about how their “enemies” will react to certain actions.

A new problem appears in the third act: the writer begins to rely on letters, read in voiceover by the characters, to nudge the story forward. Because nothing visually interesting accompanies these letters (it’s mostly just the characters sitting at desks, reading or writing them), the letters have the unsavory side effect of stopping cold what little momentum the script does have. It may be historically accurate for educated people spread across Europe writing letters to each other, but this is not a Ken Burns documentary. At least the long dialogue scenes have the spark and brisk pacing of real conversation.

Worse than this, the story concludes with a bittersweet reunion between Jung and Sabina (less than a year after he left her), in which Jung admits he’s taken a new mistress. The story takes great pains to make us believe the relationship between Jung and Sabina was something akin to doomed true love, so the fact that he’s already moved on to someone new (whom the script later implies Jung remained involved with until her death nearly 40 years later) undermines the entire relationship. It may be historically accurate, but it’s a detail that’s patently unnecessary to tell this story. Furthermore, Freud disappears from the story after his falling out with Jung, without a very satisfactory resolution to their conflict (they write a series of letters agreeing not to correspond anymore).

Jung aside, the writer does a nice job of developing the characters almost entirely through dialogue. Their speech patterns are distinctive, as are their topics of conversation, and through the characters he does a fair job of illuminating the major psychological theories of the day. The problem is, the things he does well don’t manage to overcome the things the script lacks: a compelling, well-defined protagonist and a third act that doesn’t slow the action to a crawl while simultaneously undermining major components of the story. Without significant revisions, this script will not succeed.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 9:49 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

Author: Tony Grisoni and Terry Gilliam
Genre: Comedy/Fantasy
Storyline: 7
Dialogue: 8
Characterization: 6
Writer’s Potential: 7

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Reluctant pass

Logline:

While shooting a commercial in Spain, a burned-out director meets a man who may be Don Quixote.

Synopsis:

Grainy black-and-white footage shows a dying DON QUIXOTE in the Spanish desert. ANGELICA, a beautiful young girl, carries water to him. The shadows of windmill blades pass over them. The film shifts to color as a “fake, too-polished Don Quixote” and his partner, SANCHO PANZA, attempts to do battle with a windmill. As he smashes his lance into the blade, it gets stuck and carries him skyward. Fake Quixote freaks out, and as a special effects supervisor barks orders to his crew, it’s revealed that this is a commercial for an electric company. TOBY, the commercial’s director, expresses his dissatisfaction to executive RUPERT and the PRODUCER. He can’t put his finger on what’s wrong with the commercial, but he knows he doesn’t like it and wants to rethink the whole concept.

That night, Toby dines with several other ad executives and the client’s rep, who doesn’t understand the concept of the commercial. Eventually, THE BOSS shows up with his gorgeous trophy wife, JACQUI. The Boss reassures everyone about Toby’s competence, even though he’s on edge and verbally abusing waiters. The Boss tells Toby he just needs some inspiration. He calls over a mysterious GYPSY selling DVDs out of a box and buys the lone VHS — which just happens to be an old copy of a film Toby made years ago about Don Quixote. Toby goes upstairs with Jacqui, and they attempt to have sex, but he’s having problems getting an erection. Jacqui is infuriated. He goes to the bathroom to try to work out his troubles, and when he reemerges, Jacqui is playing the video of Toby’s film. They’re both so entranced, they don’t notice when The Boss returns to the room. The Boss drunkenly mistakes Toby for the Gypsy. Toby returns to his room and watches the remainder of his film. In a village square, a madonna statue comes to life, resembling Angelica. Toby calls out to her, then wakes up, realizing he dreamed it all. He never watched the film.

Uninspired, Toby convinces the Producer to set up a complicated shot that could take all day. The Boss shows up to tell him they’ll get a vodka account if they go to a castle the company owner bought in Nice. After Toby spots Jacqui with a black eye, he decides to go for a ride on Rupert’s motorcycle. He speeds through the countryside, to the tiny village where he shot his film a decade ago. He goes to the village’s bar, where he’s recognized as the filmmaker who breezed through town, promising to make them all stars. He learns the actor who played Sancho Panza died, but the man who played Quixote died. A brutish drunk accuses Toby of ruining his daughter’s life — he’s Angelica’s father. Toby learns that Angelica became so obsessed with acting and movie stardom, she ended up as a broken, depressed whore. Once Toby flees the bar, an OLD CRONE agrees to lead him to Don Quixote. She takes him to an old wagon, where his Don Quixote film is projected against a sheet waving in the wind. The Old Crone pushes Toby toward a split in the sheet, beyond which is the real Don Quixote (identical to the one in the film), speaking in sync with the film’s dialogue. Toby is shocked, especially when Don Quixote confuses Toby with Sancho and insists they must escape the evil enchanters. The Old Crone suddenly rushes in, poking Quixote with a pig prodder. Toby shoves her away, causing her to knock over the projector, which sets the hay in the cart on fire.

Toby flees the scene, getting to the motorcycle and riding off. When Toby returns to the commercial shoot, everyone’s annoyed by how late he is. The police are there for unrelated reasons, but they want to know about the motorcycle, which matches the fire report. They arrest Toby, who finds the Gypsy in the back of the car. The police car is confronted by Don Quixote, on horseback. They laugh at him. Toby realizes Don Quixote is reciting dialogue from his film, not from Cervantes’s novel. Quixote orders the police to release “Sancho,” and when they get out of the car to arrest him, he attacks. He smashes one cop with his lance, which causes him to inadvertently shoot the other officer. Terrified, Toby flees into the woods. Hiding, he tries to make a phone call, but his phone is dead. Quixote comes after Toby, admiring his bravery. Toby tries to convince Quixote he’s just an actor, an old man he cast in a film years ago. Quixote interprets this as Toby rescuing him from an enchanter. Quixote is intent on finding his lost love, Lady Dulcinea, but he gets distracted when he sees a “peasant girl” being attacked by “giants” (actually an ordinary woman maintaining a windmill). He viciously attacks the windmill, using up so much energy he passes out. Toby asks to use the woman’s telephone. She leads him to her family’s farm, where there is no phone. Toby notices a large group of Arabs hiding in the barn, illegal immigrants who want work.

Quixote orders Toby a healing salve for him. Toby decides to make his escape, and finds the farmer praying to Mecca. He denies this at first, then quietly admits his faith, confessing to Toby that he fears the Inquisition will kill him if they find out. Toby’s baffled by this, but he slowly realizes the farmhouse and the man’s clothes are all right out of the 17th century. Before long, The HOLY BROTHERHOOD — a gang of terrifying Christian inquisitors — arrive, ordering the Muslims out of their dwellings. The Holy Brothers spot chicken blood on Toby and assume they’ve found a murderer. Hidden, Quixote launches a surprise attack on the Holy Brothers, calling them enchanters. Toby spots the Gypsy from the police car at the farm. He blames the Gypsy for everything, so the Holy Brothers chase him through the countryside. Toby wakes in the attic of the farmhouse. Quixote is gone, as are any signs of last night’s attacks. Outside, Toby realizes he’s back in the modern world. He decides it must have been a dream — but Quixote remembers the things Toby dreamed about. Frustrated, Toby refuses to leave with Quixote — but immigration police show up at the farm. Toby races to catch up to Quixote.

They come upon the rotting corpse of a mule, saddle bags packed to the brim with old Spanish gold. Toby steals a few handfuls. Later, they come upon a waterfall, where a beautiful girl is singing a haunting melody prominently featured in Toby’s Quixote film. She reveals herself as Angelica — the girl from his film, grown up and bitter. She recognizes Toby immediately. The more Angelica talks, the more he realizes he ruined her life. Angelica plays it off, saying she’s found a rich man to take care of her. Toby spots bruises on her body, which she shrugs off. Toby feels awful. When Quixote talks, Angelica plays along, to Toby’s confusion and annoyance. She also joins Quixote in insulting “Sancho,” but she makes a mistake when she sarcastically calls Toby “enchanting.” Quixote flips out, terrified that Toby is an enchanter and not Sancho. Toby desperately tries to convince Quixote otherwise. Once he’s reassured, Quixote offers to escort Angelica. She refuses, then spots a photographer in the distance. She goes off to yell at him. Toby tells Quixote he thinks Angelica is in trouble. Quixote thinks she’s fallen in love with him. They try to follow her, but lose her pretty quickly.

Quixote leads Toby to an old, worn-out castle. Here, they find a MONK and the KNIGHT OF THE MIRRORS, who insists that he killed the real Quixote. This leads Quixote to duel with the man. Toby tries to talk Quixote out of it, but he fails. They joust, and Quixote is victorious. He terrifies the knight by coming after him and pressing his sword to the knight’s throat. The knight’s SQUIRE pleads with Toby to stop him, removing a hat to reveal it’s the Old Crone from Quixote’s village, and the Knight is the village bartender. When Toby fails to calm Quixote, the villagers plead with him, insisting he needs help. He calls them “enchanters” and rides off. The villagers accuse Toby of destroying Quixote’s life. They attack him, knocking him out.

Toby wakes in a 17th century cathedral square, where the Holy Brotherhood has erected an execution platform. He sees a number of nightmarish figures — Angelica being burned at the stake, her sinister father, the other villagers, and a terrified Don Quixote imprisoned in a cage. This melts into Toby’s memory of making the film, entranced by the youthful Angelica, who before long transforms into the adult Angelica, whom Toby immediately kisses. Toby wakes in the ruined castle, kissing a sheep. Time has passed, and everybody’s gone save for a Moroccan shepherd. Toby frantically questions the man, who simply grins. Toby rushes through the woods and hears the grunts and groans of Quixote and his horse. Terrified that Quixote has been attacked, Toby approaches carefully — and finds the old man is beating himself senseless with branches from a thorn bush, calling it penance. Toby stops him and tends to his wounds.

Toby desperately explains to Quixote that he is not Sancho, there is no Dulcinea, and he is not Quixote. Quixote believes the enchanters have duped Toby. As he condescendingly explains “reality” to Toby, Quixote is distracted by an aristocratic medieval hunting party approaching in the distance. Among them is Lady Dulcinea. As they get closer, Toby comes to realize that it’s actually Jacqui, along with a bunch of other modern people inexplicably dressed in period costume. Toby tells her he’s in trouble with the police, but she tells him ALEXEI, the vodka magnate, owns the police, so he has nothing to worry about. She’s impressed to see Toby has found his old Quixote, and they’re dragged to Alexei’s palace. Inside, everyone’s dressed in period costume, including Alexei (dressed as the king), but they’re all talking on cell phones and headsets. Toby sees the Gypsy in the palace courtyard, but more importantly, he sees Angelica acting as Alexei’s “courtier.” Angelica looks unhappy with Toby “exploiting” Quixote, but Toby has taken leave of his senses — he’s not sure why he’s here or what’s happening. Alexei unhappily witnesses their glances.

When Toby and Angelica get a moment alone, they confront each other. Toby urges her to leave this life and return to her village. Angelica pathetically tells him she hoped he’d rescue her from this. Toby tries to convince her he did come to rescue her, but she sees through his lies. While Toby is dragged off to be put into costume, Alexei shows The Boss photos of Toby and Angelica together. He is not happy, but The Boss tries to reassure him. Everyone gathers in the ballroom. Alexei is sort of amused by how “in character” Quixote is. The other people all read from scripts, but Quixote knows his part. An effects team brings a huge, wooden horse into the ballroom. Toby starts to realize what’s happening and warns Quixote, but Quixote responds positively when the actors ask who is brave enough to attempt the horse. Quixote goes for it, and once they blindfold him (citing “atmospheric” conditions) he becomes convinced he’s riding this mechanical horse to the moon. The effects team blast him with wind machines and simulated lightning and thunder to complete the illusion — they all think he’s acting, but Quixote doesn’t seem to realize he’s not even moving. Rupert acts the part of Quixote’s nemesis, insisting he’ll make it to the moon first.

The joke becomes too much for Alexei, who bursts out laughing and announces that they’ve earned his vodka account. Quixote realizes this was all a hoax. Feeling pathetic, he tells Toby he should have listened. Toby confronts Angelica about the gag. She assumed he knew what he was doing and deflects any blame by saying he could have stopped her from taking part but didn’t. He chases her through elaborate floats constructed for a costume ball — many of which resemble set pieces from Toby’s nightmares, such as the execution platform — and their insults turn to romance as he forces her to dance and kisses her. Angelica warns that Alexei will kill them, but Toby doesn’t care. Toby and Angelica wake Quixote, planning to escape. Quixote refuses, so Toby drags him onto the horse, warning of the enchanters. This stirs nothing in Quixote, who has decided he likes it here because everyone is happy. Guards arrive and drag Angelica off. They knock Toby unconscious.

Toby wakes to find Jacqui and Quixote tending to him. Alexei and The Boss are there, too. Toby lunges at him, demanding to know what he’s done with Angelica. All but Quixote leave Toby, sad and annoyed. Quixote admires Toby’s spirit, but he says it’s time to go home. Toby is puzzled, but Quixote admits he’s just an old man, not insane, just Javier the shoemaker, someone who wanted to find a little joy and happiness in his twilight years. He passes his sword to Toby and leaves. Toby runs through the festival crowd in search of Angelica. Instead, he finds the Gypsy, who insists he’ll take Toby to Angelica. Toby finds her weeping, hands buried in her face, and when he goes to comfort her, he learns it’s Jacqui. She pounces, and Toby hears a distant scream. He rushes out on the balcony and finds Angelica on the execution platform, tied to a massive iron grill, paper flames surrounding her. The flames turn real before Toby’s eyes. The Boss comes to the door, sword in hand, ready for a fight. Toby grabs an old club and yanks the door open, whacking The Boss before he can stab him — but it’s not The Boss, it’s Quixote, who stumbles and tumbles over the balcony, into the courtyard. Dead.

Horrified, the festival comes to an abrupt end. Angelica is released from the grill (which was apparently never really in flames), and released from Alexei’s charge. The Boss subtly admits he knew all about Jacqui’s affair with Toby but didn’t particularly care. Everyone knows exactly what happened and why, but they pretend it’s an unfortunate accident. Only Toby seems truly affected by the man’s death. He finds Quixote’s sword at his feet. Toby and Angelica leave on horseback, Toby carrying Quixote’s sword. They ride through the wilderness toward Angelica’s village. Now fully insane, Toby mistakes thunder for the loud footfalls of giants, and windmills for the giants themselves (each of whom resemble Alexei, The Boss, and Jacqui). Toby attempts to fight them for Angelica’s honor.

Toby, now an old man, sits in Quixote’s wagon, in Angelica’s village. He speaks directly to the camera, saying that he is Don Quixote, and he will live forever.

Comments:

The Man Who Killed Don Quixote is a challenging, frequently frustrating story that’s more about its themes (of reality versus fantasy, sanity versus insanity, and mortality) than its characters and source material. Despite being amusing and entertaining throughout, the story never jells into a cohesive whole and the characters feel more like chess pieces than believable people. As written, it merits a reluctant pass.

Throughout the script, scenes and set-pieces seem disconnected from each other. This is evident even in the first act. The writers struggle to portray Toby as a distressed, moderately obnoxious filmmaker, tossing “weird for the sake of weird” moments into the otherwise ordinary proceedings to mislead audiences. As a result, they never give a sense of how or why Toby feels so connected to the character of Don Quixote and the Cervantes novel. Yes, he made a film about him years ago; yes, he’s making a commercial about him now — but why is it that Toby feels such a special connection to this character? Despite attempts to portray struggles with inspiration, past regrets, and interfering executives (who don’t really interfere that much, allowing Toby carte blanche and kowtowing to his every whim, while Toby whines about how difficult they are), Toby never feels like a modern Don Quixote who’s set on the path of assuming his role.

Once he appears in the second act, the character of Quixote does enliven the script quite a bit. The small-scale adventures of the always-complaining Toby and comically heroic Quixote are always engaging and amusing, although the writers try a little too hard to inject surrealism into the storyline. The writers want the audience to ask questions about reality and fantasy: is this really happening, is it just a crazy old man, did Quixote travel through time, did Toby travel through time, is it all a dream, and so on. These surreal moments actually detract from the narrative, contributing to the fragmented feel, but they ironically don’t do much to enhance the themes, either. They seem to exist to disorient and alienate the audience more than anything else, and it preoccupies them with the wrong questions: if everything might just be a nightmare or the delusional fantasies of a madman, there’s no jeopardy and no suspense.

The only point where the surreal flights of fancy succeed — and only briefly — is in the third act, when Toby’s confusion about whether he’s dreaming or back in time is smashed together via the crazy commercial pitch to Alexei and ensuing festival. Unfortunately, the third act has a whole new set of problems. The Boss and Jacqui go from moderately ineffectual, mostly supportive people in Toby’s life to villains, with no real explanation (this includes not giving any insight into Toby’s increasing delusions, to give an idea of why he suddenly views them as villains). Similarly, Alexei enters the story to act as the real villain. The problem is, he only exists so the story has a villain. He serves no real purpose as a character, is generically evil, and is barely mentioned before his first appearance, well into the third act. This all barrels toward the mostly ineffective resolution, in which unsatisfying twists (Quixote knew what he was doing all along), inconsistent character motivations (suddenly Angelica is Toby’s one true love, which adds a layer of creepiness in light of the fact that she was literally a child when he last saw her), and Toby’s unconvincing descent into madness lead to Toby assuming the “role” of Quixote. Much of these problems could have been avoided if the writers established the connections between Toby and Quixote early in the script.

At the end of the day, this is a script that cares more about sumptuous visuals and willfully confusing the audience than telling a compelling story. It’s hard to say if this can succeed solely on the strength of its visuals and weird-for-weird’s-sake twists and turns, but considering the box-office receipts of previous Terry Gilliam films, it’s probably safe to say that only a small, niche audience will pay money to find out.

This will appeal primarily to Terry Gilliam’s relatively small but fiercely devoted fan base, but it may draw additional audience from those who know of the project’s notoriously troubled history. It’s likely to alienate moviegoers who haven’t read the source novel, and possibly moviegoers who have.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 4:19 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

May 2, 2010

The Raven

Author: Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare
Genre: Crime/Drama/Historical
Storyline: 5
Dialogue: 5
Characterization: 5
Writer’s Potential: 5

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

In 1840s Baltimore, a police inspector enlists the help of Edgar Allan Poe when a serial killer starts murdering people in ways resembling Poe’s stories.

Synopsis:

A title card announces that Edgar Allan Poe was found, near death, on a park bench on October 7, 1849, and that the last five days of his life were a mystery. On October 2, Chief Inspector ELDERIDGE of the Baltimore Police leads his men into an abandoned tenement. They think they have a murderer cornered in the house, but after inspecting every room, they realize the building’s empty save for a woman’s corpse. Meanwhile, EDGAR ALLAN POE (40) shows up in a tavern. He wants to drink, but he’s penniless and owes a tab to the unsympathetic bartender. He insults some sailors, who attempt to beat him up. He steals their beer and flees the tavern. Elderidge brings his nephew, Inspector EMMETT FIELDS (30s) to examine the corpse, which has been stuffed up a chimney with some odd hairs and oddly magnetic soot surrounding the body. Fields is puzzled, more so because the crime scene is strangely familiar to him.

The next morning, Poe obnoxiously leaps into the carriage of Captain CHARLES HAMILTON, a retired naval officer whose daughter, EMILY, is the object of Poe’s affection. He flirts with her, to both Hamilton and Emily’s annoyance. Their driver physically throws Poe out of the carriage. At the magazine where Poe works, he tries to convince the typesetters (IVAN and PATRICK) to indulge in some morning drinking. They both refuse. Poe discovers his review has been removed from the latest issue in favor of a Longfellow poem. Enraged, he confronts HENRY, the magazine’s editor, who tells him Longfellow’s more popular. Desperate for money, Poe pleads with him, but Henry tells Poe to write something he can sell. Inspector CANTRELL discovers the source of their murder scene: it’s copied from “Murders in the Rue Morgue,” one of Poe’s short stories. Meanwhile, Elderidge is kidnapped and brought to a warehouse. A shadowy figure kills him with a giant, razor-sharp pendulum.

Poe lives in a house he’s renting from his uncle. Emily shows up, revealing that she and Poe are secretly lovers, and she was putting up a front in front of her disapproving father. She wants Poe to marry him. He agrees to propose on her birthday, at the costume ball her father is throwing for her. Fields brings Henry to the scene of Elderidge’s murder, asking him all sorts of questions about Poe’s stories and personality. He also subtly accuses Henry of causing these murders. The pendulum reactivates and nearly kills them both, but Fields shoves Henry out of the way at the last possible second. Poe reads “The Raven” to the excited women of a ladies’ poetry club. The ladies start reading their own poetry, which is awful, but Poe strokes their egos. Police show up to take Poe down to the station. Field explains the two murders based on “Murders in the Rue Morgue” and “Pit and the Pendulum” and needles Poe suspiciously, but he quickly makes the decision that Poe wasn’t involved, aside from writing a “how-to” manual for murder. Fields shows Poe Elderidge’s corpse, which is covered with a red mask. Poe identifies this as a reference to his story, “Mask of the Red Death,” and it’s an indication that the killer plans to strike again. In the story, the protagonist throws a masquerade ball where Death comes in disguise to kill him. Poe tells Fields about Hamilton’s masquerade ball. Fields explains this information to Hamilton, who is not enthusiastic about a police presence at his ball. He insists they come in costume and stick to the shadows. Meanwhile, Poe explains everything to Emily and reluctantly tells her they need to cancel their proposal plans. She accuses him of fearing commitment. Poe quietly visits the grave of his deceased wife.

At the ball, Fields tells his men (and Hamilton’s private security) to look for a man in a costume that seems to symbolize death. Hamilton eyes a strange-looking man in a costume very similar to the one the character in Poe’s story wore. He follows the man but loses him in the crowd. Eventually, he finds the man, who removes his costume and reveals himself to be a doddering elderly man. Poe shows up dressed entirely in black. He insists on dancing with Emily, who doesn’t recognize him at first. Suddenly, a man wearing a skeleton mask bursts into the ball on horseback. The crowd panics, and in the chaos, nobody realizes Emily has been kidnapped until it’s too late. Fields tries to seal the building, but the killer escapes with Emily. He leaves a note behind, challenging Poe to write a series of stories based on the killer’s murders, which are to be published as a serial in Henry’s magazine. The note further explains that the killer will have more victims, and on these victims he will provide clues that lead to Emily’s location, hopefully before she dies. Poe feels guilty, but Fields tries to shake him out of it — Poe must stay involved in the case, because the killer is obsessed with him and will only keep Emily alive as long as Poe “plays.”

At a college medical lab, students study corpses. They’re surprised to hear scratching coming from a sealed casket. Upon opening it, they discover a live raven, which has picked away at the corpse of a young woman. When Fields and Poe are brought in, they notice a black smudge on the lock. She was murdered in the same manner as the victim in “The Mystery of Marie Roget.” Fields notes she was strangled with a wire tied in a sailing knot, and that her hands are covered in blood — stage blood. This leads Fields to conclude she’s an actress, and he soon realizes the blood on her hands is from Macbeth. There’s a production playing in Baltimore, so Fields, Poe, and several officers stake out the play. The production uses sailors for their stage crew, so Fields forces the stage manager to gather them (while the play is going on), and they realize one man is missing. Meanwhile, Emily finds herself trapped in a casket in the killer’s lair. The killer begins shoveling dirt over it, burying her alive as in “The Premature Burial.”

Fields has his men seal the exit while they search for the missing stagehand. Poe searches the catwalks while Fields searches the shadowy basement. He sees movement and orders the source of it to come out. It’s a terrified little boy. Meanwhile, Poe accidentally drops his gun off the catwalk. It lands on the stage and goes off, causing a panic. The officers can’t hold the patrons in. Disappointed (especially Poe) that the stagehand likely got away, they try to search for whatever clues they can in the theatre. They find the stagehand’s locker. It’s empty save for a box, inside of which is a human tongue pierced by a quill pen. Poe comes home to find his uncle’s house has been burned down, as a result of the newspapers’ implication that Poe’s immoral stories have caused all these murders. Sadly, Poe shows up at Fields’ house and asks to room with him for awhile. Fields tells Poe that they have learned several more things about the stagehand: of French origin, he was indentured to a ship, and he has been working at theatres during stops in order to earn more to buy his way out of servitude. Tellingly, he never showed up for work today, so he didn’t “escape” among the crowd. Fields pores over documents from the ship, looking for more clues to unlock the puzzle. Poe reasons that this man is motivated by his inconsequentiality and kills to express his superiority. Therefore, the killers mean nothing to him personally — he will strike when he feels the people who do matter (such as Poe) “dishonor” him in some way or another. When Poe learns the stagehand’s ship is Fortunado, he reasons this refers to Fortunato from “The Cask of Amontillado” and decides they must search the Baltimore waterworks — the only place in the city that resembles the palazzo catacombs described in his story. In the tunnels, they discover an ill-fitting brick wall, just as the story describes. Poe comes at it with a pick ax, hoping to find Emily. Instead, the killer shoves a corpse at them and runs off. Fields gives chase through the tunnels, but the killer gets away.

The corpse, dressed up in women’s clothes and a blonde wig to make Poe think it’s Emily, is actually their sailor/stagehand. On his back is a sextant with a distinctive, intentional nick at a latitudinal coordinate. In his mouth is a pocket watch, frozen at a specific time. In the police lab, Poe pores over maps and sailing charts (revealing himself to be ex-military, to the surprise of Fields and the other officers). They identify the coordinates as the island of St. Croix, which leads Fields to reason Emily is being held in the Holy Cross Church in Baltimore. The killer’s there, waiting on the roof, looking eerily like a giant raven. He shoots Fields and several of his officers before fleeing on a horse. Poe chases him through a park. They shoot at each other, but the killer escapes. Despite doctor’s orders, Fields refuses to leave until he’s examined the scene. Fields notices a freshly dug grave and a brand new headstone — with Emily’s name on it. The date of death has been engraved: October 7, 1849. Today is October 6th.

Poe and Hamilton commiserate about Emily. Fields, who has been shot in the chest, orders the doctor to work fast to patch him up so he can get back to work and find Emily before the killer lets her die. Poe writes a story to comply with the killer’s demand. Ivan refuses to print it, because it’s terrible. Henry asks to read it, but he actually likes the writing. Poe is enraged, accusing Henry of exploiting the crimes to sell more magazines. Emily manages to escape from her pine casket and shallow grave. She struggles to get out of the killer’s lair, but the killer is there, waiting for her. He forces her back into the tomb. The next morning, Fields’ maid gives him the paper and a letter that was dropped on the porch. Poe immediately notices that the letter is wet from last night’s rain, but the paper is dry — meaning the killer wrote the note before the papers were sent out. He realizes this means Henry or someone from his office is the culprit.

Meanwhile, Fields stumbles around the doctor’s lab and accidentally spills some mercury-based ink onto the magnet the doctor used to remove the musket ball. He realizes the soot from the first crime scene must have had the same mercury-based ink and rushes to Henry’s office, as well. Poe storms into the office and confronts Henry, only to realize he’s dead, and his hands have been chopped off. Poe finds Ivan in the printing room and holds a gun to his neck, demanding to know where Emily is. Ivan refuses to tell her until he writes the “final chapter” of Ivan’s story. Poe demands to know why Ivan is doing this to him. Ivan explains that he wants to be immortalize, but the world doesn’t listen to poor typesetters, so his only option was to torment and blackmail a famous author. Poe begs to trade his life for Emily’s, a condition Ivan agrees to. He jabs Poe with a needle filled with nightshade, then tells him he’ll have exactly enough time to write the final chapter before death befalls him. Poe writes what Ivan asks and begs to know where Emily is. Ivan cryptically quotes “The Tell-Tale Heart,” then leaves on a carriage, where the driver identifies him as “Mr. Reynolds.” Poe is baffled by the name, but Ivan explains he’s moving to a new city, with a new name, to find another author to play games with. When Fields leaves, Poe realizes the heart in the story came from underneath the floorboards. He breaks them apart and finds Ivan’s lair beneath the printing press. Poe digs and tears open her tomb, tearfully reuniting and declaring their love for each other.

Fields sends a message to Hamilton, instructing him to come to Henry’s office. They arrive at the same time and tend to Emily, but they’re surprised to find Poe is gone. Poe stumbles onto a park bench, where he’s recognized by an old man. Poe is raving about Fields and the name Reynolds. The old man brings Poe to a hospital, where he dies, still raving. When Fields arrives, the doctor passes along Poe’s cryptic messages, wondering what they mean. Ivan arrives on a train in Charlottesville, Virginia. A porter transfers his luggage to a carriage. When Ivan steps inside, he finds Fields aiming a gun at him.

Comments:

The Raven attempts to reinvent Edgar Allan Poe and his stories for modern audiences, à la Sherlock Holmes. Although this alone may be enough draw in audiences, the story is an over-the-top, lame-brained mystery that has too many odd leaps in logic to really succeed. As written, it merits a pass.

In the first act, the writers make a valiant attempt to present this as a character-driven drama rather than a boisterous, mostly goofy mystery. Unfortunately, they miss the mark. Fields is extremely bland, existing mainly to give Poe someone to explain his conclusions to, and to give Poe access to places and evidence that would normally be restricted to civilians. Poe, on the other hand, gets a bit of nuance, but the writers fail to explain one of the most pertinent details of the character: why a world-renowned, well-respected author would be living like a pauper and treated like dirt by someone like Hamilton. A bit of historical context regarding the way Poe made his living would have benefited the script and the character greatly.

As the story starts to build momentum, the writers also leave out pertinent story details, such as how Elderidge managed to quickly locate the killer and become his second victim, or how a low-paid typesetter financed his elaborate crimes, or why it is that “the last five days in Poe’s life remain a mystery” (as the script opens) when newspapers throughout the city not only write about murders inspired by his stories — they explain that he is helping the police find the killer. Fields and Poe have similar lapses in logic (notably their inexplicable conclusion that the killer could not have taken Emily out of Baltimore), which wouldn’t be a problem except they’re both supposed to be sharp detectives with keen reasoning skills. Despite these flaws, the story is reasonably engaging throughout the second act. The proceedings are quite ridiculous, but in a briskly paced, mindlessly entertaining way.

The third act ruins everything, however. Once the killer is reveal and his motive is explained, the story immediately goes from “silly entertaining” to mind-numbingly stupid. Like the plot holes that pile up in the first and second acts, Ivan’s proclamation that the only way to immortalize himself is through a famous author is glossed over. The script barrels past it so quickly, as if the logic is so airtight, that maybe audiences will believe it is — at first. In hindsight, however, too many questions pop up: what is the function of Ivan’s desire for immortality? If he’s jealous of Poe and his success, wouldn’t the fact that his murders simply imitate Poe’s popular works undermine that desire? Maybe in a script where the killer starts telling people the name of his new identity before he leaves the city where everyone knows him by a different name, questions like that aren’t supposed to be considered. However, the whole story is building to the revelation of this killer, and it’s deeply unsatisfying. Similarly unsatisfying is the resolution, in which Poe dies offscreen, Fields is given the necessary information secondhand, and it simply ends with Fields aiming a gun at Ivan. Overall, the script is so raucous, goofy, and fast-paced that the fact that it just sort of peters out without any rousing action sequences or even some well-justified vigilante justice doesn’t fit the tone.

The supporting characters are typical for a mystery procedural: suspects who are intentionally left undeveloped, a bland love interest who’s not really necessary to drive the story forward (though Emily’s kidnapping does raise the stakes), and a cavalcade of expendable police officers whose deaths exist to create theoretical jeopardy for the main characters.

The script’s oddly low-key ending is its biggest hurdle. As mindless entertainment, the script works. If audiences don’t care that nothing about the story makes much sense, they’ll turn out in droves — but the fact that it peters out in the most unsatisfying possible way will kill word-of-mouth. Even with well-known actors playing Poe and Fields, and a director who maintains the breezy pace of the script, the last 10 pages of the script are too bland to believe audiences will recommend it to their friends.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 11:19 AM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

May 8, 2010

ATM

Author: Chris Sparling
Genre: Thriller
Storyline: 8
Dialogue: 9
Characterization: 9
Writer’s Potential: 9

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Disappointed consider

Logline:

When three coworkers make a late-night stop at an ATM, they’re trapped and taunted by a mysterious man with an unclear agenda.

Synopsis:

DAVID, 27, arrives for work at an urban highrise bank. A montage depicts his day as a financial advisor: starting out happy and optimistic, but quickly getting crushed by the stress and difficulty of the day’s market. At the end of the day, he has to make a guilty phone call to a client who has lost a lot of money, the week before Christmas. COREY, 28, arrives at David’s desk to invite him out for the evening. He overhears the end of David’s conversation and tries to convince David it’s not his fault. David feels horrible about the loss. Corey tries to cheer him up by saying it’s EMILY’s last day and that David should come out after work and try to ask her out again. David doesn’t want to repeat the humiliation he felt a year ago, but Corey manages to convince him. David watches Corey get increasingly drunk as he yammers obnoxiously to mutual friends. He awkwardly tries to talk to Emily, but he’s waited too long — she’s planning to leave the party. Desperate, David rushes out to the parking lot with a winter hat he knows isn’t hers, just to give himself a reason to talk to her. He asks her out awkwardly and causes her to miss her cab. He offers to give her a ride home, but Emily demures, saying she lives way out in the suburbs. David insists, so she agrees.

David goes back into the bar to gather his things when Corey sees him leaving and insists on a ride home — David had promised him earlier, and Corey won’t take the hint that he’s no longer welcome. David and Emily sit awkwardly in David’s car while Corey yammers on David’s cell phone, asking a friend to search the bar for his own phone, which he left behind. The friend finds it, just as David’s phone craps out. David tries to put it in the charger, but it slips. He lets it go, not wanting to freak out Emily by bending over her legs. Emily is cold, so David tosses his coat over her like a blanket. Corey belligerently demands food, noting a local pizza place that is open all night. He says he’ll only be a few minutes, but they need to stop by an ATM first, because the place is cash-only. They stop at an otherwise empty supermarket, which has a 24-hour ATM vestibule separate from the store. Because of the bad neighborhood, it’s enclosed in glass and requires the scanning of an ATM card in order for the door to open. While Corey goes to get the money, David makes an awkward apology. Emily thinks David’s nervousness is cute.

When Corey takes too long, David gets out of the car to see what the problem is. Not wanting to wait in the car, Emily follows. Corey’s card won’t work, so David uses his own card and gets out $100. They’re ready to go, when Emily suddenly stops — she sees something in the dark parking lot. The shadowy figure of a large, intimidating MAN. He simply stands and stares. The trio wonder who the Man is. Corey assumes he’s waiting to use the ATM, but David and Emily fear he wants to rob them. Annoyed, Corey steps toward the door — the instant he does, the Man steps closer to the ATM. Corey freezes, reconsidering. Emily wants to call the police, but Corey shouts at the Man, asking what he wants. The Man remains silent, staring. They don’t think he looks like a homeless person, but they don’t have a clue what he wants. They hear a noise — ROBERT (40s), a harmless man, is walking his dog through the parking lot. He unclips the leash and lets the dog run into the nearby woods, where a conspicuous industrial hose leads from a cistern to the supermarket. Robert makes small talk with the Man, who bashes Robert’s face in, beating him to death, taking his wallet, and going back to staring at the ATM.

Shocked, the trio decide to call the police — but nobody has a phone. Corey left his at the bar, David’s is out of power, and Emily’s is in her purse, in the car. They search the ATM for a panic button, but they find nothing. They have no way to alert anyone, and no way out. The ATM has poor heating (designed for only short trips), the time/temperature sign on the supermarket says it’s -5°F and they have six hours to sunrise. Emily wonders why the Man doesn’t come inside. David speculates it’s because he doesn’t have an ATM card. Emily wonders if Robert had an ATM card. This makes them all nervous. David gets his keys from Emily, deciding to make a run for his car. The Man sees this and edges toward David’s car. He gets into the unlocked car and fiddles around inside, eventually popping the trunk. He tosses aside a bunch of junk, including a folding lawn chair, before finding a tire iron and a tool kit. Now he’s armed, but he disappears, out of view from the vestibule. After a few moments of consideration, they start hearing banging — from the other side of the vestibule, as if the Man is trying to beat his way through the wall. Before long, the lights go out, replaced by much dimmer emergency lights. The Man returns to stare at them. David tries to shatter the glass walls, assuming that will trigger an alarm. The glass won’t budge. Corey and Emily join in, but it’s no use. Emily notices a sprinkler and wonders if the others have a lighter — nope. David sees a police car cruising along the edge of the parking lot. He shouts for help to no avail. The car drives away.

David hatches another plan: he’ll take all his money out of the ATM. It only has a daily limit of $500, so he can only take out $400 more. He asks Corey to take out $500, but his card still won’t work. Emily realizes something: if Corey’s card doesn’t work, but he still got past the card-scanner door lock…that means the door lock isn’t working. After letting this sink in, David continues to think of ways to give the Man enough money to leave them alone. Emily’s ATM card is in her purse, so she offers up some fancy earrings. David insists Corey give up an heirloom watch he wears. Corey doesn’t want to, but David forces the issue. He puts everything in a deposit envelope, which he quickly kicks to the Man. He catches sight of the Man on the side of the vestibule, using David’s tools to unsuccessfully open a side door to the vestibule. The Man takes a few steps toward the envelope, and David uses the distraction to sprint toward his car. The Man immediately gives chase. David gets into his car and discovers the Man has ripped apart his ignition. He manages to get Emily’s phone but can only dial 911 (not send) before the Man gets to him. He manhandles David, getting the phone away from him, but David manages to get out of his grip and run back into the vestibule. The Man stops 10 feet short of the vestibule, seemingly daunted. He smashes Emily’s phone and pockets the envelope of money and valuables, then goes back to work.

Emily and Corey peer through a metal grate into the room the Man is trying to get into. They theorize it’s the place where they restock the ATM. Corey considers pulling off the grate and sending Emily through the hole, then distract the Man so she can get out and run for help, but David doesn’t think it’s big enough to fit even Emily. Emily comes up with an idea: she heard that if you punch in an ATM code backwards, it’ll automatically alert the police, like a secret message. Corey thinks it’s an urban legend, citing “palindrome” ATM codes like 4224, which can’t be reversed. Emily thinks it’s worth a try, but the only result is the ATM eating David’s card. David wonders why this is happening. Emily entertains the possibility that he knows them, somehow. Corey brings up the client whose money David lost. David dismisses it, pointing out that the Man was already here, with no transportation. He couldn’t have followed them from the bar, and even if he did, why would he have killed Robert? David figures he wanted to rob the ATM, but they got in the way, but Corey doesn’t think that makes sense — they didn’t see him until after they got their money and were ready to go. He could have just stuck to the shadows but didn’t. As the conversation breaks down, all three discover they’re suffering from the early stages of hypothermia.

Emily spots a security guard car. They beat on the door and shout for his help. The security guard pulls up, looking concerned, but when they realize it’s not a real cop, Corey assumes he can’t help them — he’s not armed and not affiliated with the real police. Through the door, which they refuse to open, they beg for help. The security guard has trouble hearing them over the wind. Just as he realizes what they’re saying and sees Robert’s corpse — the Man bashes in his head with the tire iron. Emily starts to panic. Suddenly, the Man enters the vestibule. Freaking out, David lunges at him. He and Corey fight the Man, who fights back, and before long, they’ve strangled him to death. They breathe a sigh of relief that it’s all over — except the Man is still outside, watching them. The trio are horrified. It turns out the man they killed was a similarly dressed, similarly built man who simply wanted to use the ATM on his way to a third-shift custodial job.

Corey searches the janitor’s body for a cell phone, but he doesn’t have one. Things break down between the trio — David starts to blame Corey, while Corey blames David, and Emily starts to break down because of the hypothermia (which effects her smaller body more quickly). The Man watches, emotionless, as David and Corey begin to fight. Emily notices the Man is out of sight again. Angry and not thinking clearly, Corey decides he’s going to leave, despite the possible consequences. He gets a few yards out before the Man appears, brutally killing Corey with a screwdriver. David and Emily stare, stunned. David blames himself for Corey’s death and dragging Emily into this situation. Emily’s more pessimistic, disappointed that they all just stared there, assuming that because they haven’t done anything wrong, they’d be saved. What’s happening isn’t anyone’s fault but their own and the Man’s.

They hear some banging. Silently, they listen, trying to figure out what will happen next. Corey suddenly appears, beating on the door, not quite dead. David and Emily let him in and try to tend to their wounds despite lacking supplies and medical training. Enraged, David smashes the ATM with the wastebasket, hoping that will trigger an alarm. He bashes the screen, but all this does is destroy the camera that’s been recording their every movement since they entered the vestibule. Before long, water begins to pour from the heating vent — the Man has moved the industrial hose. That’s what all the noise was earlier. David and Emily struggle to move Corey’s body up to the signing shelf, but it’s futile. He’s dead. As the janitor’s body rises with the water, Emily notices something — a pack of cigarettes. She searches his body for a lighter.

Once she finds the lighter, they fill the wastebasket with as much dry paper as they can find, and they light it. David stands on the signing shelf, trying to reach the fire sprinkler, but he’s not tall enough. Emily demands to get on his shoulders, but it’s awkward and difficult for the hypothermia-suffering pair to position themselves properly under the sprinkler. After a great deal of effort, they get it, and a noisy alarm and strobe light blare. Unfortunately, it also starts spraying water down from above, causing the vestibule to fill even faster. The signing shelf cracks, causing them both to collapse. Emily smashes her head and falls into the water, dead. David crumbles, seeing the corpses floating in the water, knowing there’s no way out for him, either.

The Man kicks David’s car into neutral, stopping it in front of the security car. He uses the security car to ram David’s car into the vestibule, shattering the glass. Water pours out. David looks at the Man, who simply sits in David’s old lawn chair, watching, motionless. Blinded by rage, David emerges from the vestibule, grabs some lighter fluid from his car, douses his coat in it, lights it on fire, and tosses it on top of the Man, who doesn’t even attempt to fight back. David jabs the screwdriver into the Man’s gut — before realizing this isn’t the Man at all. This is the security guard, whom the Man propped up in the chair. The Man, meanwhile, is in the ATM vestibule, staring at David. Just before David attempts to go after him, the security guard’s pepper spray explodes from the pressure caused by the fire. David is stunned and blinded by the pepper spray, and the Man closes in for the kill —

— when police and fire officials arrive. The Man disappears into the shadows. David still has the screwdriver in his hand. The police order him to drop the weapon, but he’s so confused and disoriented, he doesn’t listen. They throw him to the ground. David begs for help, but the police don’t believe him. They handcuff him and throw him in a patrol car. A montage shows the police investigating the crime: the broken security camera; Corey’s screwdriver wounds; David’s toolkit being used to break into the ATM; in David’s trunk, they find Robert’s wallet, the deposit envelope filled with cash and jewels, and Emily’s cell phone with 911 still ready to dial; security camera footage of David bashing the ATM; David strangling the janitor; and, worst of all, no sign of the Man anywhere on the security camera footage. The reason he never came near the vestibule wasn’t because of the lock — it’s because he knew he camera’s sight lines. And, from the police’s vantage point, it looks like David did the crimes.

Meanwhile, as the sun rises over the horizon, the Man pulls an apron out of a locker room, then steps out into the supermarket, where he joins a dozen other cashiers as morning commuters do their shopping. The Man eyes the ATM vestibule, which still has signs of last night’s carnage, emotionless and composed.

Comments:

Until its last 10 pages, ATM is a phenomenal script, a great single-location thriller in the vein of Phone Booth. The writer does an exceptional job of building suspense and piling on difficulties without every veering too far from the ATM vestibule. The main characters are interesting and well-defined through their reactions to their circumstances and interactions with each other. The thing that kills it is a horrible twist ending, which undermines everything that came before it. As written, it merits a disappointed consider.

The first act does a superb job of quickly establishing each of the main characters’ jobs, personalities, and relationships to one another, before thrusting them into the ATM. The writer also does an excellent job of addressing the cell phone problem most movies face: rather than going with the overused “no signal,” he comes up with clever reasons why none of the three main characters have access to a cell phone while within the ATM. Once the writer introduces “the Man,” it’s simply a matter of building suspense and raising the stakes, as the characters start to realize they’re trapped and need to figure out a way to either get out or alert the authorities from within this confined space.

The second act is where the script really shines. This is a writer who knows how to construct a slick, economical thriller. Reminiscent of Steven Spielberg’s Duel, the Man manages to become a terrifying menace without ever uttering a word, or even coming out of the shadows. In addition to finding a way to escape or trigger an alarm, the characters have the challenge of figuring out the Man’s agenda (and, more importantly, his plans for them) without any hints beyond creepy sounds and the cold-blooded murder of anybody who comes anywhere near the ATM. With their failure to accomplish anything, and hypothermia setting in, the characters inevitably turn on each other, and the writer does a great job of making this play out in a believable fashion.

The third act continues to raise the stakes by killing off main characters, leaving David even more isolated as the Man escalates his torment of the ATM dwellers. David’s ultimate breaking point is satisfying, and even though it’s a bit of a cheat that his confrontation and murder of “the Man” turns out to be the dead security guard, it’s a surprise that works. Unfortunately, it’s followed by two surprises that don’t work at all, and are, in fact, so bad that they undermine all the great material the script has prior to it. First, David’s arrested for all the crimes based on laughable circumstantial evidence that any first-year law student could counteract with minimal effort. Second, the true identity of the Man is revealed: a vaguely sociopathic cashier at the supermarket. The writer wants to go for the big twist at the end, but it’s deeply unsatisfying to see the protagonist hauled off for no good reason. More than that, it opens up tons of unanswered questions that will leave audiences annoyed: what happens when the cops find harder evidence supporting David’s theory that a mystery man did everything? Does the Man just want to torment anyone who uses this ATM? If so, why aren’t the cops suspicious that insane crimes keep occurring at this particular ATM? It’d almost be better to never know his identity or agenda than to give him one that undermines his previous actions.

The Man remains shrouded in mystery, and that’s fine until the horrible twist at the end. All the other characters are pretty solid. The writer does a nice job of keeping all three consistent and well-developed, but he does even better at believably showing how this experience changes them over the course of a few short hours. As their survival begins to depend on taking action, David’s able to put aside his fear and do something, although Corey (the brash, drunk man of action before him) gets killed for making a bold move. It’s a little too easy to pin his motivation to Emily’s death, but the writer does a good job of developing their relationship quickly (and establishing that David has harbored feelings for her for a long time).

The twist ending is the only thing preventing this script from being an enthusiastic recommend. If the filmmakers make the ending less of a cheat, it’ll be a great, commercial film.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 1:52 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

May 12, 2010

Gaturro

Author: Unknown
Genre: Comedy/Kids/Animated
Storyline: 6
Dialogue: 5
Characterization: 5
Writer’s Potential: 5

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

In order to impress his childhood sweetheart, a clumsy cat tries to become a TV star.

Synopsis:

GATURRO (a cat) arrives outside the house of AGATHA, the female he loves. She’s returning home from a trip. Gaturro smooths his fur, tests his breath, and holds up a banner welcoming her back. Agatha can’t see the banner because her owner has stuck a suitcase in front of her. Gaturro moves so she’ll have a better view of him and gets tangled up in the banner. When he finally gets untangled, a fancy toy car drives by just before Agatha sees Gaturro. Driving the car is MAX, a suave but self-absorbed cat. Agatha’s pleased that somebody remembered her homecoming and drives off with him. Depressed, Gaturro wanders the neighborhood roofs. He finds a photo album featuring himself and Agatha. He looks over the photos, which come to life as he recalls each moment of humiliation: drawing a cheesy, child-like sketch of himself and Agatha while Max commissions an elaborate painting depicting Max and Agatha as a king and queen; Gaturro and Agatha clumsily chasing a butterfly, smashing into each other; finally besting Max by buying a bouquet of flowers for Agatha when Max only bought a single rose, only the rose transforms into a dazzling diamond and catches sunlight at the perfect angle to instantly fry Gaturro’s bouquet.

Gaturro complains to his friends, KATY KIT, EMILIO, and LONGO, about Agatha. His friends agree that Agatha is a tease and Gaturro should move on. Katy Kit suggests Gaturro get some self-confidence and show Agatha he is brave and daring. Gaturro finally catches up with Agatha, who gives him the cold shoulder for not remembering her return. Gaturro tries to explain what happened, but she accuses him of just making excuses. Gaturro instantly demures, until he remembers Katy’s confidence suggestion. He orders Agatha to choose between himself and Max. Agatha tells him Max has proposed. Gaturro is crushed, even though she hasn’t decided whether or not she’ll marry him. When Agatha lists the qualities she looks for in a man, Gaturro imagines himself as a secret agent who can easily best Max. Agatha orders Gaturro to stop daydreaming and pay attention to what she’s saying. They pass an electronics store with TVs in the window. Agatha watches Tick Cat, a popular superhero show, and tells Gaturro he should be more like MICHOU, the star of Tick Cat. On the show, Michou as Tick Cat fights off a vicious pit bull. She wanders off, leaving Gaturro to wonder if he should be more like Tick Cat or the actor playing Tick Cat. He reasons that actors are more powerful than superheroes, so she must have meant Michou.

Meanwhile, at a TV studio, Michou performs on a soundstage. His overbearing (human) owenr/manager, MIMICHA, watches. Human director ALPLATO calls cut. Mimicha confronts the show’s human PRODUCER, demanding double the pay for Michou, whose popularity has skyrocketed. Producer refuses to agree to her terms, so she takes Michou and leaves. Producer panics, begging Mimicha not to leave. They play tug-of-war using Michou as Producer explains he has no money. His complaints fall on deaf ears, and Mimicha finally leaves. Alplato suggests setting up an audition for a new cat. Producer orders him to create an ad campaign for an audition tomorrow. The next morning, at Gaturro’s home, he drives owners DANIEL and LUZ crazy begging for food. Daniel places newspaper on the floor for Gaturro, and he sees the audition call. He grabs the newspaper, but his disgusted owners take it away, ball it up, and throw it away. Gaturro panics — he needs the address. Fortunately, the TV shows a similar ad. Gaturro tries to get his owners to pay attention to the TV, and also tries to show them how funny he is. Irritated, Daniel tells Luz to take Gaturro to the audition, to get him out of the house. Luz doesn’t want to, so Gaturro continues with his comedy hijinks: smashing vases, covering Daniel’s car with muddy footprints, drawing mustaches on the photos of all of Luz’s friends. Max overhears Gaturro excitedly talking to Katy Kit and Emilio about his plan to become a huge star and win Agatha’s heart.

Luz and VALERIA take Gaturro to a pet shop, where a hairstylist contorts his hair in various ridiculous styles. Gaturro panics when she tries to wash his hair. He flees, and the hairstylist goes after him with a net. Producer complains to Alplato about how awful the auditions have been. Alplato doesn’t trust him, so he decides to look in on the auditions from now on. Stressed out, Producer sees Gaturro in the pet shop window, surfing across the floor on a box of soap, trying to elude the hairstylist. A crowd has gathered to watch Gaturro, laughing hysterically. Producer realizes he’s found his next star, but he can’t catch Gaturro, either. Max asks Agatha if she’s made a decision about his proposal. She tells him to stop pressuring her, and accidentally calls him “Gaturro.” Max is perturbed. A young mouse actor, RAT PITT, auditions for Producer, who is irritated because the audition called for cats, not rats. Producer starts sending a trained pit bull to attack bad auditions, which panics Gaturro. He hides in the prop room, where Rat Pitt finds him. Pitt thinks Gaturro is going to eat him, so he pretends a prop dog is his friend, until the head falls off. Gaturro timidly introduces himself, explaining he’s there for an audition. Seeing he’s friendly, Pitt gets an idea. He convinces Gaturro they should audition as a team. When he finds out Gaturro is not serious about his craft, Pitt almost changes his mind, but he realizes it’ll be easier to mold Gaturro and make him do his bidding. He dazzles Gaturro with a musical number, which leads to a montage of Pitt training Gaturro and the pair rehearsing an audition piece. Gaturro is a strong performer, but when he’s called to audition, he freezes.

Producer, who recognizes Gaturro from the pet shop, is sincerely disappointed. Alplato is angry and sends the pit bull after him. This brings Gaturro back to life. He runs away, comically clumsy. Pitt capitalizes on the situation, dressing up like a woman and pretending to be a damsel in distress, in fear of the pit bull. Gaturro hams it up, pretending to be a superhero. Suddenly, Producer and Alplato change their opinions. Up in the rafters, Max holds a flea-ridden dog up to a fan, sending the fleas down to infect Gaturro. Gaturro freaks out, trying to get rid of the fleas, inadvertently infecting Producer and Alplato. He leaves the audition, dejected. Pitt tells Gaturro not to give up, but Gaturro knows it’s all over for him. However, Producer and Alplato have other ideas: Flea Cat, the comic superhero. When Gaturro arrives at home, he’s surprised that his owners greet him happily, as a star. Producer is there, explaining their Flea Cat concept. Michou disappointedly watches Flea Cat, realizing Gaturro is poised to be a bigger star than he is. A brief scene shows the superhero’s origin story: bit by a radioactive flea, Gaturro is granted super powers, which allow him to save cats from dangerous creatures like pit bulls. Gaturro’s friends watch the show and congratulate him. Agatha is overjoyed at Gaturro’s success, but she masks it with aloofness. Gaturro tries to impress her, but he’s mobbed by a bunch of female cats wanting autographs. Max swoops in and takes Agatha away. A montage follows, depicting Gaturro’s rise to fame: getting mobbed by female cats, photographed by paparazzi at restaurants, photo shoots for magazines, going on a spirit quest in Inda.

Agatha comes around Katy Kit and Emilio looking for Gaturro. She tells him he’s all over the city, and Agatha realizes Gaturro’s face is on everything — billboards, posters, magazines, products. Mimicha angrily learns of rumors that Gaturro will be nominated for an “Oscat” award. Gaturro is bored with fame and fortune, because he’s alone. Pitt’s ego has inflated despite the fact that he’s a supporting player. Agatha watches Flea Cat. In her mind, the villain Gaturro fights morphs into Max, and the damsel in distress morphs into Agatha. Gaturro has the same imaginary thoughts, which boosts his performance quality. Alplato and Producer are thrilled — they know he’s destined for an Oscat. Finally, Agatha finds Gaturro and admits how impressive he is. Now that he’s more like Michou, Gaturro wonders if she’d reconsider dating him. Agatha wanted him to be more like Tick Cat, not Michou. Gaturro is embarrassed and ashamed. Agatha invites him to go for a walk. As they walk through a playground, they fall deeper and deeper in love. Max witnesses this and calls GATALINA, plotting something to break Gaturro and Agatha apart.

Producer and Alplato drag Gaturro away from Agatha, saying he can only date studio-approved women. Mimicha is enraged when Gaturro is granted access to a fancy restaurant for his date with Gatalina (the studio-approved cat) but Michou is not. Max buys a bunch of tabloid magazines for Agatha. All of them depict Gaturro’s love affair with Gatalina. Agatha says yes to Max’s proposal. Gaturro sees the same magazines and knows this will ruin everything with Agatha. Mimicha comes back to Producer, begging him to put Michou back on TV. Producer refuses, enraging Mimicha. Max purposely removes Gaturro’s wedding invitation from the pile. Gaturro receives his Oscat nomination, but it doesn’t cheer him up. Pitt tries to convince Gaturro to thank him in his acceptance speech. Despondent, Agatha realizes the Oscat awards ceremony is at the same time as their wedding ceremony. Max insists it’s a coincidence.

While Gaturro prepares for the award ceremony, Pitt overhears Max talking about the wedding. If Pitt tells Gaturro, that means he won’t be there to thank Pitt on TV. Pitt isn’t sure if he should help his friend or his career. Ultimately, he decides to help his friend, telling Gaturro about the wedding. Max sees Pitt and chases him. Pitt manages to get to the ceremony. Max uses a poster of Gaturro as a mask to get past security. Mimicha, who can’t get past security, sees him and thinks it’s the real Gaturro. She chases him. Max steals Mimicha’s purse and hangs it on Gaturro’s dressing room door. Mimicha finds it and grabs Gaturro, dragging him away. Happily, Max rushes off to his wedding. Later, Michou wakes Gaturro. Gaturro is surprised that such a famous cat would talk to him. Michou performs a musical number about how overrated fame and fortune are, and how much he prefers to be a lazy stray cat. Gaturro asks Michou to help him get out of there, but Michou tells him escape is impossible — he’s tried. Pitt enlists the help of Katy Kit, Emilio, and Longo in finding Gaturro. When Producer and Alplato can’t find Gaturro, Mimicha talks them into replacing him with Michou. Daniel and Luz are disgusted at the mistreatment.

While Max and Agatha prepare for the wedding, Pitt and the others track Gaturro’s GPS collar to Mimicha’s car. They sneak into it, and she drives them back to her apartment building. They arrive in time to see Gaturro clumsily attempting to escape from the 10-story building. Gaturro and Michou fall, and their friends catch them. They all race to Max and Agatha’s wedding. Mimicha and Producer follow. Gaturro and the others try to have to get rid of them before they can get to the wedding. He dumps water into the street, causing Mimicha’s motorcycle to slip. Producer grabs Gaturro to take him back to the Oscats, but Gaturro makes an impassioned plea to stop the woman he loves from making a mistake. Producer lets him go.

With Rat Pitt and the others’ help, Gaturro arrives at the church at the last possible second, interrupting the wedding before Agatha can say “I do.” He climbs in through the bell tower, getting stuck in the bells briefly before falling into the church, destroying everything. Gaturro pleads with Agatha, but Max reminds her that he’s a “ladies’ cat.” Gatalina, moved by Gaturro’s love, admits Max set everything up. Agatha’s enraged. She dumps Max, but Max will not go down so easily. He sends a huge robot after Gaturro. Pitt arrives and steals the robot’s controls. He forces it to let Gaturro go and start playing music and dancing. The robot goes out of control, so Katy Kit throws the controls into water to short it out. The robot stops. Agatha is impressed by Gaturro’s heroics. Max is forced to work as the assistant for a mechanic. Gaturro and Agatha walk into the sunset, madly in love.

Alplato has a temper tantrum when he learns they’ve lost Gaturro. Then, he sees someone on TV doing a dance similar to Rat Pitt’s audition piece. He orders Producer to track down Pitt. Gaturro and Agatha sit on the roof together, happy everything is back to normal. Agatha admits she’s always loved Gaturro. A news report reveals that Mimicha has been caught and sentenced to clean up after zoo animals as a punishment for her animal cruelty.

Comments:

Gaturro is a cinematic adaptation of a successful Argentine comic strip. As a kids’ cartoon, it’s fairly amusing and endearing. However, the story and characters aren’t particularly strong, and the script relies heavily on moviegoers’ knowledge of the comic. Consequently, it will likely have trouble finding an audience in regions where the source comic is not popular. As written, it merits a pass.

The first act sets up a fairly generic conflict — Gaturro versus Max on the quest for Agatha’s heart — and takes it to amusingly extreme circumstances. However, it doesn’t do a particularly good job of establishing the characters. As mentioned, the script relies a lot on audiences’ awareness of these characters and their relationships, so it doesn’t take the time to set them up here. That puts anyone unfamiliar with the comic at an immediate disadvantage, so despite the cute jokes, it will be hard for audiences to get invested in the characters if they aren’t in advance of the film.

The story is also pretty low stakes — other than the possibility of Gaturro ending up alone, there aren’t any. He stumbles into superstardom in the first act, and the second act doesn’t do much to develop that into something suspenseful or even interesting. There’s a bit of toothless showbiz satire, which ultimately leads to a reasonably good kids’ movie message about how it’s better to be poor and happy than rich and miserable (although it ignores the possibility of being rich and happy), but this is a script that relies on sketch-comedy-style comedic moments rather than pushing the story forward. The obstacles thrown in Gaturro’s path are easily avoided, yet he allows them to keep him from obtaining his goals.

Finally, in the third act, the writers start taking the story seriously, but by then it’s a little too late. It’s not so much a problem of predictability — it’s obvious from page one that Max will get what’s coming to him, and Gaturro and Agatha will end up together — as prolonging the inevitable. Long sequences like Mimicha kidnapping Gaturro don’t register as a difficult hurdle as a distraction designed to pad the script to feature length. Even though it’s merely a kids’ movie, a stronger story that gives Gaturro real consequences and a real drive to achieve his goals would benefit it. Instead, it limps toward the wedding confrontation, delivering a curiously low-energy resolution to an otherwise manic storyline.

All of this, obviously, roots back to Gaturro’s fatal flaw: he’s incredibly passive. He makes one decision early in the script — to be more like Michou in order to win Agatha’s heart — but he doesn’t so much take action as stumble blindly toward his destination. This automatically affects the pacing and suspense of the story, because Gaturro lets things happen to him instead of making things happen. Similarly, Agatha is oddly, almost comically bipolar. Her decisions make no logical (or even emotional) sense — they just exist to keep tossing generic conflicts into the story. Her incoherent decision-making actually becomes an intentional running joke at a certain point, but that doesn’t make her any more compelling as a love interest. Max is the same way: a generically evil villain who preens and schemes without ever feeling like his decisions come from a truthful place. Cartoonish, one-dimensional characters are fine in a story like this, but they’d be better if they had some kind of internal logic driving them, rather than making random decisions for unknown reasons that serve the plot instead of the character.

The script has a ton of supporting characters, but none are in the story enough to become compelling or interesting. As with the major characters, the writers are obviously drawing inspiration from the source comics and have no interest in drawing an audience from those who are ignorant of its characters and relationships. These supporting characters will probably seem fine to audiences who know the comics, but they will come across as bland an ineffectual to those who have no knowledge of them.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 11:37 AM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

May 11, 2010

Margin Call

Author: J.C. Chandor
Genre: Drama
Storyline: 4
Dialogue: 3
Characterization: 4
Writer’s Potential: 4

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

When a mathematician discovers a revenue shortfall, a group of Wall Street investors must pull an all-nighter in order to figure out how to solve the crisis.

Synopsis:

Talking heads on the radio announce the trading day is about to close, and word around Wall Street is that Goldstone Sterns Investment Bank plans to lay off 5000 employees. On the trading floor of Goldston Sterns, risk assessment analyst PETER SULLIVAN (27) and his buddy, SETH (23), watch in terror as human resource personnel sweeps the floor. An HR person taps Peter on the shoulder, asking if his name is Eric Dale. Peter breathes a sigh of relief as he tells her no. ERIC (mid-40s) is his boss. He’s led into a conference room, where HR lawyer LAUREN BRATBERG waits. She offers him a small severance package and gives him 24 hours to think it over. She also explains that, despite his 19 years of loyal service, for security purposes she’s disabling his phone and computer. Eric is shocked and humiliated. He asks about the work he’s in the middle of right now. Lauren explains they have a contingency plan and asks a security guard to escort Eric to his office to collect his things. Eric’s boss, WILL, greets Eric sadly, apologizing for what happened. Eric asks whose decision it was: SAM ROGERS or SARAH ROBERTSON? Will won’t answer. Eric assumes it was Sarah.

Peter and Seth say their goodbyes to Eric. Eric asks Peter to walk him outside. Eric gives Peter a USB drive and says it’s something he was working on and couldn’t finish. He trusts Peter to finish it, but he warns him to be careful. Peter is baffled. Will meets with Sam (mid-60s), who has just learned his dog is dying. Will isn’t sure how to react. He simply informs Sam that the remaining trading floor personnel are ready for him. Sam steps out on the floor, which looks like a ghost town. The employees have been reduced by 80%. Sam gives a rousing speech to the remaining employees, saying they survived because they’re better, and GS will weather this storm. Down on the street, Eric tries to use his phone. They’ve already deactivated it. He sees Sarah across the street and confronts her. She says nothing in response. Eric drops the phone and storms away. Seth and Peter sit on the trading floor, trying to recover. Seth invites Peter out for a drink, but Peter tells him he needs to stay and keep working. Once he’s alone, Peter looks at the hard drive Eric left for him. He’s stunned by what he discovers. He tries calling Eric, but the phone is disabled. Instead, he calls Seth, who is drinking with other employees, including Will. He orders Seth to bring Will back to the office. Seth protests that it’s after 10, but the tone of Peter’s voice tells him it’s serious. Seth and Will arrive at the office. Peter explains what’s happening to them: their investments are starting to test volatility boundaries, and if things start heading in the wrong direction, the bank stands to lose just over $1 trillion.

Will calls Eric at home, but he isn’t there. His wife politely takes a message. She doesn’t know he’s been fired. Will calls a car for Peter and Seth, ordering them to go find Eric. Will calls Sam, who’s reluctant to return to work. When Will says this isn’t something he can e-mail, Sam knows it’s bad and comes in. Peter and Seth wander aimlessly, failing to find Eric. They talk about the obscene amounts of money their superiors make and speculate on what the real bosses make. Sam meets with Will, who relays in detail everything that happened between Eric and Peter, and what Peter just explained to him about the bank’s financial situation. Sam wants to know where Peter is. Will calls Peter and Seth and orders them to return to the office. They get stuck in traffic, but Will is breathing down their necks, so they abandon the car and take the subway. Will and Sam meet Peter and Seth at the elevator and lead them into the executive board room, where Sarah, JARED COHEN (mid-40s, one of the top dogs of the company), and several lawyers wait. Sam explains everything yet again. Sarah asks about Peter’s credentials. He explains that he’s, essentially, a rocket scientist. He entered the financial world because it pays better. Their lawyers verify Peter’s numbers. Jared asks how long it would take them to quietly sell the bad mortgage securities. Sam says it’ll be at least four weeks, during which time they will continue to lose money and have to sell more.

Based on Jared’s line of reasoning, Sam realizes Jared wants to simply sell everything, all at once, firing the first shot on a tanking market. Sarah asks for time to confirm the numbers. Jared insists that they find Eric, because he’s the only one other than them who knows anything about this. Will takes Peter and Seth up to a roof landing on the 45th floor. After waxing philosophically about why people feel anxious on rooftops (which he attributes to people fearing they might jump rather than that they might fall), Will explains to Peter and Seth that Jared’s planning to dump everything. Peter and Seth are shocked that they can even do this. Will explains that if they know something in advance of the other banks on Wall Street, they can capitalize on it and lose virtually nothing. It doesn’t matter if everyone else loses everything. Seth pointedly asks Will what he does with all his money. Will thinks about it and explains, surprising himself by how much he spends on booze and strippers. They see a corporate helicopter arriving on the helipad above. Will realizes the truly important executives have arrived. Sarah arrives at Sam’s office to tell him and Jared what she and the other lawyers have uncovered. She says everything Peter calculated is accurate. He killed their cash cow, which was built on a faulty equation, and the only choice is to sell.

Jared brings Sam and Sarah to the elevators. He’s called CEO JOHN TULD. They reconvene with Will, Peter, and Seth, and they all head up to the top floor. Jared sternly tells the others to tell the truth at all costs. Not even Peter is smart enough to lie his way out of this. They all file into Tuld’s board room. He’s a surprisingly genial man. He greets them kindly and asks Peter to explain to him what happened. Peter goes through it all again. Tuld considers all the information and tells them all that there are three ways to succeed on Wall Street: be first, be smarter, or cheat. Tuld refuses to cheat, and although he has a lot of smart people working under him, he thinks it would be smarter to be first. Jared is pleased that Tuld is backing his plan. Tuld asks Sam how they would do it. Sam explains that everybody has to be on this, and they need to work fast, because by noon word will be out, and what they’re trying to sell will be worthless. Worse than that, the SEC will start poking their noses into what they’re doing. Sam warns Tuld that if they do this, they are killing the mortgage market, and they will lose the buyers they’re selling to forever. Tuld is fine with that, so long as their bank weathers the storm. He realizes that this is the start of their troubles, not the end, but when Sam points out that it’s only the start because Tuld is starting it, Tuld explains that he’d prefer to start than finish. Tuld asks about Eric. When he realizes nobody has found him, he sends his private security team to track him down.

Downstairs, Eric’s wife calls Will. She says he’s come home, but he refuses to speak to them. Knowing that Tuld’s men are on their way, Will drags Seth with him to warn Eric. Tuld explains to Sarah that her head is on the chopping block for this. She’s disappointed, but she understands. He asks her to stay until the markets close. Sarah goes to her office and tries to cry, but she can’t. She’s too numb. Peter gets coffee from a street vendor. A PRETTY GIRL passes by who he seems to know. Peter asks about her father. She half-jokingly asks if Peter has any good tips for her. He says, with stone-faced seriousness, “Sell.” She’s alarmed by his demeanor. Will and Seth arrive at Eric’s fancy townhouse. They explain everything that’s happening to him and warn him that Tuld’s men are coming, and either he can accept their offer of a massive bonus in exchange for silence, or he can prepare for them to fight him on his meager severance package. Eric laments his career, recalling his days as an engineer, building bridges to actually help people instead of coming up with equations to screw people. Will and Seth leave just as Tuld’s men arrive.

Tuld offers reluctant Sam a massive bonus for his cooperation. Sam reluctantly accepts it. He goes down to smoke a cigarette and finds Peter, still outside. Peter asks if they’re all getting fired. Sam assumes they are. Peter says he knows Sam’s son, and he’s a nice person. He asks if Sam has told his son about what’s happening. Sam says it didn’t even occur to him. Sam asks about Peter’s father. Another helicopter lands on the roof. Peter asks if he’s ever done anything like this before. Sam says no. Peter wonders if it’s the right thing to do. Neither of them are sure. Sam doesn’t want to think about the mess it will create. Sadly, they both go upstairs. In the executive bathroom, Sam bawls his eyes out. He tries to stop himself when he hears someone enter, but he can’t. It’s Jared. Seth explains that he knows he’s fired, but this is all he’s ever wanted to do. Jared apologizes with surprising sincerity. Eric arrives and meets with Sarah. After some awkward small talk, Eric agrees to take the bonus. The remaining employees gather for their morning meeting. Sam lays everything on the line, reluctantly telling them that what they’re doing will destroy their own jobs, but they have to do it to save Goldstone Sterns. Tuld arrives to give a similarly inspirational speech. A montage follows, showing the employees selling quickly, then congratulating themselves when they succeed. That night, Sam buries his dead dog in the backyard of his former home. His ex-wife, MARY, confronts him, fearing he’s a burglar. When she sees it’s Sam, she tells him he doesn’t live here anymore. Sam explains about the dog and tells her this was where she belonged. Mary leaves Sam to continuing digging.

Comments:

Margin Call attempts to humanize the architects of the 2008 stock market crash. Unfortunately, although the writer creates situations designed to elicit sympathy, the writer fails to create characters complex enough to be sympathetic. The script isn’t much more than redundant scenes of people talking in board rooms, explaining and re-explaining the reasons for the crash, which might have been compelling if the dialogue weren’t so awful. As written, it merits a pass.

The first act rushes past the character introductions and goes straight to the layoffs, evoking an atmosphere of fear among the bankers. Eric’s firing, his ominous warning to Peter, and Peter’s subsequent discover of big problems serves as an excellent setup for a thriller that never arrives. After his discovery, the story settles into an annoyingly repetitive pattern of introducing new characters — each higher up the corporate ladder — to explain the exact same story to. The explanations are worded almost identically, and the reactions of each person is virtually the same. In other words, the script just spins its wheels for almost its entire 92-page length. The writer never makes any real effort to build any suspense in what’s happening to the characters’ jobs and place of employment. Even the subplot about the mysteriously missing Eric lacks suspense, because nobody really cares about him as a person. They only care about what he knows.

In the third act, the writer attempts in vain to paint these characters with a sympathetic brush. However, they aren’t really characters. With the exception of Sam’s cloying symbolic dog, the writer hardly reveals a thing about these characters beyond their jobs at the bank. They exist to dispense information to the other characters (and, by extension, the audience). The writer creates a perfect opportunity to show that these people who are demonized by the news media and the government have lives beyond their jobs, have goals and desires that aren’t simply rooted in greed, and maybe spend a few minutes considering the ethical dilemma of their choice. Unfortunately, the writer never capitalizes on this — the only ethical dilemma anyone’s worried about is how much money they’ll lose, which makes it extremely difficult for the audience to feel any response other than rage when they start having tearful breakdowns about losing their jobs — the same jobs that they, by their own admission, sabotaged by going too far to mess with the system.

The fact that the characters are so weak is a huge problem, because this is a barely a story. It’s mostly people sitting around trading floors, offices, and board rooms, bluntly explaining everything. Without strong characters to make what they’re discussing compelling, it’s hard to get invested in anything that’s happening in the story. Adding insult to injury is the dialogue. Every character — regardless of age, gender, or background — has the exact same speech pattern. The writer never uses the dialogue as an opportunity to reveal these characters’ personalities, even though it’s the only way to distinguish them when they don’t do anything but talk. They all seem exactly the same: obsessively focused on their jobs and on how to wriggle out of the crisis at hand.

Peter and Sam are the only characters who come close to having any sort of ethical judgment. They are both aware that what needs to be done is wrong, and the writer seems to be trying to make a statement about the fact that they know it’s wrong but do it anyway. However, this muddles the attempts to portray the other characters — the ones who lack such ethical guidance — as sympathetic. If the audience is supposed to feel betrayed when Peter and Sam simply go to work and do what they’re told, how are they supposed to feel when Seth starts bawling uncontrollably and Sarah attempts to have an emotional breakdown but is too numb to cry? Maybe this is difficult to determine because of how poorly the characters are developed.

This is a hugely problematic script that has noble intentions but fails to achieve what it’s aiming for. Although it’s a relevant story, it fails to tell audiences anything they don’t already know. It’s hard to imagine any amount of slick filmmaking or great acting will make this script work.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 2:46 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

My Tutor

Author: Mark A. Altman & Steve Kriozere
Genre: Comedy
Storyline: 2
Dialogue: 2
Characterization: 1
Writer’s Potential: 2

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

A nerdy high school student and his obnoxious playboy father both fall for the same woman: the student’s French tutor.

Synopsis:

Nerdy high school senior JOSH (18) is on the Mexican island of South Padre for spring break, with his obnoxious and equally nerdy pals STEVE and KYLE. While Kyle wanders around videotaping attractive women in string bikinis, Steve attempts to flirt with them but invariably makes an obscene reference to pornography, offending the women. Josh mostly stands with them in humiliated silence. The humiliation gets worse when Josh discovers his father, HANK, is at the same bar, doing Jello shots off a sexy local woman. It’s quickly revealed that Hank is a Joe Francis-like sleaze merchant whose highly successful Girls Gone Loco line of DVDs has made him rich beyond his wildest dreams. Steve and Kyle think Josh’s dad is the coolest. Josh disagrees. He tries to excuse himself to study for an important French exam he’ll have to take once he returns to school. Hank tries to talk Josh out of it, but Josh knows that if he fails French — as he is right now — he’ll lose his acceptance to Stanford and end up in community college. Steve and Kyle insist Josh stay with them and party the night away with Hank. A montage of photos showing all of them (except sourpuss Josh) having a night of drunken debauchery follows.

Josh returns to school, exhausted and mildly hungover. He fails the French exam. Steve and Kyle wonder why he took French to begin with, when he’s already practically fluent in Spanish. Steve realizes Josh took the class to get close to JENNY, a beautiful girl he’s had a crush on for years. Unfortunately, she’s dating COLIN, the school lacrosse star. Josh comes home angry. Hank hasn’t gotten out of bed for two days, attributing it to jet lag (even though there’s only a two-hour time difference). Hank notices Josh’s bad mood and wonders if he can help. Josh lashes out about Hank forcing him to party. Josh has one shot left — the final exam. If he can’t pass it with a B+ or higher, he fails the class. Hank declares he’s proud of Josh and that he shouldn’t give up on himself. Then, he watches TV. A traffic report by JANE HARRISON (late 30s) is on. He watches for a few moments before hurling his breakfast at the screen. It’s soon revealed that this is Josh’s mother and Hank’s ex-wife, whom Hank divorced when he caught her cheating on him.

The next morning, Josh wakes to the sound of the doorbell ringing. CLAIRE (late 20s and beautiful) is at the door. Josh mistakes her for a call girl, insulting Claire. Hank introduces her as an au pair. She’s shocked to find her chair is 18 years instead of 18 months. Hank asks if she speaks French, and when she says yes, he orders her to teach it to Josh. Claire initially refuses, but Hank points out that this will be the easiest job she’s ever had. Naturally, his obnoxious tone and rampant sexism turns Claire off, but Josh apologizes on Hank’s behalf, and Claire is impressed by his eloquence and humility. She agrees to take the job. At school, Steve and Kyle immediately want to know if Claire is hot. Jenny passes by, saying “hi” to Josh, who immediately reads way too much into the simple greeting. Steve and Kyle use the distraction to invite themselves over for band practice and video games. Josh snaps out of it, telling them he needs to study. As soon as Josh leaves, Steve and Kyle agree to show up at Josh’s unannounced. In the parking lot, MIRANDA approaches Josh tentatively. She tells him it’s her 18th birthday, invites him to her party, and pulls up her top, asking if she thinks Hank would approve, now that she’s 18. Josh says he doesn’t know, so she asks him to find out and bring Hank and his camera crew if they deem her worthy. Josh is baffled.

At home, Claire is annoyed that Josh is late. She immediately takes Josh to see Breathless, the Godard film. Claire explains that in order to speak French, he must understand what it means to be French. At first, Josh finds the film confusing, but he starts to warm up to it. Their talking annoys a patron, who shushes them. Josh insults the patron in French, but unfortunately, the patron knows the language and has an usher throw them out before the end. Josh apologizes to Claire. He asks her how the movie ends. She tells him the characters in the film had passion, not love, so they couldn’t stay together in the end. Josh thinks she speaks from personal experience, and she promptly changes the subject. At home, they find Hank desperately trying to impress Claire by cooking a variety of French dishes. Claire reveals she’s not actually French — she’s French-Canadian, although her parents are from Nice. She’s surprised that Hank has heard of Nice. He explains his ex-wife wanted to go there on a vacation, and he still sounds bitter.

Claire is impressed by Hank’s cooking. Hank tells her he once wanted to open his own restaurant, but Jane got pregnant, so he had to put the money to less risky use. Steve and Kyle show up at the house, desperate to meet Claire. Josh doesn’t want to let them in, but they convince him. The guys notice Hank flirting with Claire. Later, while playing video games in the basement, Steve and Kyle urge him to make a move before Hank does. Josh thinks they’re crazy, but they make him see that all the signs are there. Upstairs, Claire helps Hank do the dishes. She’s surprised he doesn’t have servants. Hank explains that he didn’t want Josh to grow up having everything done for him. Downstairs, Steve and Kyle discuss Claire’s body in obscene terms. Josh tells them to cut it out, and coincidentally, she happens to have come downstairs and heard everything. She says goodnight to Josh.

The next morning, Hank is shocked to find Claire sunbathing topless next to the pool. Josh is equally surprised and leaps to the conclusion that Hank is taping her for a movie. Jane arrives and demands to know why Hank hired a stripper to hang around in front of Josh. Josh explains Claire’s role in the household, but Jane is too horrified to believe it. She tells Hank she’s come to pick up her prom dress for their upcoming high school reunion. While Hank searches the attic for it, Jane tests Claire’s French. She’s impressed. After Jane leaves, Hank invites Claire to join him and Josh for a paintballing tournament. Josh wants to study, but Hank claims he planned this weeks ago. At the tournament grounds, Josh is temporarily thrilled to learn their opponents have canceled, but it’s short-lived. Hank has found new opponents: Colin, Jenny, and their jock friends. Steve, Kyle, and Hank take the tournament way too seriously, embarrassing Josh in front of both Claire and Jenny. Claire runs off, and they quickly discover she’s an excellent paintballer. She takes down all of the people on Colin’s team except him and Jenny. Hank and Josh are both impressed by Claire. They all decide to split up, with one group covering the flag and the other going after the remaining opponents. Josh strongly suggests Claire join his team, so Hank shoots him “accidentally.”

Dejected, Josh wanders through the woods. He comes upon Jenny, who mentions Miranda. Josh quickly tells her he was invited to Miranda’s party, and that he’s going. Jenny is surprised. She wonders if Josh is going to take Claire, whom she mistakes for Josh’s girlfriend. Josh rolls with that, saying she’s a foreign exchange student. Later, when Hank hugs Claire for far too long, Josh shoots Hank to stop him. Hank shoots back, and the two keep shooting each other until Josh accidentally hits Jenny. At home, Claire overhears Josh talking about Miranda’s party. Later, she gives Josh a surprise gift: a suit exactly like the one worn by Jean-Paul Belmondo in Breathless. Josh is not convinced he can wear the suit without getting his ass kicked. Claire explains this is the next step in his French lessons: he must be French. Josh agrees to wear the suit. Claire wishes him good luck at the party. He invites her along, but she says she has a date with Hank. Josh stews all the way to the party.

Hank takes Claire to a closed miniature golf course. She’s unimpressed with the location choice, but she agrees to sweeten the deal, challenging him to a game of strip miniature golf. By the time Hank and Claire are both completely naked, police arrive to arrest them for breaking into the golf course after hours. At the party, Josh drinks excessively. Jenny flirts with him, but Josh is too busy drinking to pay much attention — until she tells him he’s cute. Colin shows up and mocks Josh’s suit. Both Jenny and Miranda think Josh looks hot. Josh picks a fight with Colin, which leads to a drinking contest rather than actual fisticuffs. As Josh gets drunker and drunker on shots of bourbon, Jenny is irritated to discover Colin is just downing shots of iced tea. She tries to help Josh, but he vomits all over her cleavage. Later, Josh incoherently babbles in French about how much he wants Claire. The police, big fans of Hank’s work, let him and Claire off with a warning. Claire is impressed. Hank confesses he hasn’t had an actual conversation with a woman since he and Jane divorced. Claire suspects he was afraid of intimacy. Hank asks Claire about her romantic history, and she explains she was in loved with a wonderful, talented man who cheated on her, so she understands Hank’s fears and reservations. Steve and Kyle desperately call Hank to pick up Josh, who won’t stop speaking French and is threatening to dive off the roof. Claire has to talk him down. Josh demands to know why Claire went out with Hank. Claire says, “Because he asked.”

Claire wakes Josh the next morning to give him a disgusting hangover cure she invented. Josh gives Hank the silent treatment. When he goes to school, he’s shocked to find everyone cheering for him — he’s now a big hero. Jenny texts Josh that she broke up with Colin and asks him to be her date to the reunion party. Steve and Kyle are thrilled about this, but Josh is still hung up on Claire. Jenny and Miranda explain to Josh that they’re organizing the 20th reunion party, and the band canceled. They invite Josh’s band to play. Colin comes around, harassing Josh — who finally stands up to him. Instead of going after Josh, Colin roughs up Jenny. Josh punches Colin, then kisses Jenny. The student body applauds. Colin warns Jenny that she shouldn’t dump him if she wants to hold on to her chances of becoming homecoming queen. Josh tells Steve and Kyle about their gig. Josh and Claire do some last-minute studying the night before the French final. Hank interrupts, asking to talk to Claire. She returns after a moment to take Josh out. She tells him to bring his books. He takes her to a private beach, so they can continue studying without distraction. They converse in French. Claire asks Josh what he wants. He doesn’t know how to say it in French, so he asks her to swim. She says she didn’t bring a bathing suit, but neither did Josh. Claire strips down.

Later, Josh gets a text from Jenny saying she got back with Colin because she wants to be homecoming queen. Josh rolls his eyes and invites Claire out on a date for Friday, the night of the reunion party. Claire can’t — she already agreed to go with Hank. Josh storms into the house, confronting Hank about competing with him. He accuses Hank of being too juvenile. Claire witnesses the argument. The next morning, she’s gone. She leaves a note saying she returned to France because she doesn’t want to keep coming between them. Hank sees the note first and immediately heads for the airport. Josh sees this and is suspicious. He finds the note and confronts Hank in the driveway. Josh wants to go, but he has to take his final. Hank informs Josh that he canceled all his credit cards and wishes him luck. While Josh takes his final, Hank is detained at the airport for having a gun on his person. It turns out to be a paintball gun, and Hank realizes Josh planted it. After the final, Josh races to the airport. Steve and Kyle have made all the preparations for Josh. They paid for it by selling Hank’s Ferrari on eBay at a steep discount. After all of Hank’s delays, the father and son end up on the same flight.

In Paris, Josh steals Hank’s taxi. Hank gets in a cab and bribes the driver to follow Josh. They search the Cité Universitaire for Claire, but neither finds her. Eventually, they’re tossed out by security guards. Dejected, Josh and Hank reconvene to share their misery over crepes. At a park, they both spot Claire. She apologizes to both of them, tells them how great they are, but that she had to get back together with her ex. While Hank and Josh plead with her, they both keep shoving an annoying mime out of the way. It turns, out the mime is her ex. When they insult his chosen art, a team of ninja-like mimes come out of the woodwork and beat the hell out of Josh and Hank. Claire takes them back to her apartment to attend to them. Hank apologizes to Josh, saying he needs Claire more than Josh because the best years of Josh’s life are yet to come, but Hank’s are long past. Claire reminds Josh of Breathless — they had passion, but not love, and now it’s over. Hank and Josh thank Claire for everything. She offers to let them stay, but Hank opts to bring Jane in from the U.S. to take her to Nice. Jane takes him to a topless beach, thrilling him.

Josh returns to school to discover he has aced his final and will be going to Stanford. Four months later, he arrives for orientation. Right off the bat, he meets a beautiful French foreign exchange student and is smitten. She’s thrilled he can communicate with her in her own language. A month later, Hank and Jane arrive for parents’ weekend. Hank gets hammered with a frat while Jane waits impatiently and Josh dances with the French girl.

Comments:

My Tutor aspires to be a 1980s-style teen sex comedy, which makes sense because it’s a remake of one. Unfortunately, this is a brainless, ragingly unfunny example of a genre that can be quite entertaining and endearing if done properly. The horribly inconsistent characters, unfocused story, and awful dialogue all contribute to the script’s overall failure. As written, it merits a pass.

The script’s characters are, by far, its biggest liability. Their personalities are all inconsistent, swinging wildly from scene to scene. Sometimes, Josh is the intelligent, responsible kid who is deeply respectful — almost reverent — of women. He suddenly does a complete 180 to sex-crazed horndog without any believable reason. Not even the fact that he’s 18 makes such wild personality deviations work — it’s just the writers sacrificing characterization to go for easy jokes. Josh’s arc relies entirely on Claire’s perception that Breathless will teach him how to be French, which is a bizarre turn of events considering the film is about a character who spends his life imitating American star Humphrey Bogart. The only good thing to come from this is that 0.1% of teenagers in the audience will have any idea what Breathless is.

Hank is an even worse case. He’s an obnoxious, drunken manchild who runs around videotaping underage girls taking their tops off, frequently having sex with these women — but, deep down, he’s really a sweetheart. The writers try for the limp (so to speak) justification that he felt so betrayed by his wife’s cheating, it created intimacy issues. All that’s well and good, except for the fact that he built his sleazy empire before the divorce. Whether or not he was actually having sex with his many teenage victims at the time is never said, but it’d actually be more interesting if he were that much of a hypocrite. Instead, the writers try too hard to make him a nice guy, because they finally realize — late in the script — that it makes no sense that Claire would be attracted to both sensitive Josh and lout Hank. Unfortunately, Hank works better as a stereotype. The wounded puppy dog routine would only fit with his personality if he were using it to trick Claire into sleeping with him, but this is not the case.

And then there’s Claire, the object of their mutual affection. Forget how creepy and disturbing it is for father and son to lust after and do battle for the same woman (the script certainly doesn’t notice how off-putting and unseemly this conflict is) — she’s another character whose personality is sacrificed both for lame jokes and for the lamer plot. In her first scene, she’s portrayed as an articulate, perceptive woman who sees right through Hank’s sleazy machinations and admires Josh’s kindness and sensitivity. Two scenes later, she’s sunbathing topless in front of them and acting like she can’t figure out why Josh is suddenly so nervous and Hank is leering. The writers spend the entire script pounding her into different shapes so she’ll fit the story they’ve created, and it’s never exactly clear why either characters fall in love with her. Lusting after her makes perfect sense, but the writers never develop her well enough for either character to fall for her. She’s simply an idealized woman who alternately loves old French films as much as strip golf.

The weak story is presented like awkward sketch comedy, never generating narrative momentum as it limps to the finish line. Each gag is virtually self-contained, giving the story an unfocused feel reminiscent of its inconsistent characters. The first act sets up one conflict (Josh’s need to pass his French class), the second act pushes it in another direction (Josh and Hank vying for Claire) while mostly ignoring the French class, and the third act brings it to a head as they race to France to fight for her love. In between, the writers shoehorn a lot of high school material into the story, but all of it feels like padding. The writers never make it seem important to Josh to stand up to Colin. He just does it because that’s the sort of thing that usually happens in a teen sex comedy. None of the high school subplots pay off in the third act, either. Jenny and Colin stop mattering somewhere in the second act, then disappear. This leads to a laughable resolution that leaves teen audiences with the message that they should forgive partners who cheat on them and try to make it work. The script is just too much of a mess to succeed on any level.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 9:16 AM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

May 10, 2010

The Last Hippie (a.k.a., The Music Never Stopped)

Author: Gwyn Lurie & Gary Marks
Genre: Drama
Storyline: 7
Dialogue: 8
Characterization: 8
Writer’s Potential: 8

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Consider

Logline:

In the mid-1980s, parents try to use music to reconnect to their estranged son, who has a neurological disorder preventing him from accessing his memories.

Synopsis:

In 1968, 17-year-old hippie GABRIEL SAWYER wanders through Greenwich Village, passing attractive hare krishnas. After flirting briefly, he gets woozy and has to pause, leaning against a wall until the feeling passes. In 1986, HENRY and HELEN SAWYER (both mid-60s) receive a phone call that Gabriel has been found wandering the streets of New York City. As they drive to the hospital, Henry plays “Till There Was You” from The Music Man on the car radio. This causes him to vividly remember dropping 6-year-old Gabriel off at his first day of school, in 1956, during which the same song played on the car radio. Henry tells his young son about the significance of this song in his life, that it was playing the first time he saw his future wife. Back in 1986, Henry and Helen meet with DR. BISCOW, a neurologist. He explains that Gabriel has an enormous, but benign, brain tumor that is pressing on certain parts of his brain that affect memory. They won’t know the extent of the damage until after they operate. The Sawyers wait tensely for the surgery to finish. Once Gabriel is in recovery, Dr. Biscow asks him a series of questions designed to test his memory. He assesses that Gabriel has reasonably good long-term recall, but his short-term memory has been drastically affected. As the tumor increased in size, it must have gotten harder and harder for Gabriel to form new memories, before he stopped having the ability altogether. The removal of the tumor will not change that, so Gabriel is permanently stuck at whatever time his long-term memories stop at.

In order to compensate, Gabriel suffers from what Biscow calls “joking disease,” which causes him to answer direct questions with glib responses. Henry wants to know if drugs caused all this. Biscow says no — it’s just an irregularity that caused major damage because Gabriel went untreated for at least 20 years. Helen realizes Gabriel left home 20 years earlier, after a falling out with his parents. Over the course of months, Gabriel recuperates, but his memory skills don’t return. He reacts to this by cutting himself off from the world, hiding behind “joking disease,” unable to respond coherently to anyone or anything. Henry has worked as an engineer at Eastman-Kodak for 40 years, but they quietly force him to retire because his mind is no longer on work. He has enough sick days built up to keep him afloat until his pension will kick in, but Henry’s still devastated at the mistreatment.

Henry and Helen bring some of Gabriel’s old possessions to the hospital, hoping to make his room a bit more homey as well as jog some old memories. Among these is an old trumpet. Henry recalls purchasing the trumpet for Gabriel on Christmas, 1956. Gabriel never seemed hugely fond of the trumpet, but Henry has high hopes. Still in 1956, Henry and Gabriel visit the gravesite of Henry’s brother, Gabriel’s namesake, who loved Count Basie, played the trumpet, and died fighting in Korea the same year Gabriel was born. They play Count Basie’s “Kansas City” on a record player. Gabriel asks if they’re playing the song so Uncle Gabriel can hear it in heaven. Henry says he hopes his brother hears it, but they’re actually playing it to remember him. In 1986, Gabriel has trouble sleeping, so a nurse sneaks him a portable radio, so he can listen to a classic-rock station. Later that night, the nurses hear Gabriel blasting the opening notes of the French National Anthem on his trumpet. They rush to his room, where they find him completely lucid.

The next morning, Biscow asks Henry and Helen if Gabriel ever played that song in the past. They say no. Helen speculates that he may have seen it on television, that he could always learn songs by ear quickly. FLORENCE, the nurse, confesses she gave Gabriel a radio. Helen hopes this means he’s coming out of it, but Biscow isn’t so sure. Helen wonders if the medication is helping, but Biscow insists all the medications are for hormone function, not neurologic function. Helen tells Biscow that Henry remembered the current Coca-Cola slogan. Refusing to give them false hope, Biscow tells Helen that he may remember small things from here on in, but that doesn’t mean he’ll make a recovery. Later, Henry and Helen sit with Gabriel, listening to a rock song on the transistor radio. Henry hates the music, but Helen insists she leave it on. The song takes them both back to 1968, when Gabriel played the same song with his garage band. Henry enters the garage and tells them all to go home. It’s dinner time. They frantically try to cover up the stench of cigarette smoke. Henry pretends not to notice.

Some time later, Helen learns Gabriel’s hospital bills are past due. She asks Henry about their financial state, and he gives her some vague non-answers. Helen marches into the Eastman-Kodak office and demands a job. When Henry’s boss refuses, she kindly informs him that this is the least they can do after forcing Henry out, and that she is college-educated, so she’s certain she can handle a lowly secretarial job. Henry is angry to learn she just up and got a job, without consulting him. Henry visits Gabriel at the hospital, causing him to freak out. His vague expectation was that Helen would come, and the presence of Henry disorients him. Henry leaves Gabriel a note reminding him that Dad will come every day at 10:00.

Henry researches at a local library and finds something that could be useful: an article about a college professor studying links between music and memory. Henry visits the professor, DIANNE DALY, and asks about her research. She explains the well-documented research about the effects music has on brain activity. She believes music uses an unknown system of memory that has not yet been tapped. She’s looking to prove this. Gabriel is smitten by an attractive cafeteria worker, CELIA, but he doesn’t realize he’s met her multiple times. Henry brings Dianne to the hospital. She turns his room into a “music lab,” filled with rhythm instruments like drums and tambourines (she has a theory that rhythm alone can tap into the memory). She starts by playing the French national anthem, which thrills Gabriel for a few notes, but after that he gets agitated. Both Dianne and Henry are confused. Dianne suggests Henry bring in records Gabriel would be familiar with from his childhood. Henry brings records of jazz songs and show tunes. Henry quizzes Gabriel on the songs, as he did when Gabriel was a child. Gabriel recalls the information, but he recites it robotically — the music is allowing him to recall, but not connect emotionally.

One night, Dianne hears “All You Need Is Love,” with its Marseillaise introduction, on the radio, and she realizes what Gabriel was listening to that night. The next day, she plays Magical Mystery Tour for him, and he’s suddenly lucid. He describes his love for the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Cream, and especially the Grateful Dead. She asks him a series of questions, but the only thing that trips him up is the current President. He immediately shuts down and returns to “joking” mode, until Dianne puts on a Grateful Dead album. Gabriel recounts the story of the night he almost saw the Grateful Dead. It was 1968 — the same night Henry yelled at Gabriel to come in for dinner. Henry insists Gabriel must go to College Night at his school. Gabriel would rather see the Dead, but that’s not an option in Henry’s mind. Gabriel says he doesn’t even want to go to college — he wants to go to the Village and play music. Henry tells Gabriel he must go to college to learn the tools that will make him a successful musician. At College Night, Henry drags Gabriel from booth to booth. Gabriel asks about Princeton to get Henry off his back. He disappears into the crowd and sneaks out to a van, where his bandmates and secret girlfriend TAMARA wait. Henry busts Gabriel before they have a chance to leave. Angrily, Henry forbids Gabriel from seeing Tamara.

In 1986, Dianne explains Gabriel’s reaction to the rock ‘n’ roll music that spoke to him as a teenager. Henry is angry, feeling that Gabriel should respond more to the music they both loved — jazz. Dianne proves it to them by playing the Grateful Dead for Gabriel. She has to reintroduce herself and explain what she’s doing. She starts asking Gabriel questions, and he brings up a disastrous gig his band played at the high school, during a Vietnam rally. To Gabriel’s surprise, Henry wanted to attend, so he wanted to impress his dad by playing a jam-band cover of “Kansas City.” In the middle of the song, Gabriel burned the flag. This enraged Henry, who reminded Gabriel that his uncle died to protect that flag. When Gabriel got home, Henry had already destroyed his rock ‘n’ roll posters and records, which is what caused Gabriel to leave home and never return. In 1986, Henry is enraged that these are the sorts of things this horrible music helps Gabriel remember — things Henry has been trying hard to forget. Dianne tries to explain the emotional connection between memory and music, but Henry tells her they no longer need her help. Helen apologizes for Henry’s behavior and tells Dianne to keep pushing.

At home, Helen tries to convince Henry that it doesn’t matter what music brings Gabriel back, as long as he’s back. Henry considers it strongly. The next morning, he goes to a used record shop and trades his entire prized record collection for “everything you’ve got after 1958 that’s…loud.” Dianne plays some records for Gabriel. She tells a fable about a lion and a mouse and asks Gabriel to tell the story back to her. He does, but he twists the details, and it’s unclear if he’s kidding or he just can’t remember. Henry arrives at the hospital, surprising Dianne with a copy of Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited. Instantly animated, Gabriel draws Henry into a conversation about the first time he ever played the album.

A montage follows, showing Henry connect with Gabriel through conversations over the music he loved — Donovan, The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield, and the Grateful Dead. Dianne tries to teach Gabriel a brief rhyme. He struggles to speak it back to her, but when she uses the tambourine to give the rhythm, he gets it. She’s pleased. Henry continues listening to the music with Gabriel, but he hates it. One day, Gabriel explains what the lyrics to “Truckin’” by the Grateful Dead mean, how the journey is important, not the destination. Henry actually listens hard to the lyrics and realizes Gabriel’s interpretation is accurate, and also that the song isn’t as horrible or incoherent as he believed. Some time later, Dianne asks Gabriel to recall the rhyme he taught her days ago. Again with the help of the tambourine, he does it. Time passes, and Henry becomes intimately familiar with the music, musicians, and lyrics, learning everything he can to use it as a springboard to get to know Gabriel.

On the radio, Henry hears a DJ talking about a contest that could win two tickets to a sold-out Grateful Dead concert. He frantically scrawls the number down using Helen’s lipstick. Henry takes Gabriel to the cafeteria, where he sees Celia. Henry’s surprised when Gabriel starts making connections even without music. He starts remembering things about Tamara as he talks to Celia. Henry asks Dianne if it would be possible for Gabriel to create new long-term memories using music. Dianne says it’s possible, but it would have to be a song he hasn’t heard before, one that has no clear associations with his past. That night, the DJ is finally giving away tickets to the Dead show. Henry frantically calls, getting a busy signal each time — and promptly has a heart attack from the stress.

Helen visits Gabriel, writing on his calendar that he’s coming home for Christmas. While recovering in the hospital, Henry obsessively listens to the radio, waiting for his chance. Finally, he gets through, talking softly so the nurses won’t find him on the phone after hours. He correctly answers a trivia question, winning the two tickets. Gabriel comes home for Christmas. Henry’s back home, too. He apologizes to Gabriel for tearing down his posters and throwing away his records. Gabriel asks how long ago that ways. Henry reluctantly tells him: 20 years. Gabriel is shocked — to him, it feels like only a few indistinct years have passed. Henry and Helen invite Tamara over. It’s an awkward reunion. She’s married and has children, but he still thinks they’re dating. Henry gives Gabriel his Christmas gift: the Grateful Dead tickets. Gabriel is thrilled. Back at the hospital, Gabriel is shocked to find a new, male cafeteria worker has replaced Celia. Panicking, he flees the hospital and finds his way to Tamara’s childhood home, terrifying her parents. He breaks his ankle trying to climb up to her window.

Dianne has to convince Biscow to allow Gabriel to see the Grateful Dead. Biscow finds her claims dubious and unsupported and has reservations about sending Gabriel into such an unpredictable environment. Dianne insists he has a special connection to the Dead. Henry pleads with Biscow, telling him that it took 20 years to find Gabriel, and Henry needs to have a real conversation with his son, one that he’ll remember. Biscow allows him to go to the concert.

They see a guy selling hemp shirts. Gabriel laughs at the idea that Henry would wear something like that, so Henry buys them both hemp tie-dye shirts. Gabriel is elated to see the Dead. He’s surprised that Pigpen isn’t there. Henry reluctantly explains that Pigpen died years ago. Gabriel seems absolutely normal, more lucid and at home than he’s been since his teen years. The Dead plays a newer song. It causes Gabriel to freeze for a moment, but he gets into the song. Henry realizes this is his moment to have a talk with Gabriel, but he allows his son to simply enjoy his music. They play Grateful Dead songs on the drive home, both of them feeling like this is a perfect night.

A year later, Gabriel frantically searches his hospital room for something, but he can’t remember what. Helen, dressed from head to toe in black, sighs that he misses his father. Gabriel’s confused — he recites the note that Dad comes every day at 10:00. Helen quietly tells Gabriel, and not for the first time, that Henry passed away. Gabriel’s shocked. Helen takes Gabriel to the funeral. She plays a bootleg recording of “Touch of Grey” from the concert Henry and Gabriel attended. The other mourners are a little puzzled by the song choice, but Gabriel stands there, able to remember his father in his old age, on their perfect night.

Comments:

The Last Hippie is a downbeat tale of father-son relationships and loss. It’s a compelling story that has some problematic flashbacks but is otherwise solid, with mostly well-written characters. The resolution is a bit maudlin, but with the right actors and director, it could turn out great. As written, it merits a consider.

The first act does a pretty good job of establishing the story and characters in subtle ways, particularly the strained relationship between Henry and Gabriel. Although the story itself is fairly slow and not exactly scintillating, the way the writers play with Henry’s perception of his son (mostly rooted in their good times when he was young) versus the reality of his son in adulthood is intriguing and well done. The writers also do a nice job of using the overarching storyline — of Gabriel’s memory loss and the forced connections through sharing music — as metaphors for an old father trying to understand his confusing son.

The writers lose much of this subtlety in the second act, when the emphasis on music-oriented conversations with a lucid Gabriel and excessive flashbacks to 1968 threaten to turn both Henry and Gabriel into silly caricatures instead of multifaceted people. This is problematic mainly because the script doesn’t have a strong narrative to gloss over the on-the-nose dialogue and scenes blandly portraying Henry as a stern taskmaster and Gabriel as an iconoclastic free spirit. Strip away the memory loss, and it’s an incredibly simple story that needs to be about two strong characters. Fortunately, the writers don’t get too ham-fisted with their flashback portrayal of the characters.

The third act is difficult because it’s fairly saccharine, mainly chronicling Henry’s quest to take Gabriel to a Grateful Dead concert and share one perfect evening that his son can actually remember. The right director and especially the right actors could pull it off successfully, taking what reads as overly sentimental on the page and making it into gut-wrenching emotional scenes. This is not the most commercial script, but excellent actors playing these roles could result in awards nominations, maybe even wins, to boost its viability. One false move from the actors and directors, and the whole film comes tumbling down in a tidal wave of syrupy sweetness that will leave audiences annoyed an unaffected.

In the present-day (i.e., 1986) scenes, the characters are very well-written. Henry’s struggle to understand Gabriel is only heightened by Gabriel’s inability to remember anything but their worst moments together. Gabriel is an extremely difficult character that they do a nice job with, doing an excellent job of portraying his transformation from “joking” Gabriel to lucid “teen” Gabriel, using nothing more than dialogue. The flashback portrayal of these characters is a bit more problematic, eschewing the subtlety of the awkward present-day conversation in favor of bland, on-the-nose arguments that bluntly spell out things that are alluded to more subtly in the present. The flashbacks are mostly unnecessary and actually hinder both the story and the character development.

The supporting characters don’t get nearly as much material, but they’re vividly rendered by the writers. Helen is an impressively tough wife, Dianne’s fascination with Gabriel and her joy when he shows signs of improvement is endearing, Biscow’s stern pragmatism is unnerving but believable. The other characters have minimal impact on the story, but the writers give them the same attention and nuance they do to the larger roles.

A similar but less sappy ending would definitely benefit this script, but either way, this script is not particularly commercial. Good casting will improve its chances for awards to improve its viability slightly, but the soundtrack alone (which prominently includes notoriously expensive-to-license acts like the Beatles and Bob Dylan) will inflate this script’s budget to a degree that it may not end up profitable.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 5:17 AM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

May 9, 2010

The Home

Author: Eric Vespe
Genre: Horror
Storyline: 5
Dialogue: 5
Characterization: 5
Writer’s Potential: 5

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

A young man forced to stay at a rest home for the elderly discovers a sinister presence is killing the residents.

Synopsis:

ALMA (80s) wanders a rural highway during a powerful rainstorm. CHAPLIN (40s) and ROBERTS (30s) arrive to pick her up, but she puts up a fight, biting Roberts, who knocks her unconscious with a powerful fist. They return Alma to Everbrook Home, a long, one-story building built into a hillside. EMILY NAVIT (30s), the nurse, comes outside to greet them. Roberts, angry about getting bit, refuses to help — until the owner, GARY (50s), appears. Navit checks Alma to make sure there’s nothing terribly wrong with her. An ambulance arrives to drop off BEN (20s), an unconscious burn victim. Suddenly, glass shatters in Alma’s room. Navit rushes to check on her and find Chaplin has been killed by the flying glass. Alma is cut and bleeding. Slowly, Ben wakes up. His roommate, BEN (70s), is a friendly ex-Marine. Navit introduces herself and tends to Ben. He can’t walk and will have to stay at Everbrook until he fully recuperates. Gus wants Ben to be sent away, but it’s not an option. Navit and Gary clean out Chaplin’s office. Gary tells her he has “pressing business” and needs her to handle the day-to-day. Navit, who has a son, is not enthusiastic.

Gary does rounds, introducing the other relevant patients: ERNEST, an angry, foul-mouthed man; and GERTIE, a frail, dementia-suffering woman obsessed with creepy ceramic dolls. That night, Ben notices a violent tugging at the edge of his bed. It’s a clawed, blackened arm that seems to be coming from the floor. Gus, who seems to know what’s happening, orders Ben to look at him. He says calm, kind words to distract Ben from the arm, which goes away. Ben demands to know what it is, but Gus won’t discuss it until the morning. The next day, Gus and HOWARD (70s, kindly) discuss things with Ben. Gus and Howard have decided that the rest home is creating different tormenters for each the patients, because it wants them either scared or crazy. None of the staff wants to believe this is true. They rule the “home“‘s attacks as suicides. They almost convinced Chaplin, which is why the home killed him. Ben thinks someone might listen to him, but Gus isn’t so sure he’ll make it out of the home alive.

Navit brings her son, OTIS, to the hospital while she has to run things. He has muscular dystrophy and is aware that something’s wrong at the home, but nobody believes him. That night, the creature attacks Ben and Gus’s room again. It kills Gus. Ben is still too weak and pained to stop it, but he gives it a good try. Unfortunately, it results in him lying comatose for two weeks. However, his actions have endeared him to the other elders, who come and sit with him while he’s unconscious. When he wakes, Navit subtly accuses Ben of killing Gus. Ben tries to convince her there’s something haunting the home, but she refuses to believe it, thinking he’s too drugged and delirious to know what he’s talking about. Still, Ben is so sincere, it causes her to question Gertie, the craziest of the patients. Gertie cryptically and creepily explains that the home wasn’t good to Gus because he didn’t like it, but she likes it, so it treats her fine. In the recovery room, Ben stares out at a cemetery. Howard chuckles about the view. Howard explains that the home used to be a tuberculosis hospital for children, and that if children died, they set up tubes to dump the children into, which led straight into an incinerator. If the family had money, they’d bury the children in the cemetery.

When Ben is well enough to leave the recovery room, Howard wheels him to the common room, where several other residents are ready and willing to take action. They explain that they’ve tried to burn down the home, but they can’t. The others say you can’t kill ghosts, but Ben doesn’t think they are ghosts — whatever is attacking them is real. The discussion breaks down, with everyone sniping at each other, until Howard reminds them that the home wants them divided. Their best option is to stick together. Howard forces Ben to start walking, using the handrails on the walls to pull himself along. Navit sees this and warns him that he could be seriously hurt. Ben tries to reason with Navit about what’s happening in the home. Even Otis sees it, but Navit remains obstinate. That night, Ernest witnesses Gertie’s ceramic dolls come to life and feast on her. He and the other elders decide that they really do need to do something to stop it. The moment they make that decision, the creature comes after them. They all push their call buttons, and the nurses scatter, frantically trying to help the elders. A few die.

Navit starts to believe Ben. Together, they confront Gary, who doesn’t really care. Ben demands that they move the residents out of the home. Gary shows them a contract. Ben goes to Howard, Ernest, and the others to tell them that Gary is selling the home. They’ll all be moved to a new facility, and the building will be torn to the ground. They all agree it’s good news, but Howard points out that if the home knows it’s going to “die,” it won’t have any reason to take caution and keep from getting caught. This unsettles them. That night, a horrible storm kills the power. All the mobile residents are told to gather in the common room while the nurses go to move all the invalids. Toilets start backing up, so Gary sends Roberts to investigate the pipes in the basement. Down there, he finds that it’s flooding. A pipe explodes, killing him. Moments later, the generator kicks on. Down the halls, the nurses can hear loud screams. With each scream, the dim lights grow stronger. Navit takes notice. She races to help the invalid residents, but the doors all suddenly slam shut as she approaches. The only door that remains open is the recovery room, where Alma is mutating into some sort of tentacled zombie.

Navit returns to the common room just as Ben is about to lead the mobile residents to leave. Gary rushes in, panic-stricken, insisting they all leave. Despite his fear, he still refuses to admit anything supernatural is happening. Ernest confronts Gary violently, forcing him to admit it. Gary runs toward the front entrance, but he starts to see skeletons floating in the rising water. The cemetery has been flooded, so the skeletons are floating into the home. The water is too high for them to get out through the main entrance without a boat. Ben tells them the only other option is the rear entrance. Since the home is built on a hill, the rear entrance is higher ground — but it means they have to walk through the length of the home. They struggle through the knee-high water. They stop at a utility closet, each getting weapons like a fire axe and heavy wrench — including Otis, but not Gary. As they walk through the home, they see surreal sights: crazed, seemingly possessed residents eating diseased meat in the cafeteria, eerie splashing in the water, disturbing paintings lining the walls.

One of the patients, LUTHER, has a hard time with all the walking. He forces them to stop and rest, but Gary doesn’t want to stop. He runs off, so Ben follows him, forcing him to stop. One of the other nurses, strange and zombie-like, attacks Luther, Howard, and Navit, who have sent the other residents ahead. Navit tries to help the nurse, but she attacks. Luther sacrifices himself to save Navit from whatever it is that has infected the nurse. Meanwhile, the other residents are attacked by some sort of black, snake-like creature floating in the water. Ben hears all the screams. Ernest shouts for Ben to go on without them. All the residents have to beat on the snake with their tools in order to kill it. Ben doesn’t leave. He returns to Navit and Howard in time to find some sort of fungus-like growth feeding on Luther. Gary tries to stop the growth with the axe, but Ben won’t let him kill Luther. They fight over the axe, and Gary accidentally kills Howard with it. They’re both shocked. The rest of the group returns, distracting Ben long enough for Gary to run away. Ben decides he’s going to kill Gary, but he doesn’t have to: Gary hides in a supply closet, where the home promptly kills him. Ben is pleased to hear his screams.

When Otis sees the creature, Ben recites the same words that Gus said to him on his first night there — distracting Otis from the creature, causing it to leave. It’s a short-lived victory, however. A possessed resident leaps up from the water, grabbing Otis and pulling him under. Navit dives after it. Ben tries to, as well, but a corpse emerges from a floating coffin and attacks him. One of the other elderly residents sacrifices herself to decapitate the corpse, freeing Ben to help Navit and Otis. By the time they reach the south entrance, they’re the only three left — Ernest has mysteriously disappeared. Ben tries to open the door, but it won’t budge. The home is keeping them in as it collapses around them. Suddenly, the glass doors shatter. Ernest is the culprit. He pulls them all out of the house, and they narrowly escape as the building falls around them. Police boats scan the flooded area for survivors. They find Gertie, still alive, cackling like a madwoman, clutching her favorite doll.

Comments:

The Home is a relentlessly mediocre variation on the haunted house story. It lifts most of its good ideas from other movies (notably Bubba Ho-Tep and Poltergeist, only without those films’ endearing sense of humor) and most of its disturbing imagery from Clive Barker stories. Lack of originality isn’t the problem so much as the writer’s intent on crafting nothing more than a by-the-numbers story populated by bland characters. As written, it merits a pass.

The first act introduces one of the script’s biggest problems: a leaden pace. It rigidly adheres to the formula of this type of movie, starting with a confusing “scare” moment, moving on to introduce protagonist Ben (as always, a new resident in the haunted house), and then delving in to the theatrics of dull shock moments and discussion of convoluted mythology. One of the more interesting ideas here is that Ben is little more than an invalid. Naturally, this development is hastily abandoned in the second act, as he regains his power to walk and the chronic pain from his burns is only used as a crutch to temporarily stun him later on.

The second act spends a lot of time on scary death moments, the home’s muddled mythology, and desperate attempts to convince the staff of what’s happening. It’s a tad repetitive, thanks partly to the lack of engaging characters, but the main problem is that what’s happening with the home is never entirely clear. This seems to be intentional, but the fact that the writer raises a number of options (ghosts of tubercular children, an ancient curse, or merely a house that is somehow alive and wants these people gone) without ever committing to one inadvertently causes an unsatisfying resolution. Without knowing what they’re fighting it’s hard to really get engaged in their struggle to defeat it — or, more accurately, run away from it.

The third act piles on the weird imagery to pad out an escape from the house that would have been slightly more satisfying if it were significantly shorter. As mentioned, there’s always the problem of them not knowing what they’re fighting or how to kill it. However, as with the second act, the third act gets repetitive in a hurry. The writer tries multiple variations on two basic attacks: strange creatures and possessed residents, who either drag people into the water or try to eat them. It works the first couple of times, but by the fifth and sixth times, it’s just tiresome.

A big problem here is the lack of compelling characters. Putting different, interesting characters into these repetitive situations would go a long way toward making them seem less redundant. However, the writer opts to give each character one basic trait (Ben is young, Howard is nice, Ernest is cranky, etc.) without ever going the extra mile to make the audience care about who they are and whether or not they survive. The lack of empathy hinders the script because, as the body count rises, there’s no mounting suspense. It doesn’t really matter who dies — even when it’s nice-guy Howard — because none of the characters are interesting enough and none of the relationships are strong enough to make the audiences feel anything beyond boredom.

If the home is supposed to be the antagonist, then it, as a character, is pretty muddled and poorly developed. As mentioned, it’s never entirely clear what’s causing the supernatural phenomena they witness. The writer never establishes rules to establish what it can and can’t do, so there’s no real mystery or intrigue there, except that it raises the question of why a seemingly omnipotent force can’t manage to kill a group of old people and a severely wounded young man. Wisely, the writer allows Gary to be a human antagonist, but his slippery weasel routine has been seen so many times in so many other movies — and not just horror movies — that he barely registers as a villain, and as with the good guys’ deaths, his murder means nothing.

The only thing that can come close to saving this script is good casting, to help it rise above its character problems, and good directing, to help it surmount is sluggish pacing.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 1:12 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

May 7, 2010

Trespass

Author: Karl Gajdusek & Eli Richbourg & Milo Addica
Genre: Thriller/Crime
Storyline: 7
Dialogue: 7
Characterization: 7
Writer’s Potential: 7

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

When a gang of thieves holds a family hostage, the family is forced to face up to the lies they’ve been telling each other, and themselves, for years.

Synopsis:

KATE BROOKS (35) arrives at her large, isolated home. The inside is as nice as the outside, signs of wealth abound. Her husband, IAN, has a titanium briefcase with a high-tech lock cuffed to his wrist. He pops open the briefcase, then pops open the safe, without the audience ever seeing what’s inside either. Kate pencils adjustments on an architectural blueprint for an incomplete extension to their house. She immediately gets into an argument with her daughter, AVERY (15), who’s dressed above her age to go to a party with older guys. Kate forbids it, calling every’s best friend a bad influence. Ian reluctantly gets involved, and both women turn on him — Kate because he’s never home, Avery because he automatically takes Kate’s side. Ian sends Avery to her room when she calls Kate a bitch. Later, Kate brings Avery dinner and has a calmer heart-to-heart with Avery, who apologizes for calling her a bitch. Avery locks herself in her room and, while her parents are distracted with rekindling their romance, she sneaks out to meet her best friend, KENDRA, both of them carefully avoiding the motion sensors on the home’s alarm system.

Kate’s romantic machinations don’t have the desired effect. It’s clear from Ian’s distracted reaction and Kate’s anger that their marriage is collapsing. While Avery and Kendra arrive at a suburban McMansion to join the party, Ian and Kate are surprised when police show up. Suspecting Avery has been caught stealing again, Kate goes upstairs to get her from her room and finds the door locked. She finds the keys to unlock it and discovers the room is empty, but that’s not so much of a problem when the cops reveal they’re not cops at all — they’re thieves dressed as cops, wearing creepy baby doll masks. Ian notices this and shouts for Kate to run. She flees to the garage, leaping into Ian’s Porsche as COP #2 chases her. She manages to get out of the garage, but COP #1 stands at the edge of the driveway, holding Ian at gunpoint. JAKE (19), the guy throwing the party, wants to sleep with Avery, even after he finds out her real age. Terrified, she turns him down. He tries to impress her by opening a walk-in safe and pulling out bundles of cash, which he uses to snort cocaine. Avery decides to leave the party.

Cop #1 and Cop #2 shove Ian and Kate back inside the house. Cop #1 is smaller and more nervous and intelligent. Cop #2 is a big, calm sociopath, who keeps counting down the number of minutes they have before police are likely to be alerted to their presence. They meet the third accomplice, BABY DOLL, a woman who is very impressed with the house and doesn’t seem to realize how serious the situation is. The gang disables all the phones. They demand the code for the Brookses’ alarm system. After stalling them, Kate finally gives it up. Cop #1 panics, realizing alarm companies usually allow two passwords: the real one, and an emergency one that alerts police. Kate apologizes. Cop #1 leads them into Ian’s office and orders Ian to open his safe. Ian refuses, asking them what they expect to find. Cop #1 tells them they know things about Ian, and the action flashes back to Ian attempting to sell diamonds to jewelers. Ian offers them a deal: since all diamonds have to be registered, his would easily be traced back if they stole them. Ian tells them he’ll take them to a “gray market” dealer who will recut the diamonds to remove their serial numbers, then sell them and give Ian the money. The thieves don’t trust Ian, but he refuses to open the safe.

Cop #2 produces a hypodermic needle filled with ketamine, which he threatens to inject Kate with if Ian doesn’t cooperate. A SECURITY GUARD from their alarm company shows up, interrupting the threats. He’s also wearing a baby doll mask. Kate recognizes the body type, which Cop #1 picks up on. Kate flashes on three weeks ago. WILL, the security guard, was a workman repairing their cable, whom Kate found very attractive (and the feeling was mutual, although they never acted on it). In the present, she begs Will for help, but he’s under the thumb of Cop #1. Will calls Baby Doll by her real name, TONI, when he’s alarmed by her pilfering the Brookses’ fancy things. Meanwhile, Avery arrives home from the party. As she sneaks up the driveway, Kendra calls. From inside, the thieves hear the phone and go on high alert. Cop #1 confronts Kate about knowing Will. He’s angry about the supposed coincidence. Ian demands to know what Cop #2 wants. He says he’s a debt collector, but hints that the debt may not be Ian’s. Cop #1 pulls off his mask, revealing himself as DON, and he concocts an elaborate story about Kate cheating on Ian with Will. She lets him believe the story. Avery enters the house, which the thieves notice quickly and go after her. Kate screams for Avery to get out of the house immediately. Avery runs for it, and Toni shoots at her incompetently, missing but causing Avery to take pause.

Once they’re all gathered in one room, Don informs them that his mother has a bad kidney, so he can either come up with $180,000 for a new kidney, or he’ll take one of theirs. Still, Ian refuses to open the safe. Don goes after Ian with the needle, but Kate gets the drop on him, pressing the needle to Don’s neck and threatening to kill him with the ketamine if the others don’t back off. Don barks orders for his people to kill the family the instant she dies. Weirdly, Kate uses this to threaten Ian: she will kill Don, prompting the others to kill the family, if Ian won’t open the safe. Ian does as she asks.

The safe clicks open, revealing that it’s completely empty. The thieves stare, baffled. They’ve done the recon — they know Ian is a diamond salesman, always taking important business trips. Ian tells them it’s an elaborate lie. He was fired but pretends he’s still employed for his family’s benefit. Ian vows to give them a kidney if he lets their family go. Don ices down the area and sterilizes the knife, keeping up the charade to terrify Ian before finally revealing the kidney “sob story” was never true. Cop #2 receives a phone call from someone who sounds like a boss. He informs Don that they have an hour to get the money, or they all die. Don strips the computers of their cables and tells Will to tie up the Brookses. Will whispers sweet nothings in Kate’s ear as he ties her up. Ian is horrified to discover that they know each other. Will insinuates they had sex, which Kate vehemently denies. Separated from the others, Don and Toni are terrified that “TY” (Cop #2) is going to kill them. They make plans to run off together, but Ty catches them.

Things add up for Ian: Kate staged this robbery, not knowing Ian’s dire financial situation. Kate sadly informs him she knew all about it. She tracked down the contractor working on their extension, he told her the reason he stopped work was because Ian stopped payment on a check, so she started digging. They start arguing about their lifestyle, and Ian is surprised to realize Kate doesn’t care about it as much as the family. Kate offers to give the criminals a diamond necklace Ian got for her. He adds a new, expensive diamond for every year of their marriage: 15 and counting. They agree to accept this, assuming it’ll cover the amount they need. Ian reveals it’s cubic zirconium. When he hit dire financial straits, he had to sell the diamonds and secretly replace them. The thieves don’t believe him, so he tells them to test it: diamonds don’t scratch. Don scratches them with a knife, and sure enough, they scratch. Kate’s as angry as the others. Meanwhile, Avery fakes a panic attack. Toni takes pity on her, which Avery uses to get the drop on her. It’s a short-lived attack, but it distracts the others long enough for Ian and Kate to smash a window, setting off their alarm. Will quickly plugs in the phone and fakes a party atmosphere. While Don and Ty hold Ian and Avery at gunpoint, Will forces Kate to get on the phone and pretend it’s all a misunderstanding.

The alarm company operator cancels the police call, but a security agent shows up anyway. Ty shoots him dead in cold blood, before Will has the chance to explain that this is protocol. All Kate would have had to do is sign a form verifying it was a misunderstanding. Ian tries to convince them there’s a second safe hidden inside the safe. Ty shoots Ian in the leg for making up such a horrible lie, and Don shoots Ty in the head for being such a hotheaded idiot. Shocked, Don and Will contemplate how they ended up here: Don was a big drug deal, but just when he finally made his big score, someone stole his $180,000, and now he’s in deep to gangsters. Toni’s a stripper who works at their club, and Ty is the muscle to ensure they get the money. Don orders Ian to open the briefcase. He does, but all they find inside are private detective’s photos of Kate and Will together. Fed up, Don decides it’s time to get rid of the Brookses — when Avery announces she can get them bricks of cash, from Jake’s house. All she has to do is go back to the party and sleep with him. Ian and Kate aren’t sure about this plan, but Don agrees to go ahead with it. He sends Toni with to make sure Avery doesn’t alert the cops.

Avery drives along a wet road full of hairpin curves. She intentionally rams the Porsche into a tree, steals Toni’s gun, shoots her dead, and staggers back in the direction of the house. Back at the house, Will’s mind starts to reel when Kate makes it abundantly clear that they never made love — his perception doesn’t match reality. She slipped, briefly, and allowed him to kiss her, and now he’s obsessed with the idea of rescuing her from what he perceives as a rotten life. Kate realizes that this is not a robbery: Will chose this family because of his delusion, and he stole Don’s $180,000 to finance his escape with Kate and Avery. Will denies it, but to Don, it makes a little bit too much sense. Just then, they realize Ty’s body is gone. They find him in the office, and Don shoots him in the gut. Ty confirms Will is the one who stole the money. Don’s fed up with all the lies, but he can’t dwell on it — Ian and Kate have run. They dive out the upstairs window into the unfinished extension. Don and Will hear them and follow. Ian shoots Don with a nail gun, and Don shoots back with his real gun, then strangles Kate. Will sees this and goes after his brother. The violence knocks away the drywall, revealing the walls of the extension are lined with hundred-dollar bills: $973,000, to be exact. Ian’s secret nest egg, which not even Kate knew about. Don illuminates the situation: Ian knew Kate was planning to leave him, so he hid all his assets so he’d have something left after the divorce. Ian denies this, but it’s not terribly convincing.

Don’s ready to finish them off — when Avery shows up, holding Toni’s gun on them. Will’s got a gun on Ian; Don has a gun on Kate. No matter who Avery shoots, one of her parents will die — except Will shoots Don before he can kill Kate. While Will has a mental breakdown, Kate grills Ian about the money. He explains he stole it from the company when they fired him unceremoniously. Ian asks if she was serious about the money not meaning anything? When she says yet, he lights a spilled can of paint thinner, which sends a trail of flame to the money, burning up the extension, and Will inside. The Brookses dive into their swimming pool, narrowly avoiding being engulfed in the flames. The fire spreads to the entire house. Just as Ian and Kate are able to reunite, but Will’s not through with them yet. Enraged, he goes after Kate, pulling her under. Ian dives in after. Avery watches the water, waiting for a sign of life. Eventually, Ian and Kate reemerge, while Will’s fire-blackened corpse lies at the bottom of the pool.

Later, as police and fire officials sort out what happened, Ian lets Kate and Avery know that diamonds, in fact, do scratch — but they don’t burn. Their insurance will pay off what they owe on the house, but if they can find the diamond necklace, they’ll have a nice new nest egg.

Comments:

Trespass strives to combine a hostage thriller with a serious meditation on deceit and class warfare. It’s a gamble that yields mixed results. Some of the twists are clever; some aren’t. Some of the attempts to turn the tables are intriguing and heighten the suspense; others are silly and undermine the characters. There’s interesting material buried in this script, but overall it’s too uneven to work. As written, it merits a pass.

The first act starts things well enough: an affluent family in tatters, with a workaholic husband, bored wife, and rebellious daughter all at odds. The thieves’ siege on the Brookses’ house is chillingly effective, but problems crop up in a hurry. The use of excessive, often misleading flashbacks quickly wears out its welcome, but the writers continue to insert such flashbacks throughout the script, to little effect. There’s no real separation time to allow the gang of thieves or the Brookses to convene and reveal things that are necessary to the development of the story or the characters, which creates one of the biggest problems in the script: these groups are frequently distracted by things that don’t matter — they’ll matter eventually, but not at the times they’re set up. For instance, stopping to discuss fond marital memories with, say, a gun or a needle jammed into their necks rings false and casts a frustrating pall over the entire story.

Once Avery returns to the story in the second act, things start to get redundant. The writers effectively stick her into the same perilous situations Ian and/or Kate faced earlier in the first and second acts, only this time it’s the parents reacting to their child instead of a husband and wife reacting to each other. However, with similar situations and identical reactions. From there, the cause-effect chain moves too rapidly to build any real suspense. Take, for example, Kate’s decision to trip their home security alarm. It’s resolved almost instantly, with Kate dismissing it over the phone while her family stands at gunpoint. Not resolving it so quickly or tidily could have allowed for more natural discussions among the thieves about why they’re really at the house, and whether it was better to be arrested for murder or try to flee knowing gangsters want them dead, all the while building suspense as the Brookses listen to them discussing their options and realizing it doesn’t look good for them.

The third act resorts to standard action-movie fare. How many times have movies like this ended up in an under-construction area of the house, allowing the heroes to use all manner of construction equipment to surprise the villains? Worse than that, the script verges on horror movie territory. Every single thought-dead character gets up at least once, shambling like a zombie, unwilling to simply die. It’d be frightening and suspenseful if it happened once; three times, and it just seems silly. Burning the house, starting with the money lining the walls, is a little too over-the-top in terms of symbolism, but the resolution with the diamond necklace worked fairly well.

By design, the characters remain mysterious, almost until the third act. They hide things initially, then reveal things that turn out to be lies, before flashbacks eventually reveal the truth. This makes it fairly difficult to get a read on the characters and their motivations: did Ian really steal money from his company to get revenge, or was he planning a secret nest egg to hide from his wife? Was Kate telling the truth about Will, or did she lie because she knew he was too unstable to separate reality and fantasy? It’s hard to understand why the characters have done the things they have when the writers try to hide what they’ve actually done. The villains only fare better because their lies have less gray area than the Brookses: they’re bad people, even if they’re lying about why they’re bad. Overall, every character ends up suffering at the hands of the writers. The aforementioned decision to have them each get distracted from the immediate situation, in order to deliver otherwise irrelevant backstory or foreshadowing, makes them all seem a little inconsistent, a little stupid, and a little hard to believe.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 11:12 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

The Nth Degree

Author: James Bird
Genre: Comedy/Fantasy
Storyline: 2
Dialogue: 1
Characterization: 3
Writer’s Potential: 1

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

A disparate group of people with mysterious ailments join together to find a doctor who can cure them.

Synopsis:

KATE watches as her LANDLORD beats on the door of neighbor SPENCER’s apartment, threatening to bring a Marshal to escort her out of the building. He pins an eviction notice to her door and walks away. Spencer emerges from the apartment, sees Kate watching, and yells at her. Kate is inexplicably covered in water from head to toe. Spencer smokes a cigarette and reads an old letter in an envelope. She remembers (courtesy of a flashback) convincing ADAM to commit suicide. They both take an overdose of pills. After they’re both dead, MR. MACHINE revives Spencer with some magical, illuminated substance inside a brown bag. She begs him to let her die, but Mr. Machine says their work isn’t finished. In the present, Spencer hears crying coming from another apartment. She goes to investigate and finds Kate’s apartment floor soaked with water. She sits in a bathtub overflowing with water, crying. Spencer ridicules her, and Kate throws her out of the apartment. The next day, Kate apologizes to Spencer, who calls her a freak.

Meanwhile, ELLIOT is a bum who is missing his pinky finger. He has a letter from his father, begging him to come home, saying he’s dying. Over the course of one night, Elliot decides to take a bus back home, and more appendages start falling off: a pinky toe, a middle finger, eventually a whole foot. Kate works as a waitress at a restaurant. She’s having a hard time controlling the water that soaks her body. Her male customers make lewd comments about her being “wet,” until she vomits water all over their table. Spencer convinces MARY to commit suicide. This time, she waits to ambush Mr. Machine. When he arrives shortly after Mary’s death, Spencer beats him unconscious with a frying pan and storms out the door. Meanwhile, DR. W (50s) gives NOAH (30s) a list of names and tells him to hurry back. Kate comes home and finds Spencer lying on the floor of the hallway, having attempted suicide once again. Kate rushes to save Spencer, who is enraged once she regains consciousness. Kate finds Spencer’s letter, which is from someone who calls her special and insists one day he or she will find Spencer and explain everything. Spencer demands the letter back, and Kate denies reading it. Spencer accuses Kate of attempting some sort of lesbian necrophilia. Kate leaves.

Kate finds a letter taped to her door, from Dr. W, postmarked from “Wilby, Califoregon.” Kate is baffled, but whatever’s in the letter is enough to make her take action. She packs a box and waits for a taxi. Spencer sees her. Kate confesses she’s dying, and Spencer claims she is, too. They argue about whether or not wanting to attempt suicide counts as “dying.” Kate gets so worked up, she forgets her box. She comes back for it later, thrilled to find that Spencer has taken it instead of letting someone steal it on the street. Spencer confesses she’s leaving, too, and offers to drive Kate if she’s going north. The landlord and the marshal show up to take Spencer away. Kate decides to flee with Spencer. They hop into her van and head north. Mr. Machine checks Adam and Mary off a list of names that includes Kate, Spencer, and Elliot (among others). Elliot waits at a rural gas station off the Interstate. When Kate and Spencer stop for gas and food, Elliot hops into the van. Spencer immediately wants to throw him out, but he begs for a ride. Kate is sympathetic, and when he reveals he’s dying and headed for Califoregon to see a doctor who may be able to help him, they realize they’re all headed to the same place, possibly for the same reason.

Spencer is disturbed to learn Elliot is “melting.” Elliot and Kate try to get Spencer to tell them why she wants to kill herself, but all she’ll say is that she’s tired. That night, they sleep parked on the side of the road. The next morning, Spencer tells Kate that Elliot died during the night. Kate is horrified, moreso when she learns Spencer was joking. They argue about whether or not to stop for breakfast, and then on the most effective way to commit suicide. They realize they’re all orphans. Later, the van sputters to a stop, out of gas. The trio walks back to a gas station they passed, where they encounter Noah, who is ready with gas for them. He claims to be a psychic and knows enough about them to wow Kate and Elliot, but Spencer remains unimpressed. Noah cryptically tells them to take the Sadman with her. The trio returns to the van to find a parking ticket. Meanwhile, Noah returns to his car and pulls out a list identical to Mr. Machine’s. He circles Kate, Spencer, and Elliot’s names, then follows them in his truck. Flashbacks reveal that Noah is Mr. Machine’s son, and that because Mr. Machine killed a number of unknown people, Dr. W packed eight babies into Noah’s truck and begged him to take them to an orphanage far, far away.

In the present, Spencer passes a house isolated in the desert, covered in sand. Kate forces her to stop. Spencer doesn’t believe Noah, so she won’t stop. She accuses Kate of reading her letter (it was wet) and throws Kate out of the van. Elliot goes with Kate. Spencer speeds away. Kate and Elliot go to the sand house, where they meet BILL, a man grotesquely covered in sand. They explain the situation, but Bill doesn’t want to go with them. Eventually, he agrees to go — as long as Kate gives him a kiss when they leave, and a kiss when they arrive in Califoregon. Kate is disgusted. She decides to sleep on it. They spend the night at Bill’s house. The next morning, Kate wakes Bill up and kisses him. The trio leave together, with Kate and Bill crammed on a bicycle and Elliot on a wheelbarrow tied to the bike. Spencer parks her van and tries to commit suicide, but Mr. Machine revives her once again and forces her to find the others.

Noah follows Mr. Machine and Spencer. They go to the sand house, which is now empty. Noah takes Spencer away, leaving Mr. Machine behind. He returns Spencer to her van, insisting she take the others to the doctor. Spencer asks him all sorts of questions, but he’s evasive and simply says the doctor will answer the questions. Kate, Elliot, and Bill show up at a dive bar, looking for food. When a waitress mistakenly takes HANK’s beer, Hank accuses Bill of taking it and picks a fight. Bill gets his ass kicked, until Kate freaks out, and a sudden vat of water appears from above, crushing Hank. Spencer arrives at the bar, apologizing. When Hank regains consciousness, she beats him up. The others pile into her van. Spencer wants to know how to get to Califoregon. Elliot has a map, which says to “take the I-5 highway… then take the 5-1 low way to Califoregon.” Hungry, they stop at a diner. Spencer notices that Mr. Machine is working the grill. She slams into the waitress as she brings their food, accuses her of being clumsy, and orders the others to leave the diner. Mr. Machine comes after them, and they run. Flashbacks reveal that Mr. Machine blames Dr. W for the death of his wife, who died while giving birth to a child. Apparently, Mr. Machine manipulated and drugged his wife into staying with him. In the present, Noah helps them escape Mr. Machine, but he stays behind to fight him. Mr. Machine kills Noah.

The group knows that Spencer knows more than she’s letting on, but she won’t tell them much. They reach the California border, but there’s no “5-I low way.” Elliot notices that in the mirror, “I-5” looks like “5-I.” The others see what he sees, and Spencer throws it into reverse, which leads them to the “low way.” Eventually, they find Wilby and take the exit. Wilby isn’t much more than Dr. W’s house. He welcomes them home. They’re all baffled. Dr. W reveals that all of them are wizards, each with their own special powers, which they can control with his help. The only except is Spencer, who is a half-wizard, or “hazard.” Everyone’s disbelieving until he proves that they can manipulate the sand, water, and flesh that appear to be ailing them. They prepare to fight Mr. Machine. That night, Spencer floats up to the roof. This is her power, which she doesn’t believe she has. Dr. W can’t convince her that she’s doing this. The next morning, Dr. W creates “uniforms” for each of them (such as a rain slicker for Kate).

Just after they dress, Mr. Machine shows up in Noah’s pickup truck. Mr. Machine reveals that he’s Spencer’s father, and that her mother is the one who died in childbirth. He’s trying to rid the world of all wizards, because all of them — himself included — are an abomination. This gets Spencer in the fighting spirit. She hatches a plan, tricking Mr. Machine into thinking she’s killed all the others. Meanwhile, an invisible Elliot uses the distraction to empty Mr. Machine’s brown bag of magic powder into dead Noah’s mouth, reviving him. They replace the contents of the bag with sand from Bill’s body. Spencer and Mr. Machine flee quickly, and Spencer drives the truck off an incomplete bridge. She “floats,” returning to Dr. W’s house, while Mr. Machine plummets to his death.

Free of Mr. Machine, who has been drugging her the same way he did her mother, Spencer dreams for the first time ever. She sees the two remaining wizards. She knows how to find them. Noah uses what remains of Mr. Machine’s dust to revive Adam and Mary. Noah declares it’s time for them to rebuild their family.

Comments:

The Nth Degree seeks to answer a question that has plagued moviegoers for decades: “How much worse would Waiting for Godot be as a road movie about wizards?” The script is little more than aimless, sporadically amusing dialogue and a dull road-movie plot, with a fantasy element haphazardly added to create the illusion something worthwhile is happening in the story. As written, it merits a pass.

The first act ambles lifelessly from one disjointed scene to the next. The writer desperately wants to create an air of mystery, but the key to doing that is actually compelling the audience to want to learn the solution to said mysteries, instead of just pasting scenes together where random characters do needlessly bizarre things with little rhyme or reason. Worse than that, the writer saddles his script with a protagonist who’s so unnecessarily shrill and bitchy, it’ll have audiences rooting for a quick yet painful death — and she’s ostensibly the hero of the piece!

The script finally attempts to have a plot when the characters hit the road in the second act, but the writer has the characters talk in irritating circles in order to pad out a story that evidently is not feature length. The scenes don’t build any sort of energy or drive the story forward — they just seem to talk until the writer gets bored with a certain combination of characters, at which points he puts them in a new setting with different people (like the dive bar) or adds a new character (like Bill) to do some more aimless rambling. The dialogue isn’t as funny or as clever as it needs to be to keep an audience engaged when nothing is happening except people yammering cutesy absurdities at one another. Meanwhile, the subplot with Noah tracking Mr. Machine and the endless flashbacks that spoonfeed backstory that, ironically (considering how obsessed the writer is with having the other characters talk without revealing anything), explains too much, making the third act annoyingly predictable.

Then again, since the third act is pretty much just more wacky dialogue with a few fight sequences tossed in, maybe it doesn’t matter how predictable it is. Dr. W doesn’t do much beyond explain everything that’s already been shown in flashback, and then some. By the time it arrives, the “surprise” reveal that they’re all wizards is as eye-rollingly obvious as it is stupid, and the final confrontation with Mr. Machine is neither exciting nor funny. It seems like they want to split the difference between Harry Potter and an X-Men or Justice League-type superhero squad, but this script lacks the mystery of the former and the action of the latter. It’s just an awful short-film script puffed out to feature length courtesy of reams of bad dialogue.

The writer’s inability to create compelling mysteries and pay them off in any satisfying way carries over to the characters. As mentioned, Spencer is the script’s heroine, and she is a nightmare. Maybe the half-assed explanation that Mr. Machine kept her drugged up explains some of her issues, but that doesn’t make her a character anyone would want to spend any time with — including characters in the film. Why do they put up with her? Because she has a van? At the eleventh hour, the writer tries to make her character a little bit sympathetic, and then a little bit triumphant, but it’s all a lost cause by that point.

The supporting characters aren’t much more than dialogue-spewing machines. They exist so Spencer has people to have circular conversations with, and to support the “mystery” that they’re all wizards being hunted by Mr. Machine for unknown reasons. The fact that they all put up with Spencer’s awful behavior is the script’s most compelling mystery, but it’s the only one that’s not overexplained by the writer — in fact, it’s never explained at all. Similarly, Mr. Machine is not exactly Voldemort. He never comes across as much of a threat, considering his M.O. is to force his drugged-up daughter to do his dirty work for him, against her will. The reasons for this are never satisfactorily explained, and while the final confrontation with him is deeply unsatisfying, the fact that he’s not as tough to beat as he looks will come as no surprise to audiences.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 3:47 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

May 6, 2010

Three Musketeers

Author: Andrew Davies and Alex Litvak
Genre: Action/Adventure/Historical
Storyline: 8
Dialogue: 6
Characterization: 7
Writer’s Potential: 7

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Consider

Logline:

The Three Musketeers take new recruit D’artagnan under their wing to foil Cardinal Richelieu’s plot to start a war between France and England.

Synopsis:

A narrator sets the backstory: in the early 18th century, LOUIS XIII ascended the throne. He and his wife, QUEEN ANNE, are friendless in a world that seems on the brink of war. Only CARDINAL RICHELIEU, the king’s advisor, can steer them clear of war. At the Venetian carnival, ATHOS silently comes up from a canal and shoots some guards (masked by the popping fireworks) and scales the wall of Doge Palace. Meanwhile, ARAMIS, dressed like a priest, makes a perfectly timed dive off a bridge, onto a passing gondola, where he beats a nobleman until he gives up a key he wears around his neck. The nobleman’s lady ditches him for Aramis. PORTHOS, a huge man, is led in chains into the palace dungeon, surrounded by guards. Porthos rips through the chains and beats on the guards, stealing a second key from his chief captor. The Musketeers meet outside the palace treasury, where they’re nearly killed by MILADY, a beautiful woman who doesn’t seem entirely trustworthy. Together, they get into the treasure: the two keys, plus a code Milady got by seducing a man, leads them to files written by Leonardo Da Vinci, who also designed the treasury’s safe. Taking the files immediately sets of an old-fashioned alarm, so the men have to sprint past arrows, floors pulling apart, but they still can’t get out of the maze-like safe. Milady has brought a contingency plan: a makeshift explosive vest, which punches a hole in the wall, allowing them to escape before the place fills up with water. Our heroes swim through the canal and get drunk at a nearby inn — but Milady has betrayed them, to the shock of Athos (who is madly in love with her). She received a better offer from BUCKINGHAM, an English precursor to James Bond, so she poisoned their drinks, knocking them unconscious. Milady and Buckingham take Da Vinci’s files and leave.

Three years later, brash young D’ARTAGNAN is caught having sex with a count’s daughter. He is arrested and sentenced to death, but D’Artagnan manages to beat up the armed guards and threaten the count with a sword until he releases him. D’Artagnan’s father sends him away on an old horse, Buttercup, to become a musketeer. D’Artagnan arrives at Meung, an old village filled with rough people who look more like they belong in the Wild West than Europe. As soon as D’Artagnan arrives, ROCHEFORT (huge and sinister) insults his horse. D’Artagnan challenges him to a duel on the spot, but before they can get to that, Milady appears from the shadows and bashes D’Artagnan in the head, knocking him flat. Rochefort thanks her, and the couple sets off for Paris. Later, D’Artagnan arrives in Paris, where he finds the musketeer headquarters resembling an old ghost town. He sees Rochefort again and gives chase, but he loses him quickly. Athos gets hammered at a pub. D’Artagnan intentionally rams into him, prompting Athos to challenge him to a duel. At a shop, Porthos — who is now the boytoy of an aristocratic widow — tries on new clothes. D’Artagnan humiliates him by drawing attention to the widow’s purse, which Porthos must use to pay. Porthos challenges him to a duel. D’Artagnan returns to Buttercup, where he finds a ticket for his horse defecating o the street. D’Artagnan argues with Aramis, who gave him the ticket, and challenges Aramis to a duel. Aramis is confused, but he accepts.

Milady shows up at Richelieu’s office to give news from England — she’s a spy, working for Richelieu to pry information out of Buckingham, who is planning to come to France to discuss this. King Louis overhears this and is delighted. Richelieu is not. Privately, he plots with Milady to make it look like Buckingham is having an affair with Queen Anne, and “prove” it by planting a diamond necklace Louis bought her as a gift in the Tower of London. D’Artagnan meets Athos, Porthos, and Aramis in the same location for the duel. They’re all shocked to find he’s tricked them. He wants to be a musketeer and wants to learn from the best. They scoff at him, but he gets his chance soon enough: on behalf of Rochefort, JUSSAC, one of Richelieu’s head guards, stops D’Artagnan for dueling, which is against the law. The musketeers are willing to let D’Artagnan fight his way out of it, until Jussac calls wave after wave of guards. It’s 40 against one, but D’Artagnan makes a go of it despite the odds. Impressed by his guile and swordsmanship, the other musketeers join him, and together, they defeat Jussac’s guards. The fight is witnessed by CONSTANCE, one of Queen Anne’s ladies, who is quietly impressed by D’Artagnan despite his cocky demeanor. Standing proud as the villagers cheer the musketeers, Athos, Porthos, and Aramis remember what they’ve been missing over the past three years. They lead D’Artagnan away before more guards are sent after them, and they explain that Rochefort is Richelieu’s second-in-command.

The musketeers take D’Artagnan to their apartment, where he meets their comic-relief manservant, PLANCHET. They force Planchet to sleep on the balcony, giving D’Artagnan his bed for the night. The next day, the foursome is hauled in front of Richelieu and Louis to be punished for defeating so many guards. Richelieu urges Louis to punish them harshly, but Louis is so impressed that his musketeers were able to defeat 40 men, he lets them off with a slap on the wrist — and gives newbie D’Artagnan a personal tour. Buckingham arrives at the palace in a huge airship. Louis wonders why they don’t have an airship. Queen Anne arrives, a vision of loveliness. Constance stands by her side, shocking D’Artagnan. While the monarchs are distracted with business, Milady sneaks into the Queen’s chambers to steal her diamond necklace and place forged love letters from Buckingham. Privately, Buckingham meets with Richelieu to sign the peace treaty. They already have another war and a recession.

One of the Queen’s ladies finds the fake letters. Louis finds out and is horrified. He goes to Richelieu for advice, fearing these letters might have been planted by Buckingham. Richelieu suggests Louis test Anne by throwing a ball and asking her to wear a token of their affection — say, the diamond necklace. If she does, he knows she loves her; if she doesn’t, he knows it’s all true. Louis loves the idea. Anne tells Constance to take the necklace to the jeweler’s for polishing. Constance discovers the necklace is missing. Anne is upset and terrified, knowing Richelieu is behind this. Constance goes to the musketeers, laying everything out: she wants them (specifically D’Artagnan) to steal the necklace from the Tower of London, the most fortified structure on the planet, and get past Richelieu’s guards to return the necklace to Anne. D’Artagnan agrees to it immediately, but the others are unconvinced. D’Artagnan sets out alone. Constance wants to come with, but he won’t allow it — she’ll distract him. The musketeers change their mind, agreeing to help D’Artagnan. Rochefort learns of the musketeers’ plans and warns Richelieu, who tells him to put a price on the musketeers’ head. The musketeers go to an outlaw tavern near the harbor, filled with Chinese and Barbary pirates, Indian warriors, Arab traders. They seek passage on a Russian ship from a Cossack they vaguely know, but he knows of the price on their head and betrays them. Porthos kills the Russian, getting the attention of everyone else in the tavern. The musketeers are forced to fight their way out of the tavern, against the huge cavalcade of pirates and outlaws.

Eventually, they get outside, where they commandeer a wagon and flee to an empty ship, leaving Constance behind. Rochefort nabs her and brings her back to Richelieu. The musketeers plan their heist at the Tower of London. Athos explains an elaborate plan on the Tower’s complex vault. Meanwhile, Milady tells Buckingham what she suspects the musketeers will do — she’s exactly right. When Athos finishes telling the plan, he explains that this is exactly what they’ll expect, so they’re going to do something totally different: go in during the day, use the increased security to their advantage (lots of new faces), and have D’Artagnan (their wild card, whom Milady won’t recognize) actually sneak into the vault. Once in London, the three musketeers intentionally get arrested, distracting the guards as D’Artagnan (in uniform) falls in line with them. D’Artagnan sneaks into the tower and tries to pick the timed lock on the vault door. Buckingham is waiting, and he arrests D’Artagnan, laughing at how poor their plan was. That’s when D’Artagnan announces the musketeers weren’t the decoy; he was. The musketeers stole Buckingham’s airship and fire cannons into his office and the vault. D’Artagnan leaps out the office window onto the ship.

Athos lets D’Artagnan in on a little secret: the necklace was never in the vault. Milady wouldn’t risk them actually succeeding, so she must have them on her person. Fortunately, they’ve planned for that: Planchet drives her coach. He lets the horses go free while the musketeers lower a cable, puling the coach up with them. Unable to escape, Milady surrenders the necklace. Athos prepares to kill her, but she takes a dive out of the airship first, into the water. Once they reach France, they think they’re in the clear — but Rochefort shows up in a new airship, bigger than Buckingham’s and better armed. Inside, he holds Constance hostage. They trade the diamonds for Constance, but Rochefort still wants them dead. Outmanned and outgunned, the musketeers have no choice but to hide in a fog bank, waiting for Rochefort, before ramming into his airship, knocking it wildly off course. Their airship gets above Rochefort’s, crushing it like an anvil. Both airships get snagged on the incomplete Notre Dame cathedral. Rochefort and D’Artagnan fight. Rochefort plummets to his death.

Before Richelieu can seize the musketeers, they’ve taken their worse-for-wear airship back to the palace, where they bestow the necklace upon Anne just before she has to present herself at the ball. Louis is thrilled, reaffirmed by their love. After the happy fade to black, Milady awakens on a ship. Buckingham has rescued her. He’s leading a fleet of ships to France — it’s time for war. Buckingham promises this is only the beginning.

Comments:

Three Musketeers is a very entertaining, action-packed adventure in the vein of Pirates of the Caribbean. Although the second act drags and gets bogged down with too much dull conversation, the script has some engaging characters and interesting action set-pieces. As written, it merits a consider.

The script seems hellbent on putting the story of The Three Musketeers into a modern context, starting with the opening sequence, which seems more like something out of a James Bond movie than a period adventure. The writers make it work, though. After the opening sequence, the story slows down a bit to introduce the characters — the musketeers and the villains, followed by D’Artagnan’s quest to be accepted into the musketeer fold. It’s all fairly engaging and fun, until the second act grinds to a halt. The writers devote far too much time to explaining fairly simple plot points and even simpler character motivations, so the story drags quite a bit until the musketeers finally take action and set sail for England.

The sequence at the Tower of London is also slightly problematic, because the writers attempt a triple fake-out that’s surprising, but mainly because it relies on characters discussing things they wouldn’t discuss if they were planning to do something completely different. It was fine when Athos laid out a whole plan before revealing that’s just what Milady would expect — it’s another for him to lay out a second plan solely for the benefit of the audience, and then settle on a third, completely separate plan to surprise the audience. It’s a cheat, and a pretty lazy one. Despite the cheating, the script presses on to an entertaining third act. The idea of 17th-century airships doing battle over the English Channel is pretty novel, although having the heroes and villains physically separated prevents it from having the visceral thrills of the swordplay featured earlier in the script. However, for the sake of variety, it still pretty much works. The resolution is fairly hokey, but still satisfying — until the goofy, eyerolling sequel-setup scene at the very end.

This is not a character-driven film, so it’s nice to see the writers did a reasonably good job of distinguishing the heroes’ personalities. The notion of having the musketeers bottom out and forcing D’Artagnan to make them believe in themselves again works fairly well. What works better is D’Artagnan’s arc from wide-eyed innocent to skilled fighter. The transformation happens quickly, but not so quickly that it’s unbelievable.

The romantic subplot with Constance, who is not a very well-developed character, is a waste of time. D’Artagnan and Constance spend most of their time talking in circles, so it doesn’t feel so much like a relationship developing as two people conversing because the plot says so. It’s disappointingly lackluster, so when she’s put in jeopardy in the third act, it seems more like a distraction than an emotional turning point for D’Artagnan.

This leaves the villains, who are pretty much cartoon characters. Not necessarily in a bad way, but not in a good way, either. The writers attempt to give Milady some nuance, but it becomes clear fairly quickly that she’s only loyal to herself. As far as Richelieu, Buckingham, and Rochefort go, they’re all pretty much interchangeable, and all they lack are mustaches to twirl. But this isn’t a complex, multifaceted morality tale — it’s a fun, goofy adventure, and on that level it succeeds.

The main thing needed to guarantee this script’s success is good casting in the pivotal roles of the musketeers. Chopping out the extraneous dialogue in the second act will help, too, but if the musketeers are bland, lifeless actors, it will ruin what could be a decent action-adventure movie.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 7:35 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

Upside Down

Author: Santiago Amigorena & Juan Diego Solanas
Genre: Sci-Fi/Romance
Storyline: 4
Dialogue: 5
Characterization: 4
Writer’s Potential: 5

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

In a universe defined by two “mirror image” worlds facing each other, a man from “down below” strives to get “up top” to reunite with his childhood sweetheart.

Synopsis:

ADAM KIRK (25) lives in the blasted-out ruins of “down below.” He works at a small boutique that looks more like a junk shop, where he and ALBERT attempt to perfect an anti-aging cream. They watch a news report sponsored by the Transworld Corporation, which is running a lottery that allows lucky winners from “down below” to work for Transworld. Adam, Albert, and their down below friends speculate on what the “up top” is like. The news report features a brief interview with EDEN MOORE, someone Adam loved as a child, now grown up. Adam steps outside, revealing for the first time that, up in the sky, is an inverted city — “up top,” connected by the Transworld Tower, headquarters of a massive corporation employing people from both worlds. A NARRATOR explains the history of this odd world: in more primitive times, emissaries from each world would gather at the tallest peak of the Sage Mountains to hold conversations. Problems with gravity prevented people from going from one side or the other, but they quickly learned that they could send goods back and forth by combining materials from both worlds. This led to a great time of trade, but as what would come to be known as the “up top” became more advanced, resentments built and war broke out, leaving “down below” a husk of its former self, controlled by “up top” in something akin to South African apartheid.

A few decades later, down below discovered electricity and oil, while up top discovered “inverse matter,” a better method for heat and power that man citizens of down below sought above all else, frequently risking their lives to go up top and steal some. As a child, Adam was raised by his AUNT BECKY in a rural home in the mountains. His parents died in an oil refinery explosion. Becky showed Adam how to make odd, gravity-defying pancakes using the pollen of pink bees that lived in the Sage Mountains. One day, Adam sees Eden for the first time. She frequently accompanies her father, SENATOR MOORE, on hunting trips. They start conversing awkwardly, then become the best of friends, trying as best as they can to share things between their two worlds. They do this for years, blossoming into teenagers, but eventually the border police — led by the sinister LAGAVULIN — spot Adam and Eden together. They shoot at Adam, hitting him in the shoulder and hitting Eden in the chest. Adam sneaks back home, but shortly thereafter he’s arrested for attempting to kidnap Eden. Eden, meanwhile, falls into a coma, and when she wakes, she remembers nothing of her life. Ironically, the governments of both worlds hail this action a rousing success, the first time border agents from each side have worked together to enforce apartheid. Becky’s house is burned down, and she dies in a fire. Adam spends the rest of his youth in an orphanage.

Back in the present, Adam meets with Lagavulin, now a bigwig at Transworld. Adam impresses him with the experimental anti-aging cream and hires him to continue developing it. Adam works on Transworld’s “zero floor,” an M.C. Escher-like double-floor where down below and up top workers are side by side, with less than six feet of clearance between them. Adam immediately strikes up a friendship with BOB, an up top worker who doesn’t share the prejudices of his coworkers. Meanwhile, Eden toils in Transworld’s graphic design department, hating her job. As a reward for working at Transworld, Adam is allocated a small amount of inverse matter. He’s warned not to take more than his share. Once he’s sure he can trust Bob, Adam asks him to help track down Eden Moore. Bob is surprised he’d know anyone from up top.

Adam returns home from his first day of work. Albert and his friends are annoyed he’d work for such a miserable company. They’re all concerned about Adam’s obsession with reconnecting with Eden. He won’t give up, so they reluctantly help him come up with a plan to get up top. The next day, Adam and Lagavulin show various executives a test of Adam’s cream (Adam climbing a stepladder to reach their height). They’re impressed with the results, but not how long it lasts. They agree to allow Adam to perfect it as a long-lasting agent. Adam returns to his cubicle, where Bob is surprised to find him intending to work late. He and the other workers leave Adam alone. He sneaks out a bit more inverse matter. He calls Eden, who is in a meeting. Her friend, PAULA, answers. Giving Bob’s name, Adam schedules a meeting with Eden on Paula’s behalf. Using the inverse matter rods, Adam hides in a maintenance room and figures out the proper weight to pin himself to up top’s gravity. Once he’s succeeded, he returns to Albert and his friends so they can construct a suit to stay up top temporarily. Albert tells Adam to cool down with water if needed.

Eden goes to an amnesiac support group. She tearfully explains how difficult her loss of memory has been on her, explaining that even now, her mind is like a sieve. New things don’t stick as easily. Adam gives Bob a bunch of down below stamps for his collection. In exchange, he asks for a bunch of up top items. Bob looks at the list, perplexed: hairspray, sports jackets — these are odd items to him. Bob gets Adam what he needs, so he’s able to look the part for his meeting with Eden. He goes up to Eden’s office, introducing himself as Bob. He’s dismayed when she doesn’t recognize him at all. He insists they’ve met before, and she confesses her memory is not great and apologizes. Trying to read her expression, Adam doesn’t want to believe this has all been for nothing. Undaunted, he demonstrates his anti-aging cream, and she’s impressed. Adam starts to feel the inverse matter rod counterweights heating up. He rushes to a restroom, confusing Eden, and tries to cool down the rods in the sink. Another man enters the restroom, so Adam pretends to urinate — but his pee goes up instead of down. The man doesn’t notice, but security sensors do. Adam flees quickly, before the bathroom is locked down. Eden is left alone, wondering what happened to “Bob.”

The next day is the first Thursday of the quarter. Lagavulin gleefully wanders up and down zero floor, firing people. Bob explains that this is a tradition every quarter and tells Adam he won’t have to worry — he’s too new, and if he can perfect the cream, they’ll never fire him. Unfortunately, Bob gets fired. He’s shocked. He thinks it’s a mistake, but he’s assured that Transworld does not make mistakes. Dejected, Bob goes home. Adam steals Bob’s access badge, which he leaves on his desk. Eden calls Bob’s desk. Adam hears the phone ring at the empty desk. He reaches up and answers it. Adam apologizes for ditching her. She invites him to lunch, at an up top café, tomorrow. Adam agrees to it despite the challenge. Albert fits him with a new suit that will last him a maximum of two hours.

Adam sneaks to the up top part of the Transworld building, then takes the elevator down to the ground level. His mind reels at both the advanced technology and the wastefulness of up top. He tries to keep his emotions in check as he arrives at the café. Eden keeps things like, but Adam immediately presses her on them knowing each other. Angry at the mention of her deceased father’s name, Eden gets up to leave. Adam convinces her to stay, making up a story about simply running into her on the elevator and really liking her. She stays. Adam tells Eden his cream is more than an anti-aging cream. Eden asks for his help on a project she’s working on. He agrees, and as they leave the café, she invites him on another date. Just then, his counterweights start to overheat. He quickly agrees to the date, then runs. Police notice him and give chase. Adam dives into the ocean, removing his special vest, which causes him to “fall up” into the air, and crash into the sea down below. That night, Eden dreams of childhood and seeing Adam get shot.

The next day, Lagavulin and Adam demonstrate the anti-aging cream for the marketing team, including Eden. She asks a question, addressing Adam as “Bob Boruchowitz.” Keeping cool, Adam tells her she’s mistaken — he’s Adam Kirk. Livid, Eden storms out of the conference. Lagavulin tracks down files on Adam and Bob. Adam goes up top to try to find Eden, who is confronting her mother about the mysterious death of her father. Border police start chasing Adam, so he’s forced to hide on the underside of a bridge. He’s robbed by several thugs and left on the ceiling of a big water cistern, where a family has been forced to live. MARK, the head of the household, explains that they’re “emancipated” after escaping from up top slavery. They prefer to stay up top, because most of the food they throw away is better than what you could pay for down below. Adam puts his weighted suit back on and sneaks over to Bob’s house, begging for help. Bob fits him with an experimental suit that will allow him to stay up top longer.

Lagavulin is enraged to learn that they don’t know the main ingredient of Adam’s cream. He sends security after Adam. Adam meets Eden for their date. She’s started to remember things about her accident. Just as she confronts Adam, the border police raid the café. Adam tries to sneak away, but the police noticed. They chase him. Eden follows. They end up at the top peak of the Sage Mountains. They make love in mid-air, in the nebulous gravity between the up top and down below peaks. Eden decides to go back down below with him. The police arrive, chasing them through an old quarry. In order to save Eden, Adam is forced to let go of a cable and fall back into the mountains down below. Eden thinks he’s dead, but he’s not — Lagavulin saves him, because he wants his formula.

Some time later, Adam has recovered and been returned down below. The cream is released up top and becomes a huge seller. Based on something Adam said, Bob discovers a way to defy gravity by drinking water from down below (or vice-versa). He goes down below and shocks Adam, Albert, and their friends, although he confesses the “miracle” only lasts an hour. He has brought somebody with him — Eden, pregnant with twins. She’s able to stay down below. The twins she’s carrying keep her bound to this plane. It occurs to all of them that, perhaps, cross-breeding will eliminate the gravity problems they have.

Decades later, a history teacher finishes telling her students the story of Adam and Eden, whose love forever changed the course of history. She sends the kids out to recess, and they run all over the place, defying gravity. Meanwhile, Bob has opened his own “inner beauty” salon.

Comments:

Upside Down has big, ambitious desires — of telling a compelling love story, of using a sci-fi world as a metaphor for contemporary social problems, of glimpsing a sumptuous visual world — but the script is too muddled and unfocused for any of these ideas to jell. It does have some nice visual ideas, but the love story is too rushed to believe, the social metaphors are eye-rollingly unsubtle, and the characters and literal story are too scattershot and incoherent to succeed. As written, it merits a pass.

The story doesn’t exactly get off on the right foot: after an intentionally confusing in medias res opening, the writer literally backtracks thousands of years, allowing a narrator to explain everything you ever wanted to know about this world (but were afraid to ask). It’s all necessary information, but it’s not terribly compelling cinema, even when the narrator flashes forward a few thousand years to the shooting incident that caused Eden to lose her memory. The first act isn’t much more than heaping helpings of backstory (much of which is explained later in dialogue, and since the script runs a scant 83 pages, that means tons of redundancy), so it would have been nice if the writer could have found a way to integrate the needed information into the story instead of stopping it in its tracks for 25 pages.

The brief second act focuses far too much on the machinations of Adam getting “up top” and far too little on developing the romance between Adam and Eden. Their scenes together are too brief to show any real romantic spark, as if the writer expects Adam’s juvenile fantasies of who this woman is would carry over for the rest of the script. It’s never really made clear why Adam is so intently focused on getting back to Eden, nor is it clear why Eden never seems to take an interest in her pre-amnesia life until she starts dreaming of Adam.

The third act is a letdown in the exact same mold: it’s mindlessly preoccupied with gravity-defying antics and lengthy border-police chases, but the writer has not taken the time to develop an interesting (or even believable) romance between Adam and Eden. It’s hard to care about whether or not they end up together when their relationship consists of a brief lunch date and fuzzy, decade-old memories. Worse still, the rules governing the dual gravitational pull get muddled enough to become frustrating in the third act. Downplaying the script as an offbeat, futuristic fairy tale is fine, but at least the rules of its own universe should have some kind of internal logic, even if it’s different and strange compared to ours. Chalking it up to “it’s a fairy tale — it doesn’t have to make sense” is incredibly lazy. This finally careens to a goofy resolution that, as usual, is incredibly rushed, leaving questions about what Bob’s “inner beauty” salon has to do with anything previously established about his character and why the breeding of an “up top” and “down below” couple automatically reverse the effects of their gravity. Wouldn’t this just cause everyone to flat, is if they were in space? This script is way too short for everything to be so rushed and incoherent.

The story also includes numerous references that, despite mentioning “apartheid” multiple times, make it pretty evident that this is an allegory about Mexico, the U.S., and illegal immigration. This aspect of the story doesn’t work, but it’s portrayed with such an unsubtle touch, it’s impossible to ignore the parallels.

As mentioned, the Adam-Eden romance that’s supposed to drive this script simply doesn’t work. The writer rushes through so much, he never takes the time to develop them as individuals, and he doesn’t allow their romance to blossom in a naturally way. One awkwardly written date scene attempts to plow through the entire “blossoming” portion, so it can move on to how Adam will get away with defying gravity. It might have been interesting if Eden had proved to be the exact opposite of what Adam was looking for, as a result of her memory loss or just the diverging paths of two adults from opposite sides of the tracks. However, the writer doesn’t take enough time with this relationship for anything interesting or unexpected to happen.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 2:04 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Professional Script Coverage

May 21, 2010

Objects in Mirror

(Written with a Partner Who Prefers Anonymity)
Title: Objects in Mirror
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Draft: Second
Length: 110 pages
Logline: Cynical rock journalist Meghan Larris has earned a reputation as a harsh critic and blunt interviewer, alienating many of pop music’s brightest stars. After verbally abusing a veteran coworker’s enthusiastic review, Meghan finds herself one mistake away from losing her career. In desperation, Meghan pitches an interview she hasn’t yet landed, with the recent winner of the wildly popular reality competition show Pop Icon.

History:
First Draft — 4/26/10
Second Draft — 5/21/10

Click the image to download the complete screenplay for just $2.99.

Posted by D. B. Bates at 3:38 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Writing, Feature Scripts

May 18, 2010

(Late Edition) Script Review: Harry Brown by Gary Young

[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.]

Sometimes I get busy. Longtime readers know my comically inconsistent posting routine is one of the few charms of Stan Has Issues™. I did like the habit of posting one script review a week. That was something I figured I could handle, because even if I got busy, I could write several when things were slow and post them when I anticipated getting busy. I had it all planned, on an assembly line, with spreadsheets and dates and I’ll do this script for this week and that script for that week.

It all fell apart when (a) release dates for films whose scripts I’d already read professionally kept getting pushed back, (b) I had zero interest and negative motivation in reading different scripts to substitute my original picks, and (c) my planning went to shit, so I suddenly stopped preparing reviews in anticipation of getting busy, and instead posted pathetic rants about women. I’m okay with the pathetic rants. In fact, as you may have noticed from the disclaimer, I don’t really consider these script reviews to be actual “content.” I much prefer either ranting about general screenwriting trends or chaotic broads, idiot friends, and why nobody but me knows how to drive. I just find myself lacking the time to accomplish the feat of writing about what’s going on with me. Not to sound glib, but I’m 100% serious when I say I’m too busy living life to blog about it. I know — weird, huh?

Read "(Late Edition) Script Review: Harry Brown by Gary Young" »

Posted by D. B. Bates at 7:45 PM | Print-Friendly | Comments (0) | Script Reviews, Reviews