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Posts in: May 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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]

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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.

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