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The Chain

Author: Unknown

Genre: Crime/Thriller/Political

Storyline: 6

Dialogue: 7

Characterization: 5

Writer’s Potential: 6

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

In 1999, Nebraska sheriff’s deputy unravels a conspiracy involving illegal immigrants and the meatpacking industry.

Synopsis:

A montage shows “the chain”—cattle going from pastures to dinner plates. The montage focuses on the Cattle King Beef Company and shows mostly Mexican workers in the slaughterhouses. At a diner in Cullom, a small meatpacking town north of Omaha, Deputy RANDALL PALOMO (early 30s, half-Mexican) eats steak and eggs for breakfast. Another deputy, COOPER ANDERSON, shoots the breeze with Randall before leaving to work on his sheriff election campaign. Randall drives through town, where support banners for Cooper are prominent. He meets with KATRINA WELLS, an uptight reporter with a silent attraction to Randall. Randall feeds Katrina files for an investigative report she’s working on. Randall asks about the subject she’s investigating, ENRIQUE ROSALES, but Katrina keeps her mouth shut. Coincidentally, that afternoon Randall pulls over a speeding truck driven by Enrique, a scarred rougneck who speaks no English. He rides with his wife, LOURDES, and their baby, JEZEBEL.

Randall doesn’t speak Spanish, so he can’t communicate with Enrique. Noticing Randall’s nametag, Lourdes speaks to Enrique in English, cooperating fully and providing her own license. Randall asks for Enrique’s papers, but she says he doesn’t have any. She tells him they’re on the way to Mexico, but Randall brings them in, anyway. The sheriff, ENLOW (60s, on the verge of retirement), is not happy to hear that INS won’t spend the time or resources to deport a single illegal. Enlow and Cooper complain about the release of TROY PHILLIPS, a once-wealthy meatpacking kingpin who was imprisoned after a scandal. Randall takes Lourdes and Jezebel to a mansion owned by DARLENE SANTOVILLA (30s, attractive). Haggard, disheveled Troy greets them, to Randall’s surprise and annoyance. Darlene flirts with Randall as she explains Troy is around to finally settle their divorce. She thanks Randall for helping Lourdes and Jezebel. Randall is captivated.

When he returns to the station, Randall is surprised to hear that Enlow is transporting Enrique to the county line. Later, Katrina shows up at Randall’s home, angry that he arrested her contact. The next morning, Randall is called to a murder scene at Troy’s abandoned meatpacking plant. Enrique and Lourdes were both killed and dumped there. Trying to figure out what happened to Jezebel, Randall drives back to Darlene’s mansion. She’s just found out about the murder and had no idea they even left. Randall wonders if there’s any family she could have been left with. Darlene begins crying, so Randall vows to find Jezebel. Pissed off, Katrina returns Randall’s file on Enrique. Randall drives to the nearby INS detention center and asks around about Enrique. He’s given the Rosales’s home address and a “Spanish for Law Enforcement” tape. He drives to the Rosales’s house. Eventually, he finds a recent photograph of Lourdes and ANGELINA, another young Mexican woman. He drives through the Mexican part of town, trying to track this woman down. The citizens are uncooperative. Eventually, he comes upon a daycare center. He asks if anyone knows any of the people in the photo. One child, GUILLERMO (7), announces that Angelina is his mother.

After Angelina picks Guillermo up from daycare, Randall tails her back home (which has been painted with threats and racial slurs), where he finds Jezebel. He uses Guillermo as a translator to explain she’s not in trouble and he’s happy Jezebel is safe. He ask Guillermo if it was Enrique or Lourdes who left the baby. Guillermo says it was vandals. Randall calls Darlene to tell her he found Jezebel. Darlene asks him to pick her up because Troy won’t leave her alone. They go to an upscale bar in Omaha, where Darlene fits in but Randall doesn’t. Randall and Darlene agree not to tell anyone about Angelina having Jezebel—all they’d do is take her away. Randall grills Darlene about Troy. She tells him Troy was turned in by his business partner, WARREN SINCLAIR, who took over after Troy went to prison—but Troy deserved what he got. Meanwhile, Sinclair’s business connections helped Darlene start over running various local charities. On the way back to town, Randall notices they’re being followed. Darlene assumes it’s Troy. Randall decides he wants to have a talk with him. Darlene tells him Troy hangs out at the meatpackers’ bar. Randall goes to the newspaper office and digs through the archives for information about Troy. Later, he goes to the meatpackers’ tavern. It’s filled with sinister illegal immigrants. Randall isn’t intimidated—not even when one of them, on orders from Troy, knocks Randall down and carves a line in his cheek. Randall announces he’s convinced Troy killed Enrique and Lourdes. He also orders Troy to leave Darlene alone.

Randall leaves the bar. He notices he’s being followed again, so he stops and prepares to attack the tail—but it’s Katrina. She’s following him because he’s become part of the story. Randall demands to know what she knew from Enrique. Katrina doesn’t know much, because he was killed before she could talk to him, but she knows Enrique feared Troy and was on Sinclair’s side. Enrique found out Troy was planning to unionize the meatpackers—a violation of his parole—so he killed the Rosales’s to prevent anyone from finding out. Randall returns to Darlene’s mansion. He sees a few immigrants sprint in front of his car as he approaches. Randall chases them, but they run into the guesthouse and locks the door. Randall demands to know who is inside. Darlene’s maid, LUISA, refuses to say. Randall tells Luisa that Darlene is in danger. She tells him Darlene is at Sinclair’s mansion. Randall drops in on a posh party at Sinclair’s. He warns Darlene to be careful. He’s convinced Troy killed Enrique and Lourdes. Sinclair overhears them and involves himself in the conversation. Randall tells them he can’t prove anything yet.

Darlene shows up at Randall’s house unexpectedly. They have a significant conversation about how it feels to have Mexican roots but be raised in the American way—feeling torn between two worlds. They kiss. The next day, Randall has a meeting with Sinclair. Sinclair gives a tour of the factory, showing that things aren’t as grim as they seem on the news. Randall doesn’t quite believe him. Later that day, Randall joins Cooper outside of Troy’s old, junked-out farmhouse. Randall explains his theory that Troy killed the Rosaleses. Although he has no evidence, he thinks he can get Troy to confess. As they approach the farmhouse, someone starts shooting at them. They duck behind the old husk of a burned-out school bus. Cooper starts shooting when he hears rustling in the weeds. He ends up killing Sheriff Enlow. Cooper is devastated, but Randall just wants to figure out why Enlow was there, and why he was shooting at them.

The mayor makes Randall the interim sheriff until the election. Outside, the press is crazy. Katrina manages to pull Randall away from the fray. Randall explains to her what happen, and they try to piece together why it happened. Randall’s best guess is that Enlow was an assassin working for Troy. Katrina warns Randall that Darlene is using him. Randall is annoyed by her jealousy. Darlene invites Randall out to dinner in Omaha, to celebrate his new interim title. Under the circumstances, Randall has a hard time celebrating. Randall tries to talk through the case with Darlene. He speculates that Troy’s vendetta with Sinclair might have to do with her. This incenses her. She finally admits that Troy might be mad because he put everything in her name and ordered her not to spend anything until he got out. Instead, she donated every penny to Sinclair’s charity, and Sinclair hired her to run the foundation. Troy doesn’t believe the money’s gone. She apologizes for her deception, then excuses herself.

Randall tails Troy from the bar to a sleazy motel. Along the way, Troy picks up a woman who looks suspiciously like Darlene. A few hours later, the woman emerges from the motel room, alone. Randall confronts her—but it’s a prostitute, paid to dress like Darlene for Troy’s pleasure. Troy hears the commotion and comes outside. Randall gets Troy to calm down and asks about Enlow and Enrique. Troy gives a heartfelt speech about changing his ways in prison, with the help of a terrifying cellmate obsessed with rehabilitating fellow inmates. Troy promises he’s on the straight and narrow, and he really wanted to unionize the meatpackers to help them. He never knew what Enrique knew, and he doesn’t know how Enlow’s involved. Troy takes Randall to Sinclair’s plant. He bribes one of his illegal friends to let them onto the night shift kill floor—literally a night-and-day difference between it and the day shift. All the USDA inspectors and white employees are gone. It’s a grueling, Jungle-type scenario.

The next day, Randall goes to see Cooper. He tells Cooper that Enlow killed the Rosaleses and Sinclair is involved somehow. If Randall can prove it, Cooper may have a shot at the election. Cooper isn’t too concerned—he has a private security job lined up. Nevertheless, Cooper thinks about it and remembers that Enlow was holding Lourdes’s pager for some reason. Randall speeds away. He looks through the murder evidence and finds the only thing missing is the pager. Randall asks Katrina what would be needed to find a call log for a pager. Katrina says they’d need the pager number, the company that manufactured it, and a warrant. Randall thinks Enlow got rid of Lourdes’s pager because he called them for a “meeting” from a number that would trace back to him but didn’t realize it until it was too late. If he can get the number, it will prove Enlow killed them.

Randall goes to Darlene’s mansion. He demands to see Luisa’s pager. When Luisa goes to get it, Randall sneaks a look at her Rolodex. He finds Lourdes’s pager number and writes it down. Luisa returns with the pager, and Randall makes note of the brand. He also notices the guesthouse suspiciously empty. He goes out to it and bangs on the door, drawing his weapon. Darlene shows up and announces that the well-dressed Mexicans inside are merely friends visiting for a little while. Embarrassed, Randall leaves. He gives the pager information to Katrina, who agrees to track it down when Randall tells her he’ll give her a story that will help her take down Sinclair. Randall tails Darlene to a railyard next to Sinclair’s factory. (Sinclair owns the yard and the many boxcars in it.) Randall watches as Darlene arrives at a boxcar surrounded by goony security guards. They open the doors to one boxcar and begin dragging out dead bodies.

Randall is shocked by what he’s seen, but before he can react, his scell phone begins running. Randall fumbles to turn it off and then runs from the security guards. He hides in some overgrowth, and he discovers Cooper is one of the guards. Cooper holds a gun to Randall’s head, but thinks better of it. Instead, he walks away, leading the guards away from Randall. Later, as Randall tries to find Cooper on more neutral ground, Katrina calls him. She has the number—it matches Enlow’s cell phone. Randall searches Cooper’s patrol car. In it, he finds white paint and a brush. He goes back to Angelina’s house—now abandoned—and matches both to the slurs painted on her house. He eventually tracks Guillermo to a local Mexican restaurateur. Randall shows Guillermo a photo of Cooper and asks if he was the one who dropped of Jezebel. Guillermo says yes. Randall looks for Cooper and finds he’s shot himself. His note says that he didn’t kill anybody.

Randall goes to Darlene’s mansion and handcuffs her. He takes her to Troy’s abandoned plant and threatens to kill her just as the Rosaleses were unless she gives him some answers. Finally, Darlene admits Sinclair hired Enlow. She’s broke and had no option but to do what Sinclair ordered. She refuses to tell him where the bodies are buried. Troy arrives—he’s in on this with Randall. He agrees to hide her in Mexico City. Randall returns to Katrina with a tape recorder of Darlene’s confession. Randall begs a local judge for a warrant to search Sinclair’s railyards. Under old, abandoned boxcars, they find body after body. The FBI raids the killing floor and arrests all the immigrants, who are given amnesty in exchange for testimony in a case against Sinclair. They mayor is enraged that Randall would decimate the town’s economy in one fell swoop, but Randall feels confident he did the right thing.

Comments:

The Chain makes a valiant effort to expose the corruption in the meatpacking industry and illegal immigration. Unfortunately, the combination of outdated information and a somewhat bland central mystery undermine the script’s lofty ambitions. As written, it merits a pass.

The story uses a traditional film noir structure: a lone antihero tugs at a string nobody else has any interest in unraveling, leading from a murder to a massive corporate conspiracy. However, the script puts more emphasis on political grandstanding than on engaging the audience with its various mysteries. The first act does a pretty good job of introducing a wide array of characters, but the plot itself moves from one interrogation scene to the next with surprisingly little energy or suspense.

The second act attempts to intensify a romantic triangle between Randall, Darlene, and Katrina, but it never jells. Randall and Katrina have no chemistry on the page, and the fumbling relationship between Randall and Darlene is, quite simply, nothing new. Similarly, the main plot’s emphasis on small-town corruption, worker exploitation in the meatpacking industry, and the dangers of illegal immigration don’t contribute anything unique or even interesting to the national conversation about these topics. If they expect to lure an audience knowledgeable in these subjects, they’ll come away restless and annoyed. The script is filled with outdated, widely documented information, but the writers don’t even have a point of view about it. Then, rather than upping the stakes for an intense third act, the story pretty much peters out. Everything wraps up in predictable yet unsatisfying ways.

Maybe that’s because the script lacks a compelling lead character. Aside from making Randall half-Mexican, he remains a dull enigma. The writers try to give him some offbeat traits: for no apparent reason, he spends his off-hours sorting through his deceased mother’s possessions, but this adds nothing to either the story or the character. His total ignorance of the Spanish language also rings false—even if he never learned Spanish, living (and especially working in law enforcement) in a town with a sizable Spanish-speaking community makes it seem far-fetched and, frankly, stupid that Randall wouldn’t know basic phrases like “¿Habla inglés?” As mentioned, the writers try to spice things up by involving Randall in a love triangle that falls flat. The fact that Darlene is so obviously deceitful but Randall falls for it hook, line, and sinker only serves to make him seem like an idiot.

The supporting characters don’t fare much better. The script never makes any of these characters more interesting than what they appear to be on the surface. Even when the writers try this, it falls flat. For instance, in Randall’s first meeting with Troy, Troy’s friends hold Randall down to let him beat on him, and Troy willingly allows one of his cronies to carve up Randall’s face. Later on, the audience is expected to believe he made a total reformation in prison and is only trying to help them? By encouraging them to assault and threaten the life of a sheriff’s deputy? More often, though, the writers simply don’t attempt to imbue the characters with anything more than one-dimensional stereotypes, mouthpieces for the writers’ politics rather than seeming to have lives of their owns. This overall lack of personality contributes to the script’s leaden feel.

This script will have a hard time succeeding without significant rewrites.

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Bad Luck

Author: David J. Schow

Genre: Comedy/Horror

Storyline: 3

Dialogue: 3

Characterization: 5

Writer’s Potential: 3

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

A college student is forced to question her disbelief in superstitions when her friends begin dying in superstitious ways.

Synopsis:

A muscle car speeds toward an intersection as the traffic signal turns yellow. It turns red, but rather than stopping, the driver swerves, clipping another car. A delivery truck smashes into the muscle car, crushing it. Cops on the scene talk to the driver of the car that got clipped. They’re all interrupted by MARINA KILBOURNE (20s, currently distraught), who insists this was not an accident.

One week earlier, Marina talks seriously to her father, CARL (50s), about her mother, MARTA (40s). Marta is a little nutty—obsessed with the idea that silly superstitions will ruin her life. She’s fortified the house against mirrors breaking, cracks to step on, black cats, ladders, etc. She uses as her bible Better Safe Than Sorry, the latest self-help book about better lives through identifying and avoiding the superstitious causes of life’s problems. DAVANNA FORTUNE wrote the book and has captured the hearts of fearful Americans. Right now, Davanna is on the ledge of a New York City highrise, not trying to talk down a suicidal woman but trying to convince her to believe in Davanna’s philosophy. The moment the woman agrees, Davanna literally sucks the life from the woman, leaving nothing but a dusty skeleton. Feeling satisfied, Davanna goes to tape a daytime talk show, on which she promotes her book. She describes the definition of luck and identifies the many superstitions out there as luck insurance.

As the talk show plays on the TV, Carl tries to convince Marta to take her medication. Panicking, Marta insists she’s only trying to protect the family. Accompanied by boyfriend MICK, Marina attends a college class held by PROFESSOR DEUTSCH, another man obsessed with superstitions. Marina scoffs at the notion, a complete nonbeliever. She escapes the class early when her father sends her an emergency text message. Carl tells Marina that Marta has been institutionalized. Mick takes Marina to the hospital, where they discuss Marta’s symptoms with Carl in greater detail. Marina insists on looking at the house. Mick goes with her. After having sex in Marina’s childhood bedroom, they survey the house. It’s a disaster area, cluttered with Davanna Fortune’s many books and a lot of notes to explain the strange, superstition-avoidant changes Marta has made to the house. As they talk about it, Mick shifts the conversation to an uncomfortable topic: her moving into his condo. Marina makes excuses—bottom line, she’s not interested.

Back at Marina’s big, roommate-filled group house, she complains to her roommates (VIRGINIA, DARCY, and Virginia’s boyfriend, DONNY) about Mick’s pressure. Darcy acts like she speaks from experience when she urges Marina not to become another of Mick’s “possessions.” Virginia simply complains that she may be pregnant. Marina also complains about Deutsch’s class and the stupidity of superstitions. The others disagree—each of them has at least one superstition that they honor and believe in. Angry, Marina decides to confront Davanna at a local book signing. Marina spots Deutsch waiting in line. He says he wants to charm Davanna into guest-lecturing. CYRIL, Davanna’s bodyguard, tries to keep Marina away, but she’s vicious, accusing Davanna of preying on people’s fears. Davanna denies any responsibility, saying the only way to make a superstition real is to believe it’s real—in other words, Marta brought it on herself. Marina accuses Davanna of exploitation, then storms out as Davanna’s fans glare.

Marina complains to her roommates about how things went. Amused, the whole group (except Marina) decides to attend Davanna’s guest lecture in Deutsch’s class. Davanna reinforces the reality of superstition while simultaneously complaining that people only believe in them because they can’t take responsibility for their actions. Marina shows up late, and Davanna forces her onstage—forces her to stand on a crack. Simultaneously, Marta’s spine is torn apart. Marina is horrified when she finds out. Darcy offers sympathy. Marina thinks Davanna had something to do with Marta’s death, so she and Darcy decide to go after her—starting by finding out from Deutsch where she’ll be. When they arrive at Deutsch’s house, they find the door is open. Deutsch’s feet have been chewed off by his pet rabbit. Both Marina and Darcy are repulsed by this. They notice whoever did this stole the assigned “superstition diaries” from his students. Barely conscious from the lack of blood, Deutsch warns that Davanna is after Marina. The girls call 911 and try to explain what happened to CONNER, the detective on the scene. He thinks the girls had something to do with it—their explanation about Davanna is too ridiculous to make sense to him.

Meanwhile, Cyril and Davanna pore through the superstition diaries, shocked and amused by some of the students’ superstitions. Whatever Davanna’s plan is, she’s encouraged when she finds Marina didn’t really complete the assignment—she just wrote a note to Deutsch saying she doesn’t believe in superstition. That night, Donny buys some beer and throws it into his muscle car. As he drives, a black cat passes by the car. Donny freaks out, afraid to pass its path. He gets out of the car and tries to find the cat, but when that fails, he turns around in the opposite direction. As he races toward a yellow light, he discovers the cat is inside the car. The opening car crash, and Marina’s subsequent harassment of the police, is repeated. After insisting the accident is not really an accident, it’s revealed that Virginia and Darcy are with her. Virginia is an emotional wreck. Conner shows up on the scene and leaps to the conclusion that Donny was drinking. He does reluctantly admit that Deutsch has stabilized and regained consciousness, and he has told the police the girls had nothing to do with the incident.

The girls and Mick go to a bar to drown their sorrows. While Virginia gets hammered, Marina insists Davanna is somehow responsible for these “accidents”—somehow, Davanna is in league with supernatural forces. Even Darcy thinks that’s ridiculous, particularly because there’s no logical reason for Davanna to target Marina. Marina decides they need to see Deutsch at the hospital and figure things out. Virginia says she won’t tomorrow—it’s Friday the 13th, and it’s two minutes to midnight. Virginia realizes she’s spotting, and she’s happy—to her, this means she’s not pregnant. Mick drives the girls back to their group house, but he and Marina keep going to the Kilbourne house. She finds Carl at a cracked vanity mirror—and it turns out, he’s inside the mirror, somehow. Carl is terrified, and so is Marina. The mirror shatters to pieces. Meanwhile, Virginia’s spotting turns into a flood of blood. Darcy tries to help her, but she bleeds out too quickly. Mick returns to his under-construction condo. For some reason, workers are there, and they slam wrecking balls into the building. Mick narrowly escapes. The fire department shows up, confused. Mick walks under a hook and ladder truck and is immediately killed by a high-pressure fire hose.

Marina returns to the group house to find Darcy covered in blood. The cops have already shown up, so Marina sneaks them out before they’re accused of yet another murder. To get in to Deutsch after visiting hours, the girls’ fake an emergency situation (using Darcy’s blood-covered clothing as a believable cover). Marina sneaks away to see Deutsch. Deutsch tells Marina that Davanna chose her for something special, but before he can explain what, Deutsch frantically tells her not to let Davanna reveal her “real” face. Marina is forced to flee before Deutsch’s nurse shows up. Davanna arrives, acting the part of Deutsch’s nurse. Her face transforms into something monstrous, robbing Deutsch of life the same way she did with the woman on the ledge.

Marina and Darcy break into Deutsch’s faculty office to find information on Davanna’s whereabouts. While Marina looks through his appointment book, Darcy looks through his research. She starts to piece together that Davanna may be a manifestation of “Lady Luck.” Marina finds Davanna’s address—she’s renting a large, old house on the edge of town. They break into the house. Davanna is well aware of this before they even get inside. She sends Cyril after them. Cyril tries to stop them, but the girls quickly toss him down the cellar stairs, locking him up. Marina and Darcy confront Davanna in the parlor. Darcy tries to throw holy water at Davanna, who laughs at the suggestion that she’s a witch or any other supernatural creature. She pulls out a decidedly un-supernatural gun and shoots Darcy.

Davanna gives a long speech about why she’s tormenting Marina—it’s easy to keep suspicious people believing. What she thrives on is converting nonbelievers, and she gains more energy the less a person believed before the conversion. If Marina would just admit she believes in the superstitions that have killed her friends, Davanna would gain some power. Davanna hands Marina the gun and tells her to shoot if she really doesn’t believe. Marina does shoot, but the bullets pass through Davanna. Davanna’s face begins to contort to her “true face.” Behind her, Marina sees letters being written in a mirror that Davanna stands in front of. The words form: “Hold her legs.” Marina grabs Davanna’s legs, and Carl’s arms grab Marina from inside the mirror, pulling her halfway in. The mirror then shatters, leaving nothing but Davanna’s bottom half. Darcy barely survives. The cops have to release them because they lack evidence. Some time later, a young girl named “Fortune” starts her first day at a private school.

Comments:

Bad Luck aims to be a sort of tongue-in-cheek take on the horror movie, but it’s neither funny enough to forgive its incoherent story nor serious enough to engage its prospective audience. As written, it merits a pass.

The first act manages to embrace every available horror cliché without ever establishing what the story’s about or where it’s headed—and not in a way that’s satisfyingly unpredictable. It’s just unfocused and ramshackle. Every character talks almost nonstop about superstition, only occasionally interrupting the pseudo-philosophical rambling to shoehorn bland romantic troubles that add nothing to the story or characters. The writer simply brings in boyfriend characters to increase the body count.

The second act is where the killings start, but they’re all so obvious and predictable—stepping on a crack, a black cat crossing one’s path, walking under a ladder. Early in the script, Davanna mentions several more obscure traditions with superstitious roots (such as clinking glasses before toasting to ward off demons) that might have made for a more interesting, inventive storyline. On the other hand, the script has a gratingly “silly” tone, so the unimaginative deaths are probably intentional. Unfortunately, they don’t intensify either the comedic or horror stakes—they’re just silly and unimaginative.

All of this leads to a disappointing, frustratingly predictable third act in which Davanna reveals every nuance of her master plan like a James Bond villain—but the plan is not surprising, funny, clever, scary, or anything else. It’s simply just what anyone in the audience would expect. The writer spends much of the second act having the characters speculate on Davanna’s motives, but he never takes the time to make her behavior mysterious. The fact that it’s more comedic than anything else makes it harder to quantify its story problems, because the writer clearly doesn’t take the story seriously—but because its humor is as painfully cliché-ridden as its attempts at horror, virtually every moment in the script falls flat.

The characters are cartoons. Not a single moment in the script is recognizable as authentic human behavior. It’s not about realism so much as believability—if a character’s behavior is not in any way relatable to the audience, how do they empathize with what’s happening on screen? Marina comes closest to having a little humanity, but mainly because we spend more time with her than any of the others. She just doesn’t seem to do much except talk about what’s happening in the plot. Sure, there’s her anxiety over moving in with Mick, but the writer can’t even be bothered to have Marina react to Mick’s death (at the end of the script, she’s not even aware that he died) much less provide a satisfying resolution to that small character moment.

The supporting characters vary from ridiculous caricatures (particularly Marta and Deutsch) to having no distinguishable personalities (Virginia and Donny). The latter group exists to provide fresh bodies to theoretically raise the stakes, but how can the stakes be raised if Marina doesn’t know that these characters have died—or worse, if the audience doesn’t care that they’ve died? As for the caricatures—well, they’re there to provide nothing more than laughs, but the things they say and do is more bizarre and disquieting than funny.

Bad Luck is too big a mess to be fixed with anything other than major script revisions.

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Zebras

Author: David Williamson

Genre: Docudrama/Sports

Storyline: 6

Dialogue: 7

Characterization: 6

Writer’s Potential: 7

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

In the early 1980s, a rebellious South African record producer coaches a mixed-race soccer team in an effort to fight apartheid racism.

Synopsis:

Amid a protest/funeral procession in a segregated rural township near Johannesburg, a group of 12-year-olds play soccer in the dusty streets. They include star athlete BRILLIANCE, religious CHRIS, clown PERCY, tiny SIPHO, and nerdy SERAMI. Not surprisingly, Brilliance is by far the most talented of the group. Afrikaner militants come to stop the funeral procession. Defiantly, the kids start kicking their soccer ball back and forth over the tank. Enraged, one of the officers shoots it. In downtown Johannesburg, PAUL KRIGE (20s, an English South African) interviews with STAVROS for a position at his record label. He impresses Stavros with his knowledge of rock, so he’s hired. He makes awkward introductions with the rest of the staff: ANNETTE, an attractive and sophisticated Afrikaner; and blacks PETE and ZOBO. Paul is crippled by prejudice against both Dutch-descended Afrikaners and blacks. Pete and Zobo let it roll off their backs, but Annette immediately dislikes Paul—both because of his English background and his love for rock music (she’s the manager of the label’s classical artists).

Paul tries to sell the music Stavros produces to various record stores. It’s easy to sell, but Paul finds the music cloying and terrible. He asks Pete and Zobo if they know of any better talent. When they argue no white bands are good, Paul asks them to find some black groups that are better. Paul coaches a group of young Afrikaners in soccer while Pete and Zobo look on. They’re both impressed with Paul’s skills. Paul wonders why they’ve followed him. They want to take him to hear new music. In the car, the trio crack racial jokes to relieve the tension. Pete and Zobo take Paul into Soweto, their segregated township. Paul is terrified of the dangers a white man would face in such a place. Pete and Zobo introduce Paul to some of their musician friends. He’s amazed by their talent—and even more amazed by Pete and Zobo’s talent. Pete is an extremely talented musician and producer, and Zobo is a great recording engineer. Outside, Paul sees the kids—including Zobo’s son, Brilliance, and Pete’s son, NEIL—playing soccer. He’s impressed, especially by Brilliance. Brilliance performs a special move he calls “Tsamya,” a risky move that pays off against his less talented friends. The fun is broken up by ARCHIE, a township radical who’s enraged at the sight of a white coaching his children (his son is Serami). Zobo stands up for Paul, but Archie sends Serami home. Paul brings the recording to Stavros. Annette insists on listening, to Paul’s annoyance. She naturally hates it—and so does Stavros. He doesn’t understand why anyone, even the blacks, would buy such music.

Paul quits and founds his own label with Pete and Zobo. His mother, STORM, is livid that his son intends to make a living making and selling “black music.” Some time later, a radio DJ tells Zobo he can’t play their music because the government says the lyrics have secret communist messages. He and the others are infuriated. They try to sell tapes on street corners in Soweto, but they don’t sell any until they slash the prices to a loss. One day, while training at his soccer club, Paul is surprised to see Pete and Neil. Pete saw an ad for under-13 soccer players. When Paul starts to protest, Pete points out that the government recently changed the segregation laws—mixed-race teams can play together. Paul tries to convince others at the club to let Neil play, but they refuse. At work, Zobo complains about the racism. Brilliance rushes in with yet another deflated soccer ball—a result of them practicing on a gravel field. Paul gets an idea. He brings the group of black kids to work with the E team, the worst players at the club. The whites don’t have a complete team, so Paul pads their numbers with the blacks. The others complain that Paul will lose focus from the senior teams he coaches, but Paul is insistent that he can coach these boys into a winning team.

It’s an uphill battle. The black and white teammates don’t get along, especially when Brilliance is made team captain. The whites make the excuses that their parents won’t let them play. Paul consults with the parents. Even though they clearly aren’t happy about it, they want to appear liberal, so they allow their kids to play on the team. This doesn’t make the kids any happier, however. The kids won’t work as a team. Paul has to convince them to stop arguing and work together. At a fancy restaurant, Paul spots Annette with her fiancé, JANSIE. They flirt with each other, to Jansie’s irritation. At the next practice, Archie shows up with a group of other radical activists, all pissed about this arrangement. Archie takes the kids and leaves. Paul forces Zobo to drive him into Soweto, where he confronts Archie. It takes some effort, but Paul makes Archie see that this arrangement is a positive step in uniting South Africa. When Archie returns the kids, he sees that they don’t get along with the whites. Similarly, he doesn’t get along with HANSIE, the father of one of the white kids (TOM).

Meanwhile, CHRISTIAN (Annette’s wealthy, well-connected father) conspires with another soccer coach, STANLEY, to stop this team. Stanley forms a plan. Some time later, he confronts Paul in front of his team, challenging his kids to play the A team. Paul ups the stakes: if they win, they become the new A team. When the A team’s coach asks for a team name, a sarcastic kid from the A team yells, “The Zebras,” because they’re half-black, half-white. Despite the hostility, the teammates actually like the name. Paul rallies the kids and puts inexperienced Neil in the goalie position. They play against the A team and win, narrowly. Stanley is stunned. This interracial group is now the A team. Paul sends Annette a tape of his latest release, suggesting she use the band at her wedding. Annette is surprised that she sort of likes the music. She mails him a Schubert record. The Zebras battle St. Martins, but they’re down two goals and the team starts to unravel when a ref unfairly calls a foul. They end up losing the game. Stanley wants Paul to give up the A team title, but Paul argues they can’t do this after one game. At the next practice, he tries to bring the kids together yet again, but it’s not working. Archie demands that each black boy partner up with a white boy and talk until they find some common ground. Paul insists Archie and Hansie do the same. They all manage to connect to each other in surprising ways, and suddenly the team starts to jell.

At the next game, the Zebras tie because Neil is skittish when the ball flies at him. Paul works one-on-one with Neil, helping him calm himself and take the hits. A montage shows the Zebras continue to play, undefeated. Annette surprises Paul at work. She’s dumped her fiancé. Zobo warns Paul about going after Christian Kruger’s daughter. Paul doesn’t listen—he starts dating her, to the annoyance of her parents. The Zebras play St. Martins—the champion team—again. Brilliance performs his “Tsamya” move and scores a goal. Enraged, Paul orders Brilliance never to make the move again. Brilliance takes himself out of the game and quits the team. They lose, 4-1. Annette takes Paul to a fundraiser hosted by Christian. Paul is not happy to hear the hypocritical rich talk about helping the blacks financially in the same breath they talk about the importance of segregating them. He offends Christian and storms out of the fundraiser. Christian talks with JOHANNES, the head of BOSS—the Afrikaner secret police—about Paul.

Paul begs Brilliance to return to the team. Zobo figures out a compromise: Brilliance can do Tsamyas only when the Zebras are far enough ahead that it won’t matter if he fails. Paul refuses, so Brilliance stays away. Reluctantly, Annette breaks up with Paul. As soon as she leaves, she’s mugged by a couple of young blacks. Paul comes to her rescue. He asks her for one more chance, to show her what he’s actually doing. He takes her to a practice, where she’s surprised to see how normal and apolitical it is—just kids playing a game. She realizes she’s fallen in love. Angry that the Zebras keep winning, even without Brilliance, Christian goes to Johannes and orders him to bankrupt Paul’s label. Johannes pays Stavros to poach Paul’s clients. After a game, Paul drives the white players and Annette into Soweto. She’s horrified to see, for the first time, how the blacks are forced to live. The younger kids don’t quite understand it. Archie is enraged to hear Christian Kruger’s daughter is poking around. He verbally abuses her until Paul takes her home. When Paul takes Archie’s side, Annette breaks up with him.

Paul finds out that most of his clients are leaving. The label is wrecked. Paul is shocked to learn they’re going to Stavros, who hates this sort of music. He realizes something’s wrong. Christian decides to have the Zebras play St. Martins before a black soccer championship, to humiliate the team in front of tens of thousands of blacks, thus reducing support for the political movement rising because of this team. Serami takes part in a protest, resulting in the police beating him badly. He can’t play. On his way to visit Serami, the police pull Paul over, take him to their headquarters, and beat him nearly to death. Annette comes back to him, angry that her father could support a government that would do this. When Paul is released from the hospital, he quits coaching the team. To his surprise, Storm shows up at the label offices. She reminds him of a pair of bullies that kept taunting him, until he finally stood up for himself. This energizes Paul. He returns to the team, begs Brilliance to return as well, and brings the Zebras to the Ellis Park stadium. During the first half, the Zebras don’t do well because St. Martins cheats (they have a ref in their pocket, and they’re using kids older than 13). Annette humiliates Christian by rooting for the Zebras. During halftime, Paul strategizes for the second half, but the police drag him off. He can’t finish his thoughts. The police hold him until the second half starts. Despite these tactics, the Zebras end up winning—once Paul, on the sidelines, orders Brilliance to do a “Tsamya.”

Closing title cards describe the aftermath: Paul became a marked man after the game and fled to Australia, where he became a high-level record executive; Pete and Zobo continued the Sounds of Soweto label, which flourished; the kids all led successful lives.

Comments:

Zebras is a sort of small-scale version of Invictus, telling the true story of a soccer team that attempted to unite South Africa. While it’s interesting and different enough from Invictus to avoid seeming derivative, the writer takes on so many characters and so much story, the script loses sight of the human drama of a deeply divided soccer team. As written, it merits a pass.

The first act does a nice job of establishing Paul, Annette, and the black characters. It also does a reasonably good job of balancing Paul’s personal and professional life with the foundation of the Zebras. However, the script breezes a little too quickly through Paul’s transformation from typically prejudiced white South African to champion of equal rights for all. The second act tries to balance the soccer action with Paul’s budding relationship with Annette and the increasingly intense politics of the region. This is where the script begins to lose focus. The kids and the team are never as interesting as they could be because the writer spends a great deal of time reminding audiences that apartheid was wrong. It’s not that this shouldn’t be dramatized—just not at the expense of getting a better understanding of the characters, there desires, and more interesting conflicts among the teammates.

The rousing championship game in the third act does a lot to make up for the earlier story problems, but their win comes a little too quickly in the second half of the game. Paul making such a big deal about Brilliance’s “Tsamya” moves earlier in the script makes it too obvious that it’ll be the thing to save the day. More than that, though, the writer never makes it clear why Paul is so opposed to the move. It’s a major source of conflict in the script, so it’s a little infuriating that it goes unexplained. While it ends on a positive note, the closing title cards hint at a darker truth—Paul has to flee the country for standing up and winning. While that’s not exactly the stuff of happy endings, it would have been interesting to see that dramatized rather than relegated to a “Where are they now?” title.

To his credit, the writer gives a lot of background information on many of the characters. Although Paul has a lot of depth and nuance, one aspect of his personality remains a frustrating mystery throughout. The writer makes a point of showing that Paul is not a political man, but he doesn’t make it clear whether or not Paul understands that his decisions have political ramifications or not—whether politics motivate him or not, he’s sometimes portrayed as reckless and irresponsible for dragging kids into something he should know will lead to danger for all of them. His relationship with Annette should be the key to understanding his real feelings and motives, but instead they just argue about the politics that are supposedly not driving him.

The black supporting characters are universally well-written and interesting, even though the writer doesn’t focus on the team’s interpersonal conflicts nearly enough. As a result, the white players on the team get the short shrift—we don’t know much about them beyond their names. One plays the violin, and one’s an Afrikaner (apparently rare for South African soccer), but the writer doesn’t develop them nearly as much as the black players. In much the same way, Christian and his wealthy/politically connected friends are portrayed as irredeemably evil. If the writer had given as much nuance and complexity to these characters as he did to the black characters, this script might have turned out a little more complex and surprising.

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How I Spent My Summer Vacation

Author: Mel Gibson

Genre: Crime/Action/Comedy

Storyline: 7

Dialogue: 7

Characterization: 8

Writer’s Potential: 8

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Consider

Logline:

Amid the chaos and corruption of a Mexican prison, an American criminal bonds with a Mexican boy.

Synopsis:

After a reckless chase along the U.S.-Mexico border, a pair of bank robbers flip their car at a high speed against a wall dividing the two countries. A Mexican cop, VAZQUEZ, faces off against an American cop over who has jurisdiction. Eventually, the American gives up and lets Vazquez take them. The car’s DRIVER and his partner (who wears a smiling clown mask) are interrogated by Vazquez and one of his four partners, LUIS. Driver refuses to give up any information about himself, and they can’t find anything on him since he’s had his fingerprints removed. During the interrogation, Driver’s wounded partner dies. Driver is sent to a “classification cell” in El Pueblito, a vast prison in Tijuana. In this large cell, LACRAS (soldiers of the prison’s “self-government”) corral the new inmates while the PRISON DIRECTOR strongly hints that the prison experience will go a lot better if the inmates bribe officials. Driver watches the lacras humiliate and beat other inmates for their shoes. Driver is ready for them, and he beats the lacras—led by CARLOS—pretty well before they gang up on him. That night, the newcomers are dragged out of the classification cell and into a crowded courtyard that looks reminiscent of a village square: people take water from a huge well in the center, kiosks selling food and merchandise have been erected, etc.

The prison buildings are laid out in a complex, labyrinthine structure, making the place seem small when, in reality, it’s quite large. Driver is led to a cellblock, which he moves through in an attempt to find a place to sleep. The place is jam-packed with prisoners. He ends up going back into the courtyard to try to find a spot, when he sees Carlos enter a small building. Driver follows Carlos into a bathroom. He knocks Carlos unconscious, takes his gun, money, and watch. Driver hides the gun on a light fixture hanging from the ceiling. Back in the courtyard, Driver tries to find a place to sleep. He spots a doctor shooting inmates with heroin. Driver finally finds an empty place along the wall, next to a filthy man with bad gas. The next morning, lacras wander the grounds, waking inmates. Driver heads to the main square, which is like a full town: taco stands, fruit stands, clothing, shoe repair, churches, a soccer field, shack-like apartments. Driver notices full families, including young children, living in this place. Some of the mothers take their children to the gates exiting the prison, and the children are allowed out. Driver doesn’t understand why.

Driver is assigned a job by one of the lacras he beat up. As a result, he gets garbage duty. He’s led through a huge maze of dusty streets to an enormous garbage dump. Midday, a nurse shows up with a bunch of lacras. They pin Driver to the ground (he fights the whole way) while she draws blood. Driver is baffled. Driver returns to the main square, where he spots Carlos and CARNAL collecting rent from the apartment-dwellers. Another man, CARACAS, commands fear and respect as he moves through the square. He joins Carnal and Carlos. Driver makes a note that Carnal makes no move to give the rent money to Caracas. Caracas’s cell phone rings. The call is coming from a man observing the square from a balcony—JAVI. Before Driver can watch more, a guard announces he has a visitor. The visitor, known only as EMBASSY GUY, is a fat and corrupt agent of the U.S. embassy. He tries to get some information out of Driver, who won’t talk. Nevertheless, Embassy Guy doesn’t believe the official report—that Driver was caught trying to bring a car full of valium into the U.S. The lack of fingerprints tell Embassy Guy that Driver is a career criminal who wouldn’t waste his time on something so small-time. Embassy Guy demands a monthly fee in exchange for protecting Driver’s life while he’s in prison. Driver realizes if he wants to get out, he’s going to need money. While nobody’s looking, Driver steals lighter fluid from the taco stand, then douses it and throws a lit cigarette at it. While everyone’s distracted, Driver steals the money from the doctor’s heroin shack and takes it to El Pueblito’s “7-Eleven”—a surprisingly well-stocked convenience store. There, Driver sees THE KID, a 9-year-old buying a Coke. The Kid spots him, too—buying cigarettes.

Outside, The Kid sneaks up on Driver and asks for a cigarette. Driver refuses, until The Kid coolly extorts him by implying he knows Driver burned the taco stand and stole the doctor’s money. Driver hands the cigarette over. Driver asks why so many families are here; The Kid says those with money can bring their families to stay with them. Driver wonders why The Kid doesn’t go to school with the other kids. The Kid says he’s “special,” so he can’t leave the prison. Before he can explain the comment, The Kid’s MOM appears, enraged to find The Kid smoking. She storms away with the kid. Later, Driver watches Carnal and Carlos evict a woman. He approaches Carnal, asking for a place to stay. With the amount of money he has, Driver can’t get much more than a coffin-sized private room—but it’s better than outside. That night, Driver buys his way into the bathroom and showers for the first time since his arrival. It’s a nice, peaceful feeling. Outside, Driver watches the hookers and junkies wandering the square. He discovers an elaborated, gated-off VIP section of the prison, where inmates live in the equivalent of suburban homes and enjoy a fancy-dress outdoor casino. Driver sees Mom inside. She sees him staring and comes to the other side of the gate, where she punches Driver out. The Kid watches this. Mom is angry that he’s out at night.

The next day, Driver talks to The Kid about escape. He thinks it looks easy, considering they let family members in and out all day. The Kid explains it’s more complicated than that. He says that even Javi, whose corruption runs the prison, has to come back if he leaves. The Kid mutters that he’ll kill Javi someday, but he won’t explain why. While they watch, The Kid explains everything: Caracas is Javi’s brother, Carnal is their cousin, and they’re all in it together. Driver asks about them drawing blood. The Kid won’t talk about it. Embassy Guy meets Vazquez and a partner, ROMERO, at a nightclub. He shows them a newspaper showing that Luis was tortured and killed. He thinks this has something to do with them arresting Driver and offers help—for a price. Vazquez sends him away. At night, Carnal comes to The Kid’s house and forces Mom to visit Javi. She unhappily leaves.

The next day is Sunday, family visiting day. The place is more packed than usual, and makeshift conjugal visit tents have been erected for the event. Driver sees The Kid staring bitterly at Javi across the square. Driver asks how The Kid plans to kill him. When The Kid tells him he’ll stab him in the stomach, Driver explains why that’s a bad plan. The Kid realizes Driver isn’t kidding around. The Kid explains that he and Javi share an extremely rare blood type—also shared by The Kid’s father, whom Javi killed two years ago to replace his liver. He wants The Kid around in case he needs another replacement. This is why they test the blood of new inmates, but so far, nobody has come up a match except The Kid. Heartened by The Kid’s opening up, Driver explains that his first stint in prison (at age 14) was the result of trying to kill his father. He urges The Kid to do it right if he’s going to kill Javi. They need a plan, so Driver decides they need to keep watching and figuring things out. The Kid eavesdrops on Javi and Caracas and learns neither of them trust Carnal, who is stealing from them. Seeing the bond forming between Driver and The Kid, Mom softens to Driver. Driver is taken to see more visitors—Vazquez and Romero. They sarcastically thank him for his “financial contribution” to their families (they took the money from the bank heist). They ask where Driver got the money, because they fear somebody might be looking for it. Driver refuses to tell them. Instead, he tells them to stop spending the money, hide it, and lay low, so that when he gets out and kills them, he’ll have something left to retire on. The cops aren’t amused.

Driver comes up with a plan to steal Carnal’s wad of rent money. He gives Carlos’s watch to The Kid to distract Carlos. When Carnal is alone, Driver picks his pocket while he crosses the crowded square. Later, Driver and Mom bond over their respective bad relationships. She explains that she and her husband were drug dealers. Driver gripes that his wife left him for a business associate, “Reginald T. Barnes,” who screwed Driver over and sent him to prison. It’s Driver’s dream to kill Barnes. Caracas comes to Carnal to collect the rent money. When Carnal insists he was robbed, Caracas is enraged. Carlos realizes Carnal must have been robbed when he saw The Kid with his watch. They know Driver, who’s been spending a lot of time with The Kid, must be behind the robbery. Embassy Guy shows up at the Tijuana impound lot and finds four American hitmen searching the car. He offers to send them to Driver if they pay him enough.

Carnal and Carlos burst into The Kid’s house, angry about the stolen money. They knock The Kid out and Carnal rapes Mom. Carlos goes outside and finds Driver. When he starts shooting, Driver runs into the bathroom, grabs the gun from the light fixture, and kills Carlos. Meanwhile, Caracas bursts into The Kid’s house and is shocked by what Carnal has done. He beats the hell out of Carnal. Driver bursts in and kills Carnal just before he can knock out Carnal with a frying pan. Javi has his lacras beat the hell out of Driver and take him to a private dungeon. Caracas tells Javi they should kill Driver. Javi goes to talk to Driver, who is impressed by how much Driver has learned (he mentions the liver) and his brazen attitude toward Javi’s own relatives. Embassy Guy visits Driver, wanting his payoff. Driver does pay him, and Embassy Guy lets slip that hitmen are after him. Driver realizes he needs to do something to get his money.

Driver tells Caracas about the money Vazquez and Romero recovered after his arrest and tells them he stole it from a gangster in San Diego. Meanwhile, the hitmen have found Vazquez and Romero and torture them. The duo only recovered half the stolen money—there’s still $2 million unaccounted for. The hitmen cut off toes to encourage the men to talk, but they sincerely don’t know about additional money. FRANK, a mobster-type, calls the hitmen’s computer through Skype and orders the cops to tell him what happened to Driver. They say he’s in El Pueblito, but he had no ID or fingerprints. Frank orders his men to go after Driver in the prison. Caracas and Javi discuss the problem with Driver. Embassy Guy meets with the hitmen outside the prison, with Driver’s file. Inside, Embassy Guy makes sure the lacras know exactly where the Americans are coming from. They set up snipers in a watchtower.

The Americans and lacras go toe to toe in the main square, shooting other inmates in the process. The Kid and Mom are in the fray. When Driver spots this, he goes after them and makes sure they’re hidden under cover. He starts shooting at the Americans. After a long shootout involving the casual tossing of grenades, the Americans are eventually killed (as are many lacras). Javi and Caracas decide to let Driver out. He’ll recover all the money—taking only a small cut—if they let him out to kill Frank. They agree. A prison printing press makes Driver a fake driver’s license. Javi calls two hitmen of his own to take out Driver after he takes out Frank. Javi and Caracas supply Driver with a car, weapons, and expenses. After Driver leaves, the Prison Director tells Javi that the government is shutting down the prison, and they intend to send a small army to ensure that the prison stays shut down. Javi doesn’t want to risk losing The Kid, so he decides to have the transplant done before they shut down the prison.

In California, Driver spots Javi’s hitmen following him. At a gas station, he tampers with their car, forcing them to stall a few miles up the road. Driver sets up a sniper perch and takes them both out as they check the engine. Driver continues on his way. Meanwhile, Mom realizes something’s happening. She brings The Kid to a friend’s home, and they hide him in a hole in the closet. Javi ties Mom to a chair and tortures her, but she won’t talk. Angered, The Kid reappears in the doorway and pokes himself in the side, trying to destroy the liver before they can take it. Imitating Sean Connery, Driver makes a phone call to STEVE JOBS and requests a meeting. Jobs agrees and sets it up. Driver then calls Frank’s LAWYER, imitating Jobs, and requests a meeting with Frank, strongly implying he wants to get in the coke-dealing business. Lawyer discusses this with Frank, who agrees to set up the meeting.

Driver shows up at Apple Computer’s headquarters, pretending to be Sean Connery’s assistant, “Reginald T. Barnes.” He carries an umbrella despite the sunny day. Driver is cordial to Jobs shortly before tying him up and putting him the bathroom of his private office. When Frank, Lawyer, and Frank’s BODYGUARD arrive, Driver pretends to be Jobs’s assistant. While pretending to make drinks for them, he throws a grenade at them and hides in the bathroom. All three are killed. The concussion sets off the fire sprinklers. Driver opens his umbrella and walks calmly out of the office. The doctor rushes The Kid to the operating room. He stabilizes him and realizes The Kid missed his heart. The doctor says, at the earliest, they can operate the following morning. Driver returns to Tijuana, where Embassy Guy is traumatizing two teenage prostitutes by forcing them to eat chiles dipped in hot sauce. After Driver finds out where his car is being held (and learns about the raid on the prison), he has the girls tie up Embassy Guy and slather some hot sauce in his nose.

Driver returns to the prison, using Embassy Guy’s credentials to get inside amid the chaos of federal soldiers rounding up as many inmates as possible while the lacras shoot back. Using the backdrop as a distraction, Driver manages to sneak into the VIP section. He holds a gun on the doctor until he puts The Kid’s liver back. Caracas bursts in. Driver threatens to kill Javi if he doesn’t bring Mom to him. Per Javi’s request, an ambulance shows up to transport him to the new prison. Caracas returns with Mom. Driver shoots him in the head, then shoots Javi. Mom shoots the doctor. They take the medics’ clothes and rush The Kid to the ambulance, which takes them out of the prison quickly. Some time later, the patched-up Driver, Mom, and The Kid go to a Tijuana junkyard. Driver’s car has been stripped for parts, but the spare tire is rusted onto the trunk. With considerable effort, Driver breaks it free—and finds the other $2 million. Meanwhile, hitmen burst into Driver’s EX-WIFE’s house and kill REGINALD T. BARNES in front of her.

Driver, Mom, and The Kid relax on a Mexican beach.

Comments:

How I Spent My Summer Vacation is an offbeat action script that’s frequently entertaining and engaging. However, its third act takes the story completely off the rails in a way that’s still entertaining, without making any actual narrative sense. As written, it merits a consider.

The first act is very strong, introducing Driver and the world of the prison with meticulous detail and surprisingly little dialogue. Although Driver spends much of the first act merely snooping around the prison, he remains an active, engaging character—a smart guy doing his homework before he really takes action. The second act continues solidly enough, deftly balancing a number of subplots—the corruption within the prison, the importance of The Kid’s liver, and Embassy Guy playing everyone against each other in his pursuit of compensation—as Driver’s frustration with the prison and the people in it mounts.

It’s when Driver leaves the prison in the third act that the story goes a little insane. The writer introduces Frank and turns him into an important villain within a few pages. This is followed with a truly ridiculous (and tonally jarring) scheme to kill him by taking advantage of Apple CEO Steve Jobs. The first two acts have their moments of levity, but overall, it’s a mostly tragic examination of a Mexican prison gone awry. Driver does eventually deliver justice to those who ruined the place (and made The Kid and Mom’s lives a living hell), but everything that happens when Driver leaves the prison feels like an unnecessary, weird-for-weird’s-sake distraction rather than a natural narrative progression. As a result, the writer breezes past the final confrontation with two villains we’ve grown to hate (Javi and Caracas). The ending is satisfying enough, but the loss of focus in the third is as frustrating as it is mind-boggling.

The characters are pretty solid. The writer does a great job of revealing the characters through their actions more than their words, and he builds a vast, nuanced world within this crazy prison. Whether it’s realistic or not makes little difference; the writer manages to make everyone and everything (up until the third act) feel real with impressive verisimilitude. Driver, in particular, is very well-written: a quiet, steely-eyed antihero who manages to stay interesting instead of being tedious.

Driver’s bond with The Kid and subdued relationship with Mom are also handled well. The Kid’s youthful angst is effectively disheartening, but it never goes over-the-top. Mom isn’t quite as fully developed, but the writer wisely eschews a stereotypical romance with Driver. An attraction is there, but it doesn’t go too far too quickly. The villains within the prison are also pretty interesting—pragmatic, violent businessmen who nonetheless have a strange code of honor. They’re not good people, but they’re also not cartoonishly evil, which makes them a little bit more frightening. Even Embassy Guy, the character who comes closest to being a full-on stereotype, manages to let his greed take his character to interesting, unexpected places.

Only Frank stands alone as a poorly defined, never-interesting character who serves little purpose beyond dying. As mentioned earlier, the writer puts an amazing amount of emphasis on this death, which causes the third act to feel rushed and unfocused. Other than his role as the guy Driver stole the money from, he serves no story purpose whatsoever. The writer could easily remove Frank and the hitmen chasing Driver and have a tighter, more focused script.

Despite the problems, the script is still engaging, offbeat, and action-packed. It’s possible that a great actor playing Driver can help smooth over the unfocused third act.

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4.3.2.1

Author: Noel Clarke

Genre: Crime/Action/Comedy

Storyline: 5

Dialogue: 7

Characterization: 5

Writer’s Potential: 6

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

Four young women accidentally find themselves at the center of a jewel-smuggling ring.

Synopsis:

SHANNON (20s, pale) stands on the ledge of Westminster Bridge in London. She’s been crying. In one hand she holds an art pad filled with great sketches; in the other, she clutches a black bag filled with diamonds. A car containing three other girls—JO (20s, wearing a convenience mart uniform; KERRYS (20s, black); and CASSANDRA (20s, rich)—pulls up next to her. They beg her to come down.

Two days earlier, these four girls do separate activities (Shannon sips coffee at a café, Kerrys practices for her driving test with an instructor, Cassandra plays piano in an empty concert hall, and Joanne swims laps. All of these girls converge at the café. They discuss boys (in particular, Shannon is perturbed that DILLON breezes through the café without noticing her, and Cassandra is eager to lose her virginity to her online boyfriend) and their weekend plans (most importantly, Cassandra is flying to New York for an audition, but she’s also planning to meet the online boyfriend for the first time; Kerrys will also be taking her driving test for the second time), but they’re interrupted when a man snatches Cassandra’s purse. The other girls chase him. Kerrys grabs Shannon’s big art bag and beats the guy with it. The contents of their bags spill out. As Cassandra and Shannon scoop up their respective belongings, Shannon doesn’t notice Cassandra accidentally take an unopened envelope addressed to Shannon.

After all the excitement, the girls walk home. They pass Dillon, who behaves strangely, as if he’s looking for something very important. At a certain point on the way, the girls split up. Jo gets on the subway, Cassandra gets in her parents’ Bentley, Kerrys gets on the bus, and Shannon rides a bike home. A four-way splitscreen shows each of them travel home, focusing on Shannon as she enters her house. Shannon’s father, MR. RICHARDS, lies prostrate on the phone, crying and begging MRS. RICHARDS to stay. She tries to maintain an air of dignity. Shannon doesn’t understand what’s happening. Mrs. Richards tells Shannon she slipped a note into her bag. Shannon doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Mrs. Richards leaves, permanently, without explaining why. Shannon is devastated. As Shannon packs to get out of the house, a news report in the background describes a big gem heist in Antwerp. Shannon goes to Jo’s house, wanting to talk about what happened with her mom. Jo’s distracted and busy. She puts Shannon off until the next day. Shannon goes to the canal and draws. She spots two men (Brazilian MANUEL and black TEE, both a few years older than she is) having a heated discussion about something Manuel can’t keep in his house because his family’s there. Manuel recognizes Shannon as his sister’s friend. They check out her artwork, then leave. That night, Shannon gets hammered in a bar. A guy flirts with her aggressively, and she’s okay with it. Kerrys saves the day, getting the guy away from Shannon to save her from herself. As Shannon argues with Kerrys, a riot seems to break out behind them. The guy, FRASER, returns with some friends, threatening to kill them. Kerrys drags Shannon out of the bar. They run until they get free. Kerrys hops in a seemingly random car and asks Shannon if she needs a ride. Shannon declines.

Shannon goes to the canal, munching on Pringles and staring at a drawing of a baby. She decides to graffitotag the wall, but she runs away when a cop shines his light on her. Shannon runs home, where her drunken dad has been worried sick. Shannon can’t sleep. She tries call Cassandra, who answers but blows Shannon off. The next morning, news of the jewel heist is still all over the news. Shannon’s upset because she thinks her mother left because of her, and now all her friends seem to have abandoned her. Later, Shannon walks past Kerrys (who is taking her driver’s test). Kerrys seems to look at her and ignore her. Some time later, Shannon goes to Kerrys’s house to confront her, just as Kerrys leaves, shouting obscenities at her unseen family. Kerrys lashes out at Shannon, as well, and storms off. Shannon walks past the café when Dillon stops her and decides to talk to her. He’s interrupted by a frantic phone call from Tee. Dillon flirts with Shannon and asks for her phone number. Shannon gets a call from Jo. Shannon asks if Jo saw the note. Jo tells her to come by her work later. That night, Shannon enters the convenience mart where Jo works. Shannon doesn’t seem to notice the tension. Jo tells Shannon to piss off, confusing and enraging Shannon. Even more confusing and enraging: Dillon, dressed in a hoodie, walks toward Jo and plants a kiss on her. Teary-eyed, Shannon runs out of the store, grabbing a tube of Pringles as she goes.

Shannon does some more graffiti. Just before she attempts to eat the Pringles, kids pop her with paintballs and start chasing her. An older woman, KELLY, beats them up and chases them away. She gets Shannon into her car and takes her to a fancy apartment, where she lets Shannon shower and change into some clean clothes. When Shannon gets out, she sees Kelly rifling through her art bag. Kelly wants the Pringles, which she says had diamonds in them. Shannon is baffled. She locks herself in the bathroom as Kelly tries to aggressively beat the door down. Shannon kicks the door open, knocking Kelly out, and runs out of the apartment. Back at the canal, Shannon finds the Pringles. Inside is the black bag filled with diamonds. The next morning, Shannon leaves a message for Jo about the diamonds. Kerrys calls, saying Cassandra found the note. Mr. Richards, drunk and now blaming Shannon for his wife’s leaving, has received a forwarding address from Mrs. Richards’s sister. Shannon goes to the address, a fancy apartment building. Mrs. Richards shows up with her new beau. Shannon confronts her, and Mrs. Richards strongly implies that a recent abortion Shannon had was the final emotional straw. That night, Shannon finds herself on the Westminster Bridge. The car pulls up.

The action returns to two days prior and the four-way splitscreen, this time closing in on Cassandra. Her parents give her some encouraging advice and a surprising amount of weekend money before dropping her off at the airport. On the plane, Cassandra is seated next to an international courier, BIG LARRY. Cassandra waits to meet Brett, who doesn’t show up. Shannon calls, but Cassandra blows her off. Later, Cassandra gives up and calls Joe, tearfully. She takes a cab to her hotel. A few hours later, Cassandra sleeps peacefully when somebody shows up at the door. It’s BRETT, her online boyfriend—exactly as his picture depicted. Instantly, they make passionate love. Afterward, Cassandra has the suspicion that Brett drugged her drink. She passes out and wakes up the next morning, thinking it was a dream—until she finds most of her belongings missing. Her purse is still there, though, and Cassandra finds the note from Shannon’s mom. Pissed, Cassandra scrolls through her old e-mails until she pieces together Brett’s address. She runs into Big Larry in the hotel lobby and asks him to hand-deliver the note to Kerrys (she doesn’t know Shannon’s address). Cassandra tracks Brett’s address to Brooklyn. When she knocks on the door, she’s surprised when a complete geek opens the door. This is the real Brett, or NEW BRETT. Cassandra beats him up and ties him up. New Brett explains that he and Brett arranged this—Brett was supposed to take a bunch of lewd photos of Cassandra while she was unconscious and drop them off. Cassandra waits for Brett, watching a news report about the diamond heist. She gets a call from Kerrys and gives her an odd code (4, 3, 2, 1).

Brett finally shows up. Cassandra beats him up and ties him up, too. Cassandra deletes every photo and video of her from New Brett’s computer, then realizes how late it is and rushes back to Manhattan. She’s missed her audition with MR. LAROFSKY. He is not very kind about it. Dejected, Cassandra returns to New Brett’s house. She pulls down their pants and takes humiliating photos of the two Bretts. Brett has come free of his tethers. He starts beating on her, so she runs out of the house. A big black woman notices the struggle and tells Brett to stop. He continues, hurling racial slurs at her. A large group of black men come out of the woodwork and attack. They let Cassandra leave. The next morning, Cassandra goes to Mr. Larofsky’s house and barges in the moment he opens the door. She dashes to the piano and plays her audition piece. Larofsky admires the ingenuity as well as the musicianship and accepts her into his program. Cassandra returns to London, where she learns Shannon is missing. Jo and Kerrys pick her up.

Two days prior, the four-way splitscreen. This time it’s Kerrys’s story. She arrives home and hops into bed with her girlfriend, JAS. Before anything can happen, MR. JAUO-PINTO (Kerrys’s Brazilian father) drags her downstairs to greet her extended family members from Brazil, who are in town for Manuel’s birthday. Manuel, her brother, is downstairs with Dillon. They’re discussing when Dillon should pick up the diamonds. Kerrys is baffled. She embarrasses herself (and her father) in front of the family by wearing a tight, revealing shirt. Kerrys leaves the house in a huff. She and Jas break into Cassandra’s apartment. They turn on the TV and see a report about the diamond heist. Jas gives Kerrys some Viagra, insisting it works as well on women as it does on men. They have sex. Later, Kerrys and Jas go to the bar where Shannon is drinking. Kerrys sees Fraser all over Shannon and pulls him away, flirting. Fraser tries to trade up, but Kerrys sends him packing. While Shannon’s too drunk to pay attention, Fraser and his friends start a fight with Kerrys that escalates into a full-scale riot. Kerrys grabs Shannon and runs. Jas pulls up in her car, which Kerrys hops into. Shannon declines a ride. Kerrys and Jas return to Cassandra’s apartment.

The next morning, Kerrys takes her driving test with the same examiner who failed her the last time. Sensing it’s not going well, Kerrys lashes out at the examiner and starts kicking the car door to prevent the examiner from getting out. She returns home to congratulations, but faces fall when she announces her second failure. Mr. Jauo-Pinto is horrified, Manuel ridicules, so Kerrys shouts obscenities at all of them as she storms out of the house—and finds Shannon waiting. Kerrys tells Shannon off, too, and goes back to Cassandra’s apartment. Jas shows up at the apartment with Manuel, who claims he wants to apologize. Instead, he somehow seems to know that Cassandra has a panic room built under her bed and knows exactly how to access it. The bed slides aside, revealing it underneath. Kerrys and Jas examine it, and Manuel shuts the panic room. Through a closed-circuit monitor, they can see Manuel bringing people inside. Before long, it’s a full-scale party. Kerrys and Jas can’t get out because they don’t know the code, and Kerrys won’t call Cassandra because they’re not supposed to be there.

Dillon and his friends show up. Manuel hands him a mysterious black bag. They leave. Kerrys and Jas try to figure out the code. As the party gets out of hand, they blame each other for the turn of events. Kerrys finally forces herself to call Cassandra for the code. Once they get out, Kerrys goes after the partygoers with a music stand. The next morning, Cassandra calls Kerrys about sending the note to her. Kerrys calls Shannon, but Shannon hangs up on her. Kerrys goes home and finds the letter. She opens it and is shocked by what she reads. Mr. Jauo-Pinto gets in Kerrys’s face about being late for her brother’s birthday party. Kerrys apologizes, and they have a heart to heart. Kerrys agrees to be less rebellious—after one last prank. She doses Manuel’s drink with a bunch of Viagra, humiliating him as his giant, unstoppable erection forms in front of his grandparents and aunts. Kerrys leaves, but Manuel chases her out of the house. She locks Manuel in the trunk of his own car, then drives it around. As she approaches Jo’s store later that night, Manuel has finally gotten through the seats. He grabs Kerrys, forcing her to hit the accelerator. She crashes into the store.

Two days prior, the four-way splitscreen. Jo’s turn. Jo’s stepdad has broken his leg and can’t work temporarily. As a result, Jo’s mom announces Jo and her sister, GWEN, need to pick up the slack by taking extra shifts at the convenience mart. Gwen already has plans, so Jo is forced to work that night. She meets Tee, the night manager, who browbeats and overworks her. Jo notices Tee doing something odd but unseen near the safe. She also notices one of the keys to the safe is gone. Before she can figure out what Tee is up to, her ex-boyfriend TERRY bursts in demanding to know if rumors she’s sleeping with another guy are true. Jo denies them. Jo is forced to work a double-shift—all night—because another employee doesn’t show up. The next day, she’s exhausted. Gwen begs her to work for her again. Jo reluctantly agrees. When she enters the store, Jo overhears Tee talking on his phone about something that needs to be done today. Jo gets a call from Shannon. She tells Shannon she’s busy and to come by the store later. Jo gripes about the job when she feels her period coming on. When she tries to take some tampons, Tee gets in her face about it. Jo brings up the safe key, which pisses Tee off. They’re interrupted by another clerk.

Dillon and his friends show up at the store. They get into the safe but are disappointed by the amount of money in it, so they decide to rob the whole store. Dillon points a gun at Jo after she tips off a customer about what’s going on and he calls the police. In the midst of this, Shannon shows up. Jo yells at her, but she won’t leave, so Dillon kisses Jo. Horrified, Shannon runs out, taking the Pringles tube. Kelly has been in the store in secret. She’s now angry, thinking Shannon took the diamonds. Kelly goes after her. Dillon takes the wallets of all the customers and throws the gun at Tee (who catches it, getting his fingerprints on it), then leaves, threatening them not to say anything. Tee searches the Pringles packs and finds none with diamonds. The police show up, but everyone plays dumb. Jo takes the security footage disc and hides it from the police. The next day, Gwen is sympathetic about the robbery. Shannon calls about the diamonds. Gwen offers to take Jo’s shift, but Jo insists on working. Shortly after her shift starts, Kelly arrives and starts browbeating Tee. Jo grabs the gun from last night (hidden in a fridge case) and holds it on Kelly. Kelly pulls out a gun of her own and trains it on Jo. Kerrys provides the ultimate distraction, accidentally crashing into the store. The police show up almost immediately, looking for Tee. Jo drives off with Kerrys. Kerrys shows Jo the note. They pick up Cassandra, then drive around to look for Shannon.

The girls find Shannon on the bridge. She nearly falls because of their distraction. The girls pull her back over the bridge. They’re all sympathetic about what’s happened to her family. Shannon appreciates the show of support. They turn the diamonds in to the police and use the reward money to book a flight to the U.S. Little do they know, Kelly is on the plane, watching them.

Comments:

4.3.2.1 is the unholy lovechild of a Guy Ritchie gangster movie and The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, a quirky gamble that doesn’t really pay off. Too much time is spent ignoring the diamond smuggling in favor of detailing the girls’ sordid personal lives (ironically, without doing a whole lot to develop their characters), and the nonlinear structure is more distracting than inventive. As written, it merits a pass.

Problems start in the first act. The writer doesn’t really set up the story so much as allow a few strange events to happen and hope the mystery carries over until he decides to pick up that narrative thread again. Focusing the story on one character at a time constrains the narrative, making the overall story muddled and frustrating rather than engaging and surprising. The first story—Shannon’s—clumsily foreshadows too much about the diamond smuggling. As a result, the moments of crossover during the other girls’ vignettes are not terribly clever or enlightening—precious few instances of “Oh, the pieces are falling into place” but plenty of “Yeah, duh” moments. This builds to a third act that doesn’t seem much like a third act, because it’s just filling in gaps in the story, sputtering to an unsatisfying, predictable resolution.

Although the details of who’s involved in the diamond smuggling operation and how it affects the girls is obvious long before it should be, the writer devotes precious little time to actually explaining how the smuggling actually works. People keep handing mysterious bags to each other, hiding things, searching for things, exchanging money, but it never quite jells. The writer is intent on making the diamonds a jokey subplot and devotes most of the time to what the girls are doing, which rarely has anything to do with diamonds or stealing. Their stories combine lurid male sex fantasies with melodramatic histrionics.

Sadly, the stories are also so overstuffed with meaningless misleads and “crossover” details, the characters themselves get lost in the shuffle. The writer offers glimpses of family life, jobs, hobbies, and passions—yet somehow manages to not use any of this information to provide real insight into the characters. For a script that tries to pretend its overarching diamond plot is a jokey afterthought, Shannon, Cassandra, Kerrys, and Jo all feel like constructs of a convoluted story rather than real people in a character-driven ensemble.

The supporting characters fare worse, not surprisingly. The villains are all irredeemably evil without much explanation of why (other than greed, but that’s not a terribly compelling reason), the family characters exist solely to provide melodramatic conflict for the girls, and the many characters Cassandra meets in New York have very little to do with anything—it’s just a weird, uncomfortable diversion. It’s telling, though, that the only friend Cassandra makes in New York is coincidentally an international courier who guarantees hand-delivered parcels. This perfectly illustrates the way this script turns its characters into cardboard cutouts who exist to serve the plot’s needs, rather than creating vivid, believable characters whose clearly motivated actions drive the story.

The “quirky caper” and “melodramatic teen angst” tones don’t mix as well as the writer seems to think they do. As a result, it’s hard to imagine anything short of brilliant direction making this script work as a film. Without an experienced director of high-energy crime films, it’ll come across like exactly what it is: a jarring, incoherent mess.

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Albert Nobbs

Author: Gabriella Prekop & John Banville & Glenn Close

Genre: Drama

Storyline: 5

Dialogue: 7

Characterization: 7

Writer’s Potential: 7

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

In 1890s Ireland, a woman impersonates a man in order to work and finds herself wanting a wife.

Synopsis:

ALBERT NOBBS—a small, somewhat oddball man—works as a servant in Morrison’s Hotel in Dublin, a middle-class place that aspires to more. The maids—POLLY, EMMA, MARY, and HELEN, all pretty young women—pay little attention. The hotel proprietor, MRS. BAKER, has the exact same dress and attitude as her hotel, carrying a regal air that doesn’t quite match her clothing. In the evening, Albert waits tables with PATRICK (70s, deaf and a bit senile) and SEAN (40s, a plump drinker). He catches Helen looking at him out of the corner of his eye. She makes an amusing face at him when he watches. The hotel patrons—the MOORE family, a French couple named PIGOT, and DR. HOLLORAN, among others—respect Albert and tip him well despite his quiet disposition. When Mrs. Baker notices a stain on Sean’s tie, she chastises him, reminding him that hundreds of young men are in need of work. Sean apologizes.

The obnoxious VISCOUNT YARRELL and MR. SMYTHE-WILLARD and their respective wives interrupt the quiet dinner. They treat the servants with little respect and pretend the other guests don’t exist. After dinner, Yarrell runs Albert ragged with requests, browbeating him all the way, but it’s all worth it—he tips exceedingly well. Albert goes to his private room, counts his money, and documents it in a well-worn ledger. He hides it, along with plenty of other money, under the floorboards in his room. At a nearby hotel, JOE (an angry, gregarious porter) is fired after accidentally dropping guests’ baggage. HUBERT PAGE (40s), a painter, sees the unfair dismissal and recommends a nearby hotel he knows, Morrison’s. Hubert tells Joe to mention his name to Mrs. Baker. Joe gripes that he doesn’t want to work in another hotel. Albert rushes around, fetching flowers and stationery for guests. Hubert arrives, to everyone’s surprise and Mrs. Baker’s delight. She immediately figures out parts of the hotel that need touching up and offers Albert’s room to share with Hubert. Albert makes a lot of excuses, but Mrs. Baker won’t hear them. Ironically, Hubert isn’t any more enthusiastic about sharing the room than Albert is.

Albert waits until Hubert falls asleep before changing into his bedclothes and joining him. He panics the entire time he changes, fearing Hubert might wake. Once Albert is ready, he lies in the bed. Before long, Albert leaps from the bed, suddenly stricken and twitching. Odd blotches cover his shoulder. In a panic, Albert forgets himself and rips off his nightshirt, just as Hubert wakes up. Albert’s body is crammed together by a tight corset, which hides distinctly female breasts. Hubert is shocked, yet a little amused. Albert, however, is even more panicked—and angry, since the fleas that have apparently infested him/her must have come from Hubert. Hubert asks the obvious questions: why, and how long? Albert will only say that she’s been working at Morrison’s for 19 years. Albert decides to sleep on the floor, allowing Hubert to stay in the bed in exchange for his silence. Hubert gets over the shock and falls asleep quite quickly. Albert spends the entire night on edge, not sleeping at all.

The next morning, things are awkward between Albert and Hubert—but he doesn’t betray the secret. Albert spends the full day jittery and terrified, but she’s still great at her job. Albert keeps trying to get Hubert alone so they can talk in secret, but the hotel keeps bustling. Albert feels a tinge of jealousy when Helen starts asking all manner of questions about Hubert. When Albert finally gets Hubert alone, he vows once again to keep the secret. Albert can’t be sure, but Hubert—after checking to ensure their complete privacy—removes his own shirt, revealing female breasts. Albert is stunned. Later, when they’re alone again, Hubert tells her story: she married a drunken house-painter, and after a particularly vicious beating, Hubert got fed up and took his gear, assumed a male identity, and started to get work. Albert is stunned to learn that Hubert remarried—a lonely dressmaker, who agreed to enter into the sham marriage as a combination of financial and emotional arrangement. That night, Mrs. Baker pays Hubert and sends him on his way, lamenting that she can’t afford more work. Albert reels from Hubert’s story, feeling possibilities she’d never considered opening up. She fantasizes about what Hubert’s life must be like—and then begins to fantasize about what her life could be like if she managed to take a wife. She finds a button that popped off Hubert’s overcoat and clings to it as if it can provide all the answers.

Joe, having failed to find work elsewhere, arrives at Morrison’s. A frantic Polly mistakes him for a boiler repairman, a role Joe decides to assume in order to get the job. Although Mrs. Baker doesn’t exactly believe him, she agrees to keep Joe on as a handyman if he can repair the boiler. Baker forces Albert to show Joe to his room. Joe immediately senses something off about Albert, but he can’t put his finger on what it is. The entire group, except for Joe, prepares the dining room for a decadent “fancy dress” party for the guests. Albert and the other servants don’t dress in costumes. While the party goes on, Joe attempts to repair the boiler, but he fails. Joe lets out his frustration by flirting with Helen. She’s immediately attracted to him. After an extended makeout session, Joe returns to the boiler—and he fixes it.

Albert continues to fantasize about Hubert’s life, while Joe has a fantasy of his own—he and Helen. The next morning, Dr. Holloran notices Albert’s odder-than-usual behavior and asks why she’s so distant. She confesses that she’s thinking of the future, of marrying and buying a little shop that could be run by a man with the assistance of a good woman. Dr. Holloran suggests a tobacconist or newsagent. Albert wonders why she couldn’t do both in the same shop. Now, Albert begins fantasizing about a shop of her own, and a possible wife. That night, MILLY MOORE—daughter of the Moore family—rushes to Albert and hops on her lap, upset about a bad dream. The intimate touch makes Albert both uncomfortable and desirous. Milly’s NURSE comes after her. Albert agrees to warm some milk and honey. While she does so, Albert spots Joe and Helen having sex outside in the laundry yard. Joe comes inside. His very presence unnerves Albert. The milk ends up boiling over, scalding her hand.

The next day, Albert wanders Dublin, looking for available space for a shop. When Albert refuses to allow Joe to help him carry bags for two female guests, Joe gets a sense of Albert’s greed—and, seeing the tip, he gets an idea. Albert tells Mrs. Baker he found Hubert’s button and begs for his address and the time off to return it. Mrs. Baker grants it. Albert goes to Howth and finds Hubert’s dressmaker shop. Hubert introduces her to CATHLEEN, his wife. Albert is stunned and fascinated. Cathleen insists Albert stay for dinner. Hubert finally gives Albert the chance to tell her own story: she was a bastard, raised by a nanny with a generous allowance from her mother’s family. When Albert’s mother died suddenly, the allowance was eliminated, keeping Albert out of school and forcing her to fend for herself among the poorest in Dublin. At age 15, Albert’s nanny died, leaving her completely alone. Not long after, five drunk men viciously attacked and raped her. From that day forward, Albert decided to live as a man, to escape the poverty. She worked her way up to working at the biggest places in England before settling at Morrison’s. Hubert tells Albert to find the right woman to share her life with and get married.

Albert returns to Morrison’s, thinking seriously about Helen—but Helen is with Joe. Joe spots Albert and insists on taking her out to the pub. Albert’s not a drinker or a smoker, and she doesn’t particularly enjoy either. Word has already spread about Albert’s plans to marry. Joe suggests Helen, saying he’s not the marrying type. Albert’s appreciative of the blessing. When she gets back to Morrison’s, she asks Helen out. She’s reluctant. Helen talks it over with Joe. Joe orders her to go out with Albert, to find out what Albert really wants and how much money she has. Albert takes Helen out in Dublin. She’s surprised and annoyed by her desire to spend money, trying to pinch every penny but ending up spending a lot on her because she wants to buy her love. Albert doesn’t realize things are going poorly with Helen, who’s merely exploiting her for the money. Albert is mentally planning their future together. Helen talks things over with Joe, who tells her to continue exploiting Albert until they get enough money out of her to travel to America. Albert drags Helen to the storefront she’s picked out for their shop. She springs her plans on Helen, who is less than enthusiastic—she’s spent her whole life trying to get out of rundown neighborhoods like the one the shop’s in. That night, Albert overhears Helen and Dr. Holloran talking—she’s pregnant. Helen complains to Joe that Albert’s too cheap to simply give away money. They’re lucky she’s buying Helen things. Joe tells her to keep things going with Albert, but she refuses, throwing Joe into a violent rage.

The next day, a young kitchen maid comes up with scarlet fever. Soon, the government turns the guests away and temporarily shuts down the hotel. Most of the staff is stricken with the disease—including Albert, who refuses medical attention. After a long struggle, her fever breaks. Patrick dies. Helen struggles to tell Joe about her pregnancy, but she can’t find the words. Instead, she gives him a note—but Joe can’t read. Mrs. Baker offers Joe Patrick’s old job, because he’s proven his worth during the outbreak of fever, helping out. Once he’s a little better, Albert finds out most of the area has been struggling with the fever. Albert returns to Hubert’s house and sees her wearing a black mourning band. Cathleen passed on. Albert is sympathetic. When Hubert wonders what he’ll do without her companionship, Albert quietly suggests that they marry, or move somewhere and live as sisters. Distraught, Hubert and Albert put on dresses, both living as women for the first time in decades. They wander outside and walk on the beach, but it’s just not working. Albert returns to Morrison’s, redressed as a man. She overhears Helen and Joe fighting.

Albert and Helen go out again. Helen is shocked when Albert flat-out asks her to marry. She complains that they haven’t even kissed. Albert says she loved her nanny but never had to kiss her. This confuses Helen, as does the ineffectual peck on the cheek Albert gives her. Helen gives Albert a full, passionate kiss—now it’s Albert’s turn to be confused. Helen storms away, breaking it off for good. Albert follows, insisting that Joe won’t take care of her. He’ll abandon Helen and the baby and go to America alone. Helen is shocked that Albert knows so much, but she denies Joe will leave. She gets away from Albert. A prostitute solicits Albert. Desperate for the companionship, she’s tempted, but she turns the woman down.

When Albert returns to the hotel, she overhears Joe, Helen, and the other maids mocking her. Joe invites Sean to his room to drink. He forces Sean to read the letter from Helen. Joe is shocked and angry about the baby. He doesn’t have any idea what to do. The rumors fly, and Mrs. Baker wants to fire them both. Albert uses this opportunity to once again try to persuade Helen to marry her—she’ll never have to worry about being fired or not being taken care of. Drunk, Joe storms in and gets in Albert’s face. Timid, Albert backs away. Joe goes after Helen, which finally sets Albert off—but she’s not strong enough to fight him. Albert shoves her to the floor, knocking Albert unconscious, briefly. Helen’s enraged at Joe’s treatment. The other servants rush in, pulling Joe away from Helen. They scream at each other as the others try to restrain both of them. Albert regains consciousness and uses the distraction to sneak back to her room—but she’s bleeding from the ear and the back of her head. Albert climbs into bed.

Joe leaves the hotel, permanently. Albert fantasizes about living with Helen, just before she dies from the head injury. The following morning, the servants are surprised that Albert won’t answer his door. They send in Dr. Holloran, who performs an examination and realizes Albert’s true gender. The others are baffled. Mrs. Baker brings the news to Hubert, who feigns shock. She brings Hubert back to the hotel to do more painting. Helen cozies up to Hubert, introducing him to her new baby, Albert Joseph. Helen is desperately afraid that her baby will be taken away. Hubert tells her that can’t happen. Helen asks what he means, and as the camera pulls away, it’s clear that Hubert is making a similar proposition to Albert’s.

Comments:

Albert Nobbs tells a tragic story about the lengths certain women will go to in order to be left alone, only to have their lives consumed by feelings of loneliness and inadequacy. The script has plenty of interesting ideas, but ultimately, it struggles to justify its characters’ decisions, and its unhappy ending feels unearned. As written, it merits a pass.

The first act attempts to make Albert’s gender a mystery, but it’s fairly easy to guess that her quirky behavior and fierce protection of her privacy meant she was hiding her female identity. Hubert’s reveal is a much bigger and more satisfying surprise, yet it’s downplayed because the twist exists only to get Albert thinking about the possibilities of curing her loneliness. The writers seem to want to turn the Albert-Helen-Joe relationship into a love triangle in the second act, but the plot gets in the way, devoting too much time to Joe’s scheming and Helen’s devotion to his plans. Rather than allowing Albert to slowly figure out what she really wants in her pathetic, childlike way, the writers force her to fail, and force audiences to watch it, knowing exactly what’s going to happen long before Albert has a clue.

This leads to the unsatisfying third act, which gets preoccupied with a scarlet fever outbreak. The outbreak does little for either the story or characters, other than adding a bit of period detail and giving Helen a nice potential “husband” at the end, thanks to process of elimination. More importantly, killing Albert at the end is simply the wrong move for the story. Albert didn’t necessarily require a happy ending where she gets everything she wants and lives happily ever after, but killing her feels like a cheat. It’s tragedy for the sake of tragedy—an abrupt end to the story rather than a true resolution.

Maybe this is because Albert remains such an enigma throughout. The real mystery, one the script doesn’t devote much time to, is why Albert decides she needs a companion of any sort. When she explains why she chose to live like this—didn’t want to live in poverty, hated the way men treated her—she gave the impression that she wanted to shun humanity as much as possible. Her behavior in the first act supports this, but later in the script, Albert seems to imply that it just never occurred to her that she could have all the things Hubert has—things she apparently wanted. It rings false that she’d want these things, though. Her cluelessness about people and relationships speaks to more than just ignorance—it comes across like flat-out disinterest. Albert’s fantasy sequences, allegedly showing her desires, don’t add as much to her character as the writers seem to think. They just depict things that Albert’s actions contradict. Making it clear why Albert feels she needs a wife would go a long way toward making the story more believable.

The supporting characters are a nuanced bunch. With the exception of Joe, Helen, and Hubert, none of them contribute much more than atmosphere, but they each have a handful of quirks that make them feel a bit real. Joe and Helen, on the other hand, are a bit thin. Albert’s fixation on Helen never really makes much sense, except from a plot standpoint. She doesn’t say or do much to make it clear that this is the one person, above all others, that is the right choice for a wife. Although Joe has a few moments of surprising depth (such as his pathetic attempts to learn to read), he serves as little more than a stereotypically macho foil to Albert’s timid “man.”

Only one thing can redeem this script: a great actor playing Albert. A great performance can fill all the gaps in the writing and make material that doesn’t quite seem to make sense into a complete, tragic figure.

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The Oranges

Author: Ian Hefler & Jay Reiss

Genre: 3

Storyline: 4

Dialogue: 3

Characterization: 3

Writer’s Potential: 3

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

Over the holidays, two families are turned upside-down when the daughter from one brood has an affair with the patriarch of the other.

Synopsis:

VANESSA SCHIFF (22) narrates: in West Orange, New Jersey, the Schiffs and the Basses live across the street from one another. CAROL BASS is a focus group coordinator who’s a terrible listener, TERRY BASS is gadget-obsessed, PAIGE SCHIFF is a “Christmas-aholic” whose life revolves around a caroling group, and DAVID SCHIFF is a workaholic not out of ambition but to ignore failing marriage. Vanessa lives at home and works at Ikea because she wants to be an interior designer. The Basses’ daughter, NINA, has been gone for five years. She and Vanessa used to be best friends, until Nina ditched her for a more popular crowd and gave a handjob to a guy Vanessa liked. Nobody knows much about her life, other than that she’s traveling the world.

Right now, Nina’s in San Francisco, living with pretentious photographer ETHAN (27). It’s her birthday, and he throws her a surprise party. Terry has set up a pointlessly elaborate cell phone/speakerphone infrastructure, so both the Basses and the Schiffs (including a reluctant Vanessa) can wish Nina a happy birthday. Carol tries to pressure Nina into coming home for Thanksgiving, because she hasn’t been home in five years, but Nina has no interest. In fact, she says, she can’t leave right now because Ethan proposed to her two weeks ago—they’re engaged! After the phone call, Nina catches Ethan fooling around on her. Enraged, she returns to West Orange.

It’s warm for late November, so Paige and Carol lay out a backyard barbecue while David and Terry hole up in David’s “man-cave,” a plasma-TV-dominated fortress of solitude that used to be a poolhouse. Nina shows up at her home, but nobody answers the door. Reluctantly, she crosses the street and rings the Schiffs’ bell. David answers, and Carol and Terry are overjoyed. They help Nina bring her luggage to her old room, which they’ve converted into a “second den,” as Carol and Nina have a sniping conversation about Nina’s plans for the future (she has none, except to get out of the house). The subject then turns to TOBY, Vanessa’s older brother, who’s essentially been waiting for Nina since she left. Carol thinks he’s a great catch (he’s “gotten very attractive” and has a good job), but Nina is openly hostile about the idea. Meanwhile, David tries to make romantic getaway plans and cozy up to Paige, who freezes him out.

Toby arrives in time for Thanksgiving dinner, and he is attractive and warm, confident yet unpretentious. Nina’s shocked. He announces business plans to go to China, which impresses both the Basses and the Schiffs. After dinner, David struggles to get ice cream out of the tub. Nina enters with dirty dishes and suggests running warm water over the spoon. David’s surprised and impressed, but Nina plays it off—she’s worked at a lot of restaurants. David is cautiously sympathetic about Ethan. Nina asks about David’s job, which is going well, and his marriage, which is not (but David tries to deny it). Paige interrupts, demanding to know why he hasn’t returned with dessert. After dessert, the families discuss Black Friday, a foreign concept to Nina. Paige is both excited by and obsessed with the day, making the others uncomfortable. Later, Toby and Nina get drunk and stoned. A lightweight, Toby passes out. Nina goes upstairs and finds David, making a late-night snack to take back to his man-cave. She tells him he shouldn’t, because she doesn’t think David would look good fat. After considering the option of going back to a passed-out Toby or following David to the man-cave, she opts for the latter. They share a brief, intense kiss.

The next afternoon, Carol and a hungover Nina overhear Paige returning from her shopping spree. Carol and Nina snipe at each other some more, until they’re interrupted by Toby, who invites Nina for a dinner date…with David and Paige. At the Schiffs’, Toby mentions the invitation, which leads to an argument with Vanessa, which in turn leads to Toby chastising her for continuing to work at Ikea. David doesn’t like the idea of the dinner date. After dinner, the foursome play a game, which Paige wins. When Paige and Toby go off to do the dishes, an uncomfortable David decides to go to the video store. Nina volunteers to go with him. In the car, they discuss the kiss—Nina insists it’s nothing, but David believes it was most definitely something. He doesn’t want it to happen again, but nonetheless they make out. The next day, Paige barks orders at David as he struggles to set up an elaborate Christmas lawn display. That night, Nina bails on a family dinner, claiming she’s going out with Toby. A surprised Terry tells Carol that Toby was called away to China early. She hops in her car and follows Nina, who receives an apologetic text message from Toby. She’s mortified but presses on, oblivious to Carol tailing her. Nina arrives at a motel. Carol spies her entering a room, then bumps into David, who holds an ice bucket engraved with the same room number.

Leaping to the obvious conclusion, Carol first vomits, then rushes home to tell Paige. David and Paige fight about it. David first plays it off as a simple kiss and a mistake, then tells Paige he’s not happy and that trust and commitment “aren’t enough” for him. Paige leaves. Nina deals with her enraged parents, who are flummoxed to discover she doesn’t see this as a simple mistake or moment of passion. She goes across the street to David’s house. They share an awkward but tender moment, interrupted by a disgusted Vanessa. After an obscenity-laced tirade from Vanessa, Terry arrives to get into an awkward fistfight with David.

Vanessa goes to Ikea and discusses the situation with co-workers MAYA (20s) and HENRY (30s, a Thai immigrant). Henry believes the situation has more to do with gold-digging than anything else. Vanessa narrates a montage as David breaks down at work; Nina moves into her friend MEREDITH’s apartment; Carol traces Paige to a coastal bed and breakfast, where she attempts a peace offering with Christmas gifts; Terry, still angry, monitors the Schiff house with some high-tech binoculars; After the montage, Vanessa consults once again with her Ikea co-workers, who decide she must move out. Vanessa balks, but they talk her into at least looking for a place to live. Nina and David meet at a Starbucks for the first time since the pseudo-affair was discovered. Nina still tries to pretend it was nothing, but David disagrees. As they talk, they come to realize there’s something real between them and decide to go for it. They jaunt off to Atlantic City, leaving Vanessa to find an explanatory note. She discusses it with Maya and Henry, who don’t know what to make of it. Nina’s impressed by David’s knowledge of craps. At a steakhouse, David runs into a co-worker and his wife. Initially, Nina’s nervous about being seen, but they both realize they don’t care.

When David returns, Vanessa interrogates him, knowing full well that every answer he gives is a lie. David confesses the awkwardness and frustration to Nina, who sarcastically suggests they just tell everyone. Cut to: David telling everyone. Carol and Terry are, once again, shocked and horrified. Vanessa’s enraged. David gives a long speech about how, even though it’s selfish and on the surface seems wrong, he’s happy so it shouldn’t matter, and therefore he shouldn’t have to stop. Carol and Terry reluctantly accept this explanation. Carol eventually begins asking some inexplicably dirty questions, causing Nina to cast her out of David’s house. Vanessa narrates a montage showing the changes creep into the families—David mostly stops going to work to spend time with Nina, leaving Vanessa to hide in her room and get high; Terry, although unnerved, admires how lively David has become and decides to rekindle his passion for Ultimate Frisbee and his wife; Carol tries to get in touch with Paige but can’t find her anywhere; Paige, although MIA, sends some out obnoxious Christmas cards and gifts for David and Nina; and as Vanessa turns to her friends for support, she finds them rooting for David and Nina and, yet again, encourage her to move out.

While shopping, Paige runs into a rep for an organization called Barnyard International and asks about the organization, which buys animals to provide food for starving children. David gets Nina a job interview with a restaurateur. Her cell phone rings, startling her. It’s Ethan. She turns it off, apologizes and promises she always keeps her phone off while working. The restaurateur warms up to her, and she gets the job. Paige abruptly quits her Christmas caroling gig, horrifying the other carolers. She keeps mentioning barnyard animals and makes herself laugh, baffling the others. David drops Nina off for her first evening of work. As she leaves, he tells her he loves her. Nina’s playfully angry because she wanted to say it first. Vanessa and Maya tour a large, overpopulated loft. Maya encourages Vanessa to take it; she reluctantly agrees. At the restaurant, David shows up to have dinner in support of Nina. He’s surprised when Paige shows up. They have an awkward, unpleasant conversation. She brings him up to speed on Toby’s work in China. After her shift, Nina storms out of the restaurant, past a waiting David. Nina explains she got fired her after realizing what’s happening between David, Paige, and Nina. He refuses to get in the middle.

Ethan shows up in West Orange. Carol is unpleasant at first, then realizes what this could do for David and Nina. She sends him across the street. Ethan confronts David and Nina. He tells Nina he’s seeing a therapist and trying to understand his problems so he can be a better person for her. She won’t take him back. David approaches Terry. After an awkward conversation, David admits he loves Nina. Terry leaves. Paige works at the Barnyard International call center, impressing her boss. She sneaks and dials home but is surprised when Nina answers. Paige claims to be from “Homewreckers International” and says some hostile things, but Nina quickly realizes she’s talking to Paige. Nina hangs up. She catches Vanessa leaving and insists what she has with David is real. Vanessa knows, but she’s not happy about the disaster this has caused.

Ethan sets up shop out on the sidewalk, with a sign begging Nina to take him back. Nina confronts him, but but he won’t budge. On Christmas Eve day, Toby returns from China. He’s baffled by the sight of Ethan on the sidewalk. As Maya continues to pressure Vanessa to take the apartment, her phone rings—it’s Toby, steaming because nobody’s informed him of the changes that have taken place over the past month. He then confronts Nina and David, who disregard his feelings. The carolers arrive, followed shortly thereafter by Paige, who bitterly runs over the entire Christmas lawn display. When David hears the calamity, he runs out to investigate, and Paige aims the car at him. Toby manages to stop her, but she does clip David’s thigh.

Inside, both families gather and have an awkward gift exchange. Toby has given them all various gifts from China. Paige has bought them all adoptive cows and goats, who provide milk for starving babies. Nina presents each of them—except David—with a gift, old photographs of themselves at younger ages, looking happy. Paige slaps Nina in the face—hard. In the bedroom, Nina ices her face down. David comes to console her. He suggests moving to another city, which Nina dismisses as impractical. She hands one last photo to David—it’s him, much younger, happier, with a baby (Nina) in the background. Once she found that, she realized this had to end. Meanwhile, Ethan has convinced the carolers to sing a song for her.

Vanessa narrates a montage explaining that David moped for awhile but eventually got over it when he started smoking pot with Vanessa and founded a new company building “man-caves” for other middle-aged men, Nina told Ethan about David but still refused to get back with him, Carol and Terry bought a vacation home in the Poconos, Paige made amends with all the neighbors before going to Africa with Barnyard International, Toby married a nice girl, and Vanessa got a slightly better job and moved to New York City. At the end, Vanessa bumps into Nina, working at an organic restaurant in the city. Nina introduces Vanessa to MARK, a chef at the restaurant. They’re not dating. After an awkward conversation, Vanessa and Nina decide maybe they can be friends.

Comments:

The Oranges strives to tell a wacky story about how crisis drives families apart as much as it brings them together. However, it relies far too much on stereotypical caricatures and inconceivable plot developments to tell a compelling story or hint at any real universal truths about families. As written, it merits a pass.

The first act starts with an immediate hiccup, relying on lazy narration over a montage that explains each character and their relationships to one another. This tactic repeats several times throughout the script, but it always feels like a cheap way to spoonfeed information to the audience and allow time to pass. Once the actual plot kicks in, the writers do an efficient if unenthusiastic job of setting up what will drive the story: the relationship between David and Nina.

This development causes the deterioration of the Schiff and Bass families, as well as their longtime family friendship, over the course of the second act. Rather than building suspense or complexity as the relationship intensifies and the other family members get angrier, the writers cut to another montage and pick it up after the relationship’s in full swing. From there, it’s pretty much a series of sketch-like comic scenarios instead of an actual story. The story ambles, seemingly without direction, until it sputters to a third act that’s shrill and over-the-top.

When Ethan and Paige finally reappear after what feels like a 60-page absence, it’s an enormous letdown. Ignoring the fact that Paige’s apparent psychotic break is played for laughs (although the “ironic destruction of Christmas decorations” physical schtick has been done in at least a half-dozen other holiday movies), these characters stopped mattering to the story long ago. The writers bring in these sources of external conflict because they have no real interest in exploring what has allegedly been driving their story—the romance between David and Nina, and its effects on the family. If they’d devoted more attention to what Paige was going through or the development of David and Nina’s relationship, this third act might feel like the natural course of the story. As written, it doesn’t.

It’s difficult to address why the story doesn’t work without digging into the characters. For starters, the relationship between David and Nina does not feel real for one moment. It’s not that it’s inconceivable that a middle-aged man would dump his wife for the hot daughter of his best friend—in fact, that’s the most believable part of their relationship. As mentioned, the writers gloss over the meat of the relationship—starting with its foundation and skipping to them as a happy, supportive couple, all in the span of a few weeks—and shy away from the way their behavior affects the family. More than that, the writers never take the time to contemplate what has caused David’s marriage to Paige to collapse, or why Nina would disappear without a trace for five years for a sex- and drug-fueled trip around the world. The writers never treat these characters like real people with real problems—and worse than all that, they’re not funny.

A key example of the writers’ disinterest in its own characters is Paige’s only personality quirk: her obsession with Christmas. As described in voiceover by Vanessa, Paige’s whole live revolves around shopping, decorations, and her caroling group. The writers never really consider what she does from January through, let’s say, October, in which it might be sort of odd (and, frankly, funnier than most of the material Paige is given) to see a woman with a mindless obsession with Christmas. The same is true for every other character—their quirks and traits exist either because the story requires them or because there’s some sort of cheap joke attached to them. None of it feels believable, which makes it hard to empathize with the characters. This, in turn, makes it hard to laugh with (or even at) them, which should be a comedy’s main goal.

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Mune

Author: Benoît Philippon

Genre: Fantasy/Adventure

Storyline: 5

Dialogue: 6

Characterization: 6

Writer’s Potential: 6

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

When demons steal the sun and the moon, two sworn guardians set off to retrieve them.

Synopsis:

On a planet that resembles Earth but has different continental shapes, a huge comet whizzes through the sky. The planet’s inhabitants—anthropomorphic creatures who are all made out of natural substances like dirt, plants, or water—see this as a sign from the gods to select new guardians of the sun and moon. A square-jawed, cocky blacksmith, SOHONE, thinks he’s the obvious choice to guard the sun. He and the other villagers go to an arena where competitions to select the guardians will take place (like a fantastical Olympics). Meanwhile, HYUL, the current moon guardian, asks the moon for guidance in selecting his replacement. The moon reveals the path to MUNE, a sweet but introverted kid. Hyul isn’t sure. He joins XOLAL, the sun guardian, at the arena. Sohone competes—he’s clearly the favorite, but MOX tries hard to outrank him. Mox is a demon currently disguised as a cherub. With his cronies SPLEEN (depressed) and ULLULA (a proudly independent girl), he intends to cheat his way to the guardian slot.

GLIM, a girl made of wax, desperately wants to see the championship games, but her father won’t let her leave the house. She’s to stay indoors, where fans can keep her cool. Angered by his controlling attitude, Glim leaves the house and immediately starts to melt. Glim’s father drags her back inside and begins to massage her shape back to normal before the wax hardens. She’s allowed to go to the “night side” of the arena, which is positioned right at the divide between day and night (depicted more like the moon than Earth). Ullula begins to compete for the moon guardian, but Hyul is unimpressed with her or anyone else. When Mox loses to Sohone, he joins the moon guardian competition. The final event is to stand in a pond of water and wait for a fawn to approach the purest of heart. Obviously that’s not Mox, Ullula, or Spleen—but it’s not anybody else, either. Frustrated, Hyul calls for the moon to send them the right man for the job. The moon dispatches a flurry of bats, who drop Mune into a pond. The fawn responds instantly.

Sohone smugly tells Mune not to make him look bad. The elder guardians lead them to their guardian temples, to show them the ropes. Mox, Spleen, and Ullula transform back to their regular forms, creatures made of lava (which appears hard and ashy on the surface but red and bubbling when they’re in hell). They’re accosted by NECROSS, the Lord of Darkness, who sent them to retrieve the sun. Without the sun in his possession, Necross will never be able to take over the world. He gives them one more chance. Spleen pops antidepressants like candy. Mune is panicky and neurotic in his post. Eventually, he can’t take the distance from the moon anymore. He goes out to the forest and climbs the tallest tree. He reaches up to the sky—and it turns out the stars and moon are tiny and within reach. Mune grabs the soccer ball sized moon and hides it back in the temple, unaware that he’s plunged the entire night half of the planet into total darkness—and has also stopped the movement of the ocean, among other things. Sohone notices the changes right away and knows something’s up. Unwilling to abandon the sun, he throws a huge chain around it and carries it like a helium balloon to the moon temple.

While Sohone and Mune argue, Mox and company steal the sun. This causes a slight tremor as the planet stops revolving—it no longer has anything to revolve around. It also plunges the entire planet into complete darkness—well, except the forest, which Mox sets on fire. Mune goes into the forest to ask the woodland creatures for help. Together, they slowly get the wildfire under control. Thrilled to have the sun back, Necross tosses it into a pit of lava, which will slowly destroy it. Once the fire’s out, Sohone realizes the sun is missing. The woodland creatures tell Mune (who can communicate with them) that it’s fallen into Necross’s hands. Mune agrees to help Sohone find the sun. Sohone balks at it until Glim shows up. Mune is immediately attracted, but Glim ignores him for Sohone. She wants to join the three of them to help get the sun back. Looking for a light source, Mune calls a bunch of fireflies to lead them on their path. Mune leads them to the ocean, where many creatures that have never seen the sun live. They find most of the fish are gone, spooked by the lack of waves, but Glim is attacked by a giant squid. Mune saves her, but Sohone takes the credit. As they’re ready to leave, PHOSPHO, a sea creature whose bioluminescence will light their journey, reveals himself. He agrees to help them by calling “shadow soldiers” to help them.

Meanwhile, in Necross’s creepy laboratory, Mox learns the hellish research on how to destroy the planet with carbon emissions, radiation, and chemical waste. Necross explains that it will take seven days for the sun to burn out completely, so he’s merely waiting before sending his troops to the surface. Mox warns that the guardians have banded together to stop them. Ullula suggests stealing the moon and keeping it as a hostage. Necross thinks that’s a great idea and sends them on their way. Phospho leads the guardians and Glim to the Land of Shadows, where the brightness of his body lures out the shadow warriors—which includes shadows of themselves. Sohone’s shadow immediately attacks the real Sohone. Phospho commands them all with authority. Glim’s attraction shifts to Mune, which Sohone doesn’t like at all.

Birds warn Mune about Spleen being sent to retrieve the moon. Phospho sends Mune and Glim to recover it, while he leads Sohone toward hell to retrieve the sun. Mox and Ullula enter the “forbidden territory,” a land where illusions drive people insane, and take two mysterious doors. They go to a crossroads marking the forbidden territory in one direction and the Doors of Darkness in the other, and use the doors to create the illusion that switch the directions—leading Phospho and Sohone right into the forbidden territory. Glim has trouble keeping up with Mune, but Mune doesn’t want to slow down for fear that Spleen will get to the moon before they do. Another group of bats come and pull them off their feet, in the direction of the moon temple. As they enter the Path of Illusions, Phospho imagines a churning sea that he’s desperate to get back to, but Sohone points out that it’s nothing but jagged rocks at the bottom of a steep cliff.

Spleen gets to the moon first and takes it to a hidden cave. Trying to figure out where to hide it, Spleen recalls a conversation with his therapist and decides the solution will be inside it. He figures out a way to hide the moon within his own nightmares. Mune finds Spleen in his hidden cavern and demands to know where the moon is. Sohone hallucinates seeing the sun behind a tree. When he reaches the tree, he finds a perfect replica of himself. Sohone draws his sword and fights his double. From the perspective of the others, he’s merely hitting himself with a sword. Phospho realizes they’re on the Path of Illusions. Only the shadows can keep their sanity, because illusions don’t cast shadows. Sohone’s Shadow tries to keep their sanity in check, but when that doesn’t work, he knocks them unconscious. In the cavern, Spleen explains what he did with the moon. While Glim watches over them, Mune and Spleen both take a sleeping agent. Mune enters Spleen’s nightmare world. It’s a strange desert world full of creepy flying worms and distorted, terrifying variants of people Spleen knows in real life. They run through a lava labyrinth until they reach an alley where the moon is hidden—but they’re accosted by dozens of huge, terrifying Necrosses. Unable to wake up, Mune decides to take control of the dream, showing Spleen a happy dream for the first time in his life. The landscape changes to a more pleasant, serene environment, and the Necrosses turn into harmless children. Spleen is thrilled to see this.

Mune finally wakes, to see Glim smiling at him. Mune explains that Spleen has decided he’d rather stay in his dream world. Spleen slowly vanishes. Glim thinks it’d be smart to hide the moon in her own dream. They fall asleep together, and Mune sees Glim’s dream: that the two of them will fall in love and spend a long, happy life together, dancing under the light of the moon. An elderly version of Glim gives Mune a key—the key to her dreams. Within the dream, Mune and Glim case. They’re startled awake by Mox and Ullula, who have bound and gagged them. Mox and Ullula take the sleeping agent, but it doesn’t work. They pick up and Mune and Glim to take them back to hell—when they both drop into slumber. Glim uses their lava base to melt herself enough to get out of the ropes. She frees Mune, and they race to the Earth’s core. Meanwhile, Phospho, Sohone, and the shadows arrive in the Valley of Death as the weather conditions grow increasingly cold and bitter. The sun is dying. Sohone tries to cut their way through a bramble patch, but he’s losing his strength as the sun dies. They finally make it to a ravine. Across a bridge are the Doors of Darkness, but as they cross, the bridge and ravine seem to expand exponentially. Mune and Glim arrive on the other side of the bridge, just in time to see it snap under the pressure. Before they can die, THE WIND sweeps them back up and offers assistance. Beyond the Doors of Darkness, they find…an elevator. They get in and take it down to the core.

The heat terrifies Glim, so The Wind surrounds her to keep her cool. Necross announces to his men that it’s finally time to unleash their numbers on the unsuspecting population. Their research into climate change and unnatural destruction will only aid their victory. When Sohone hears this, he gets angry and attacks Necross. They fight, but Sohone is weakened. It’s quite a struggle. Phosphos tries to enter the fray but fails. Meanwhile, Mune and Glim lead the shadows down to the lab, where they finally find the Corridor of Hell. Simultaneously, Sohone and Necross arrive their in their battle. They finally reach the sun, in a cage at the end of the corridor, and see a tiny flicker of light from it. Mox and Ullula get in the way, fighting with Mune and Sohone. Glim, meanwhile, sees what must be done—they can’t get the cage open, so she makes the choice to sacrifice herself to save the sun. She sends The Wind away and melts her way through the bars. She attaches herself to the candle and orders them to blow on it. The Wind springs into action, surrounding the “candle” and quickly bringing it back to life. The sudden brightness and positive energy annihilates the demons for good.

Mune puts Glim in a jar, and the wind ushers them all back to the surface. Mune uses the key to Glim’s dreams to retrieve the moon. In the night half of the planet, he and The Wind reshape Glim into her old self, but she doesn’t reanimate. Mune decides to crumble bits of the moon over it, hoping the moon dust will bring her back to life. It does! They share a warm hug and kiss. Phospho and Sohone watch. Sohone is somewhat happy for them. He returns to his temple. Phospho returns to the sea, and The Wind moves into the forest, creating a gentle breeze on the trees. With the sun shining once again, the Earth begins to reenergize, slowly but surely, starting its revolution and its tides once again. Under the light of the moon, Mune and Glim dance, clearly in love.

Comments:

Mune is a visually compelling, sometimes clever children’s story. However, its adult themes take up too much of the story to engage kids, but the story is too simplistic and childlike for adults to enjoy. As written, it merits a pass.

The first act possesses a great deal of visual flair and imagination. Using the ancient notion of solar and lunar gods to drive an adventure about the theft of the sun and moon is a really interesting idea that could easily appeal to kids. Unfortunately, in the effort to add variety to the visuals, the writer frequently loses focus on the story itself in order to concentrate on the unique locations and characters found throughout this story. It’s very vivid and will undoubtedly be animated with a great deal of care—but the visuals don’t make the story compelling.

More than that, in the second act, the visuals take a turn for the creepy, which immediately loses a younger audience. One of the central locations is hell, and two of the big set-pieces involve terrifying hallucinations and even more terrifying nightmares. It’s the kind of material that will give kids actual nightmares, which likely isn’t the desired goal. In that same vein, though, the writer injects an unsubtle political statement throughout the second half about the dangers of global warming that is bound to bore kids and annoy parents. It also doesn’t quite fit the story, which takes place in a world where man-made pollutants don’t exist and the only climate change they need to worry about is the permanent winter caused by the theft of their sun.

The third act succeeds, more or less. The fight sequences and suspense during the showdown with Necross and the race to reignite the son all work fine. However, the writer devotes too much energy to the love story between Mune and Glim. As with other aspects of the story, the writer mostly plays it as too adult for kids to enjoy. There’s nothing depraved or sexual about it, but it’s a surprisingly complex love story—too complex for kids, but too simplified to engage adults. Similarly, the Earth’s core/hell setting in the third act might unnerve kids, although not as much as Spleen’s nightmares.

Personality-wise, the characters are mostly clownish stereotypes, but that’s not a bad thing for this type of story. The writer does give each character fun, unique physical attributes—Glim’s candle wax physique, Sohone made mostly of armor, the demons’ lava skin—which makes them all a bit more interesting and unusual than one might expect.

While the core personal conflict between Mune and Sohone—one shy, one arrogant—comes across well, it’s worth noting that Mune lacks any sort of ambition or interest in what he’s doing. He’s the quiet, bookish type, but he doesn’t yearn to be more like Sohone (thus setting up an intent to prove himself on this adventure) or have any real goals, other than retrieving the sun and moon. On the one hand, it’s nice that the writer avoids the cliché of the nerd wanting to be cool and athletic. On the other, it’s hard to get invested in the character—even on a kid level—when he seems to have no interests or goals to drive a change within him over the course of the story. In fact, he doesn’t change much at all after proving his worth to Glim in the first act. It would have been nice to see a more meaningful transformation in his personality that kids can empathize with or aspire to achieve in their own lives.

The visuals are wonderful, but overall, it’s hard to imagine the creepy imagery and too-adult-for-young-kids tone finding a sizable audience.

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Sarah’s Key

Author: Gilles Paquet-Brenner & Serge Joncour

Genre: Drama/Historical

Storyline: 7

Dialogue: 7

Characterization: 6

Writer’s Potential: 7

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Consider

Logline:

In 2009 Paris, an American journalist traces the story of a Jewish girl whose family was rounded up during the Holocaust.

Synopsis:

In July of 1942, French police come to the Starzynskis’ apartment with orders to take them, along with any other Jewish families in the area. SARAH (10) and her younger brother, MICHEL, hear the police outside and mistake them for their father. MRS. STARZYNSKI, their mother, answers the door. The police want to speak to the head of the household, but she says he’s not there. Frantic, knowing what’s coming, Sarah forces Michel to hide in a closet. She locks it and hides the key, promising to come back later and get him. She returns to the police, and Mrs. Starzynski announces that she doesn’t know where her husband and son are. In the courtyard outside, the apartment concierge rats out all the Jewish families as the police bring them down and line the tearful, frightened people. Because of the heat, the concierge assumes MR. STARZYNSKI slept in the cellar, where it’s cooler. The police don’t need to look—a stoic Mr. Starzynski emerges from the cellar and joins his family. Meanwhile, Michel is alone and terrified in the closet.

In 2009, JULIA JARMOND (40s, an American who has lived in Paris for 20 years) and her family (husband BERTRAND TEZAC, 50s, and daughter ZOE, 12) move into the Paris apartment owned by Bertrand’s family for years. They look around the musty old place, trying to assess what they can do to bring some modern flourishes to the place. Bertrand explains that his family struggled to keep up with the rent, but by the 1960s they had enough money to buy two adjoining apartments and convert it into one large flat. Julia works at a magazine called The Accidental Tourist. Her bosses gripe that the content is far too depressing, and they should focus more on the positive. When they see a blurb that courts have ruled in favor of a Holocaust survivor’s daughter in a case against the French government and transit authority, Julia and her editors are surprised that the younger employees are clueless about France’s role the “Vel d’Hiv” roundup that occurred in 1942. Julia wants to do a story on this, and her editors reluctantly agree.

In 1942, the Starzynskis are crammed into buses and led to the Velodrome d’Hiver, a huge cycling arena, where thousands of Jewish families have been crammed together. Sarah panics about leaving Michel behind in the locked closet. They watch a young brunette woman, ANNA, flirt her way into getting out of the hellish arena. Mr. Starzynski tries to go after her, desperate to give her the key to the closet, but Anna leaves and the police pounce on him. Starzynski turns his anger toward Sarah, further upsetting her. In 2009, Julia and photographer MIKE find the same area unsettling—the Vel d’Hiv is gone, replaced by a building for the minister of the interior. Julia appreciates the irony. At a nearby café, Julia and Mike are mistaken for Americans. They deny their heritage (Mike claims to be English, while Julia’s been in France so long that she passes as a native), then discuss the difficulties of being Americans in Paris. Julia asks the owner if any locals would be old enough to remember the roundup. The owner points her to an old woman, who describes the disturbing scene in detail: noisy and eerie, even from their distant, and within a couple of days they had to keep the windows shut despite the heat—not to block the noise but the smell. When Julia needles her about not doing anything, the old woman observes that they couldn’t exactly call the police.

In 1942, the Starzynskis are ushered onto a truck to a concentration camp in the country. Sarah has developed a fever. In 2009, Julia goes to a rest home to visit MAMé (90s), Bertrand’s grandmother. They talk about the apartment, and Julia’s surprised to learn they moved in during July of 1942. Mamé can’t recall the details of how or why they moved in at that particular time. Julia mentions it to Bertrand, who doesn’t find it strange. In 1942, by the time they arrive at the camp, Sarah’s fever has gotten much worse. The police have little interest. They divide the women and children from the men. Mr. Starzynski doesn’t want to leave his wife and daughter, but he has no choice. In 2009, Julia and Bertrand have dinner. When Bertrand doesn’t recall the significance of the restaurant, Julia observes that it’s the same place where she caught him having an affair some time ago. Bertrand is humiliated. Julia announces she’s pregnant, something they both thought was impossible because of complications with Zoe. Bertrand is not pleased with the news. He fears they’re too old to have a new child. He strongly hints that she should have an abortion. Angered, Julia storms out of the restaurant.

In 1942, Sarah’s fever has gotten so bad, she’s barely lucid. Mrs. Starzynski realizes the men’s barracks are empty. She faintly wonders why Dad went home without taking the key. German officers arrive and split the women and children camp: children under 12 in one barracks, 13 and up in the other. Mrs. Starzynski’s reluctance to part with Sarah causes officers to tear them apart. Sarah drops the key. Struggling on the ground, Sarah uses her last ounce of strength to grab the key. A REDHEADED OFFICER steps on her hand, crushing it. She stares at him, dazed. Ashamed, he removes his hand. In 2009, Julia visits FRANCK LEVY, a researcher who knows a great deal about the Holocaust. He helps Julia trace the history of the Tezacs’ apartment, to see if their apartment belonged to any Jewish families ousted during the war. Levy finds three families in the building and asks Julia what floor they live on.

In 1942, Sarah has managed to get over her fever. RACHEL, another 10-year-old, watches over her. Sarah wonders where all the adults have gone. Rachel’s surprised that Sarah doesn’t remember—but when Sarah thinks about it, she does, and it haunts her. From the other side of the barbed-wire fence, women toss food to the children. Officers chase them away and try to keep the kids away, but the Redheaded Officer takes pity on Sarah and Rachel, quietly kicking them an apple and some bread. Sarah and Rachel hatch an escape plan after finding a gap in the barbed-wire fence and determining that if they wear layers of clothes, they can make it through uninjured and run to freedom. Rachel is uncertain about the plan, but Sarah is obsessed with getting back to Michel. They get to the hole, and Rachel gets stuck. Sarah tries to push her through, but it’s too late—the Redheaded Officer catches them and tries to pull them away. Sarah begs him for help, and he takes pity on them yet again, holding the barbed wire and keeping watch until they get through and make it to the wheat fields beyond the camp. They run through the forest, make it to a pond (where they get much-needed water and are able to bathe), and find a corn field beyond that. They arrive at a farm belong to JULES and his wife, GENEVIEVE. Rachel’s fallen sick, but the farmers send them away without help.

In 2009, Julia mentions Bertrand’s abortion desire to her sister, ALICE (40s, living in New York). Alice tells Julia to do what she needs to do, not what Bertrand wants her to do. Julia and Mike arrive at Beaune-la-Rolande, a village near the concentration camp. A plaque lists the names of victims who passed through the camp. They find the Starzinskys—the names Levy gave Julia—but Sarah’s is not on it. Julia suspects she escaped. In 1942, Sarah and Rachel refuse to leave the farmer. Reluctantly, Jules and Genevieve take pity, especially when they see how ill Rachel is. Jules refuses to get the doctor, because he speaks with the Germans a little too much. Untrusting, Sarah gives a fake name. When the couple sees the Rachel is likely dying, they finally give up and call the doctor and hide Sarah in the basement. The doctor brings German officers. Rachel dies in their care. Willing to trust them, Sarah tells the couple her real name.

In 2009, Julia visits Mamé and is surprised to find EDOUARD (70s, Mamé’s son and Bertrand’s father) waiting for her. She’s been ducking his phone calls. He accosts her for putting the family into turmoil because of her research into the apartment. In 1942, Julies and Genevieve dress Sarah up like a boy and take her to Paris. The police and German officers pay little mind, although the trio are tense throughout. In 2009, Edouard explains that he and his father knew about the Starzynskis, but only after the fact. In 1942, a nine-year-old Edouard opens the door to find Sarah, Jules, and Genevieve. Sarah immediately rushes into the house, pulls a bookshelf out from in front of the closet, and unlocks the door—to find Michel’s bloated, unrecognizable corpse. She’s horrified. In 2009, Edouard explains that when they moved in, they found a dead cat and attributed the horrific smell to it. They’d only been there a few days before Sarah showed up. Edouard tells Julia that nobody knows this—it’s been his secret since his father died. Feeling guilty, Edouard allows Julia to go through his father’s personal files, something he’s been too afraid to do.

Bertrand surprises Julia with a romantic dinner, but it ends in a fight—she’s angry at his attempts at romance despite the fact that she’s getting an abortion in a week. Julia reads through Edouard’s father’s files and finds that he sent 100 francs to Sarah each month. As Julia reads the letters, flashbacks show her getting on with her life—helping the family with the farming, befriending her new cousins, seeming to enjoy herself, but still haunted with a deep sadness. After the war, they visit the D-Day beaches. Sarah decides she wants to start traveling. In 2009, Julia has impressed the entire editorial staff with her emotional, well-written article. Even though she’s done with the article, Julia continues researching, trying to track down living relatives of the cousins mentioned in the letter. Julia stays overnight in a clinic for her abortion. While in the clinic, Julia gets a call from NATHALIE, the granddaughter of one of the cousins. She leaves without getting the abortion. Nathalie disappoints Julia by explaining that her grandfather hasn’t heard from Sarah in 50 years. She left in 1953 with no forwarding address, and two years later sent a wedding announcement from Connecticut as Sarah Rainsferd.

Without telling anyone in her family, Julia jets off to New York and meets up with Alice, who has found all eight Rainsferds in Connecticut. Julia beats the streets trying to find the right one. Eventually, she finds one who has European relatives—but the woman is Italian, not French. However, this is the right family. This MRS. RAINSFERD married MR. RAINSFERD after Sarah died in 1968, the victim of a car accident. Flashbacks reveal that Sarah had become a pill-popping drunk and hints that her death may have been a suicide. Mrs. Rainsferd puts Julia in contact with WILLIAM, the son of Sarah and Mr. Rainsferd. He’s living in Italy, so she jets off there. Meanwhile, Zoe has found out about the baby and gripes to Julia about keeping secrets but admits she’ll be happy to have a brother or sister. Julia’s meeting with William is uncomfortable. He’s gregarious and fun-loving—until she starts showing her research into Sarah’s past. William thinks she has the wrong man, until he shows her a photo of Sarah from 1942. It’s clearly his mother, but he thinks the photo is fake.

Upset, Julia returns to Paris empty-handed. Bertrand is livid that she’d run off all over the world without even consulting with anyone. They agree the marriage is over. At the Rainsferds’ Connecticut home, William shows up and talks to his father about Sarah. He describes the first time he met her, having fun with her at a dance hall despite her obvious underlying sadness. He explains how much energy he devoted to erasing that sadness, but he just couldn’t. Mr. Rainsferd hands William a diary Sarah kept from childhood through young adulthood. Inside is the key.

Two years later, Julia and Zoe have moved to New York. Zoe isn’t happy there. Julia and her two-year-old meet with William. William keeps thinking the baby’s name is “Lucy,” and he doesn’t quite understand when Julia repeatedly insists that Lucy is the name of the baby’s stuffed giraffe. After William apologizes, he says he found Starzynski cousins in Israel who made it through the Holocaust. Julia is happy that the Rainsferds have found some peace with this knowledge, since it destroyed Julia’s family. William is shocked and overcome with emotion when he learns the baby is actually named Sarah. He thanks Julia.

Comments:

Sarah’s Key aspires to tell the story of French compliance with the Nazi round-up of Jews through the eyes of an innocent 10-year-old girl. The story set in 1942 is fascinating and remarkable, but it’s intercut with a present-day subplot that serves as a huge distraction to the real heart of the story. As written, it merits a consider.

The first act sets up the parallel stories: Sarah’s family is rounded up, while Julia and her family move into the same apartment nearly 70 years later. From the start, Julia’s storyline detracts from the 1942 storyline. Aside from a few disheartening scenes pointing out how France seems to have forgotten their role in the extermination of Jews, the subplot adds nothing to what’s occurring in the past. Despite the fact that most of Julia’s story revolves around digging up information on Sarah, it never quite connects to Sarah’s storyline in a more meaningful way than simply providing on-the-nose information about the past.

As a result, Sarah’s story feels relegated to a few key sequences, while in the present, characters talk ad nauseam about what happened years ago. Julia interviewing for a story is a crutch that allows the present-day figures to deliver long monologues instead of finding more natural ways to inform the audience. It would be much more interesting, and likely have greater emotional impact, to see these conversations dramatized rather than simply described.

In the third act, the script virtually abandons the past, focusing solely on Julia’s quest to find Sarah’s relatives. As the writer reveals more information about Sarah’s post-war life, it’s clear that they’re telling the wrong story. Sarah’s life, from her harrowing escape to her tragic suicide, is endlessly fascinating, if a bit depressing. Julia’s story could never hope to be this interesting, so it’s frustrating that the writers spend so much time with her at the expense of Sarah.

It feels like Julia and Sarah should share some kind of bond that spans generations, cultures, and religions. They don’t. Aside from her investigative reporter traits, Julia has no clear reason to get so obsessive about learning Sarah’s story. Julia is, quite simply, never shown having any sort of emotional connection to the research—aside from the obvious sympathy any human would feel for children forced into such horrific circumstances. Such a connection would help greatly in showing why anyone in the audience should care about Julia’s story at all. Without it, the 2009 sequences feel like a distraction to lazily spoonfeed information to the audience, rather than finding more compelling ways to reveal the information.

As mentioned, what is learned about Sarah is exceptionally interesting—but the script doesn’t spend nearly enough time with her or her story. Her traumatic childhood led to a troubled adulthood that ended too early. That’s the stuff of great drama, so why do the writers shy away from it? They seem to believe the heart of the story is the mystery of what happened to Sarah after the war. Her life is the heart of the story, not the investigation into it.

However, the possibility exists that a great director and exceptional acting can overcome the narrative obstacles. Beyond that, the script is adapted from a bestselling novel that, one assumes, follows the same Julia-Sarah split narrative. If people liked the novel, they will come to the movie.

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House at the End of the Street

Author: David Loucka

Genre: Thriller

Storyline: 5

Dialogue: 8

Characterization: 6

Writer’s Potential: 6

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

After moving to a new town, a teenage girl befriends the lone survivor of a grisly mass murder, unaware that he has many dark secrets.

Synopsis:

In suburban Connecticut, a MOTHER and FATHER are roused in the middle of the night by their teen daughter, MARY JANE, who mumbles incoherently, obviously disturbed. The parents aregue about who should handle it, but before either of them get the chance, Mary Jane kills them both with a hammer before running out into the woods and disappearing. A few years later, ELISSA DONNELLY (16) and her mother, SARAH, travel from Pennsylvania to Woodshire, Connecticut, an old small town. While Sarah marvels at how clean and serene the place is, Elissa complains about how boring it seems. They pull up to their new house, and Elissa is finally impressed—the place is huge. Sarah comments that the house next door was the site of a gruesome murder a few years ago, which drove the property values way down. Over dinner, Sarah takes potshots at Elissa’s absent rock-singer father, to Elissa’s irritation. That night, Sarah sees a car pull up to the house next door. Someone goes into the house. She calls the realtor and learns that RYAN CRAWLEY (19), the son of the couple who was slain by their disturbed daughter, lives there.

Sarah and Elissa enjoy a welcoming barbecue at the Reynolds’ house. KERRI and her husband, BEN, seem like nice people. More than that, their son TYLER is an athlete and an honor roll student. Elissa finds herself attracted to Tyler and is quietly excited when he flirts with her. While they eat, Kerri and the neighbors complain about the Crawley house and the fact that Ryan refuses to sell it. Elissa learns that Ryan missed out on the murder after the Crawleys sent her to an aunt, because their daughter Mary Jane was such a handful. When Elissa finds out Mary Jane was schizophrenic, she wonders why they didn’t put her into a hospital. Nobody knows. What they do know is they want to burn the house down to bring their property values back up. After the barbecue, Sarah and Elissa decide they don’t like their neighbors, although Elissa does sort of like Tyler. The next morning, Sarah prepares for her first day of work—at the radiology lab at the local hospital—while Elissa prepares for her first day of school. They’re both amazed by the size and pristine condition of the high school.

Tyler invites Elissa to a meeting of his friends’ Famine Relief Group. Elissa agrees. After school, Tyler introduces Elissa to his friends. The Famine Relief Group is actually a secret party at the house of whoevers parents aren’t home. Rather than beating the streets for donation, the “group” just asks Tyler’s dad for the money and spends their time partying. Elissa’s uncomfortable with the arrangement, but Tyler convinces her to stay, though she won’t drink or smoke pot. Elissa goes into the bathroom, where she finds JILLIAN vomiting. Annoyed at how wasted everyone is, Elissa tries to leave. Tyler doesn’t want her to. He takes her phone and feels her up, so she smashes him in the crotch and flees the party, accidentally breaking a lamp. Outside, Elissa realizes she doesn’t know her way home. Ryan pulls up in his car, freaking her out until he introduces himself. She accepts a ride home. Ryan is awkward and seems a little creepy, but Elissa doesn’t notice—she’s attracted to his shy yet wounded demeanor. Ryan says he’s heard Elissa singing from his house. She says she wants to start a band here, but she doesn’t know enough people. Ryan drops Elissa off. Sarah spots them and thinks it’s Tyler’s mom. When she finds out it’s Ryan, she’s not happy, fearing Elissa is falling back to the same routines that drove them to move away from the city. Elissa goes to her room and sings, strumming her guitar. Sarah’s okay with this until she spots Ryan watching her from his house.

The next day at school, Elissa is an instant outcast. She bonds with Jillian, a sympathetic ex-girlfriend of Tyler’s. They become fast friends. At the hospital, Sarah befriends a local cop, WEAVER. She asks him about the Crawleys. Weaver’s sympathetic to Ryan’s reasons for not selling the house. He thinks the neighbors are a bunch of assholes for going to such great lengths to push him out of town and buy his house out from under him. Sensing an attraction, he apologizes for his brazen attitude. After school, Elissa drops by Ryan’s house as he’s unloading a huge amount of groceries. She’s made him a mix CD. She looks around the house cautiously and finds that it’s frozen in time, about 20 years out of date. Ryan treats the murder of his family with dark humor, impressing Elissa. She turns on the mix CD, but when she notices him getting lost in seemingly deep emotion, she turns it off. Ryan allows her to see the room where the murder took place—now empty, except for a dark brown stain. It creeps Elissa out, but she’s still strangely attracted to Ryan. As soon as she leaves, Ryan creeps into a mysterious bedroom, where he has Mary Jane chained to the bed. She’s violent and crazy until he injects her with a dose of sedatives. She relaxes and asks about Ryan’s new friend. Ryan gives her enough medication to knock her out.

Sarah gently warns Elissa not to get too close to Ryan—he’s too old for her, and he’s not a lost puppy they can rescue. Woozy, Mary Jane awakens. As Ryan listens to the mix CD, he can’t hear her break free of her restraints and sneak out of the house. When he discovers it, he chases her out into the woods and drags her back. Elissa hears the scuffle but can’t see what’s happening or even recognize it as people. The next day, Elissa and Jillian walk through the woods, talking about Ryan. They’re freaked out when they see a teen girl in a white dress wandering the woods. It turns out to be Jillian’s older brother, JAKE, who’s getting ready for Halloween. Elissa comes home to find Sarah invited Ryan over for dinner. Despite the fact that Ryan is going to community college to prepare for premed undergrad studies and going to regular therapy sessions, Sarah asks Ryan to leave Elissa alone. The dinner gets tense, so Ryan leaves, enraged. Elissa gets mad at Sarah for projecting her own fears onto Elissa.

After much effort, Elissa and Jillian find Ryan’s number and try to call it. The number’s been disconnected. Tyler and his friends come by and harass them. Elissa and Jillian happen to run into Ryan at a store in town. She apologizes for the dinner. Jillian notices Ryan is buying a puzzle, which he claims is for his aunt. Ryan gives them a ride home. After he drops off Jillian, Elissa goes back to Ryan’s house with him. Ryan wonders why she’s so nice to him. Elissa tries to dance around the answer by kissing him. This moves them in the direction of sex, but Mary Jane breaks out of her room and grabs a carving knife. Elissa doesn’t see this, but Ryan does, so he throws Elissa out of the house abruptly. Mary Jane runs out into the woods again. Ryan follows her, but this time he accidentally kills her. Panic-stricken, he puts the body in his trunk and races back home. While in the garage contemplating what to do with the body, Ryan hears Elissa outside. She’s seen the light in the garage and yells an apology. Ryan doesn’t answer. He pulls a gorgeous high-end wig off Mary Jane’s bald head and sets it aside, packing the car with syringes and toys and any other evidence of Mary Jane’s presence other than the wig. He plots a course to the mountains of Maine. There, he buries Mary Jane. On his way back, he stops in Portland and flirts with a pretty 17-year-old waitress.

Over the course of the week that Ryan is gone, Jillian formally introduces Elissa to Jake and his buddy, ROBBIE (who’s instantly smitten). They start playing in a band together. After rigorous practicing, they decide they’re ready for the Battle of the Bands. Ryan calls Elissa, claiming his aunt (the one who likes puzzles) died, which is why he left town. He apologizes. Elissa is immediately back to her focus on Ryan, to the chagrin of her new bandmates. Jillian doesn’t believe Ryan’s story, but Elissa does. They prepare for the Battle of the Bands in the gymnasium. Ryan shows up to support Elissa, but Elissa spots him out in the hall being harassed by Tyler. Ryan storms outside, angry. Tyler and his friends follow, saying hostile things about Elissa until Ryan snaps and beats the hell out of Tyler, viciously snapping his ankle. He’s rushed to the emergency room. Elissa is shocked to find that it’s Tyler, not Ryan, who’s lying on the ground in pain. She races into the woods and finds Ryan. When Tyler arrives at the ER, Sarah is his X-Ray tech. She’s horrified by what Ryan has done—it confirms all her suspicions about him. Worse than that, Weaver mentions offhandedly that Ryan isn’t in therapy or community college.

Elissa and Ryan go back to the Crawley house. Ryan is terrified that he’ll be arrested. Before they can dwell on it, Tyler’s friends throw rocks in the windows, toilet paper the trees, and light his garbage on fire before dumping it all on the lawn. Elissa chases them away and helps Ryan clean up. She notices some odd trash—nail polish, old syringes, vials, and an empty box of tampons. Ryan sends Elissa home when Weaver pulls up to talk to Ryan about the fight. She’s terrified. Sarah shows Elissa photos of Tyler’s leg to shock her into dropping Ryan. The next day, Elissa ditches school. She waits for Ryan to leave the house and sneaks inside, searching for Mary Jane. Down in the cellar, she finds drag marks by the clothes drier. Behind it is a panel, which leads to the secret bedroom of Mary Jane. Elissa is shocked. Ryan arrives shortly thereafter—he’s angry but not psychotic. Elissa tries to convince Ryan to take her to a hospital, where she can get proper treatment. Ryan blames himself for her problems. In flashbacks, we see him at 7, playing rough with a younger Mary Jane, accidentally dropping her from some swings. After he sends Elissa out of the room, Ryan beats on Mary Jane—knocking out one of her sparkling blue contact lenses.

Upstairs, Ryan hugs Elissa sympathetically and finds the contact lens. Realizing the truth, more flashbacks reveal that Mary Jane died, after which his parents dressed Ryan as Mary Jane and forced her to live as their daughter, as punishment for what he did. The identity issue drove him insane. It was Ryan who killed his parents, before coming back years later as Ryan. Elissa has lost her sympathy, so Ryan has no choice but to lock her in the room—but the other Mary Jane is gone. Ryan shoves blue contacts into Elissa’s eyes and shaves her head. He’s interrupted by the doorbell. It’s Sarah and Weaver, searching for Elissa. Acting normally, Ryan lets them search the house. Meanwhile, Elissa breaks free of her restraints and finds her way into a dank series of tunnels built under the Crawley house. It’s here that Elissa finds the former Mary Jane—ostensibly the waitress from Portland—who is disoriented from the drugs. Elissa helps her move through the tunnels, trying to find escape, but it’s a maze filled with hidden dead bodies.

Unable to find any escape, Elissa hears the sound of her mother through the pipes. She takes the girl back through the tunnels and up into the house. Ryan kills Weaver, and just before he can get to Sarah, Elissa hurls an ax through his neck. The FBI digs up the tunnels, finding body after body. They send out a multi-state alert for missing bodies. Elissa and Sarah watch as the waitress is reunited with her terrified parents. A closing scene depicts a grainy home movie of Ryan/Mary Jane’s mother violently beating him, forcing him to wear the wig and act the part of Mary Jane.

Comments:

House at the End of the Street strives to be a modern riff on classic suspense thrillers. The story starts with all the right elements, but the third act throws the “modern riff” idea out the window and relies on too many derivative clichés of the genre. As written, it merits a pass.

The first act opens with one of the most well-worn staples of this genre: a grisly murder scene shrouded in mystery, followed immediately by a family moving to a new town. This allows the new people to learn all about the mystery and attempt to draw conclusions based on hearsay and speculation. Although it’s all been done before, the writers combine some fresh takes on old favorites with novel parallels between characters like Tyler and Ryan and the Donnellys and the Crawleys.

The second act settles into an redundant pattern, however. Ryan does something moderately creepy yet easily explainable, Elissa doesn’t find it creepy, and then she consults with Sarah and/or friends, who insist the behavior is indeed creepy, yet Elissa refuses to believe it. It gets tiresome after the third or fourth repeated incident. Although Ryan’s weird behavior escalates—unknown by Elissa until the third act—the writer tips his hand about Mary Jane not being Mary Jane far too soon, robbing Ryan’s struggle to hide her body of any real suspense.

Although the first and second acts are a mixed bag, the third act is a total disaster. For starters, the twist that Ryan spent ages 7-15 impersonating Mary Jane (including killing his parents in that persona) is lifted wholesale from Psycho, one of the most well-known suspense thriller in the history of cinema. Adding insult to injury, the idea that he would go from impersonating Mary Jane to killing teen girls and forcing them to impersonate Mary Jane—all the while returning to the mild-mannered “Ryan” persona with ease—doesn’t ring true. Since these are the big mysteries the story builds to, the fact that they fall flat does a real disservice to the overall narrative. Beyond this, the third act leans heavily on dusty clichés: forcing the heroine to “become” Mary Jane, secret underground tunnels, hapless innocents unaware they’ve walked into a trap, the last-second murder of the big villain in order to save those innocents… All of these moments have been seen before, and the writer does nothing to innovate the conventions or defy expectations.

It’s ironic, considering how muddled and thin Ryan’s psychotic personality is, that the writer devotes so much time to explaining Elissa’s “caretaker” personality. Although he does use her actions to demonstrate this personality, the script includes at least five largely on-the-nose conversations explaining her caretaker tendencies. She’s a character with a fair amount of depth, but repeatedly hammering home this one trait is overkill, especially when it doesn’t add much but a cheap pop-psychology explanation for why she’d find Ryan attractive. It’s not far-fetched to assume a teenage girl would find an older man of mystery attractive, with or without a “caretaker” explanation.

The supporting characters are a mixed bag. As nuanced and subtle as characters like Sarah and Weaver are, the script is also populated with obnoxious stereotypes like Tyler and his parents. While they don’t have much story time, it would have been nice if the writer had tried a little harder to present them as believable people instead of caricatures of provincial yuppies.

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