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Mental

Author: PJ Hogan

Genre: Comedy

Storyline: 1

Dialogue: 4

Characterization: 3

Writer’s Potential: 3

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

A family is turned upside down when a woman is committed to an insane asylum and her husband brings home a hitchhiker to serve as nanny to his children.

Synopsis:

CORAL MOOCHMORE (16) is convinced she’s schizophrenic. At age 13, she attempted suicide by jumping off the veranda of her home and landed on father BARRY’s brand new car, knocking him unconscious. After consulting with the DSM-IV, Coral believes the only symptom of schizophrenia she lacks is voices. Her sisters (LEANN, KAYLEEN, JANE, and MICHELLE) tease her because they each show more evidence of mental illness (particularly Michelle, who hears voices in her head) than Coral does. Meanwhile, mother SHIRLEY is going insane in her own right, because of Barry’s frequent absences from family gatherings and the children running her ragged. She wishes they could be more like the Von Trapps from The Sound of Music, or at least like her seemingly perfect neighbor, NANCY. Everyone in the town of Dolphin’s Head thinks Shirley is either stupid or crazy, including Shirley’s sister, DORIS, who treats Shirley more like a child than an adult. Doris suggests Shirley go shopping to cure what ails her, so Shirley buys furniture and major appliances—so many that they crowd the house and end up on the lawn.

Meanwhile, Coral works at a local water park whose main attraction is a shark show featuring the corpse of a shark that allegedly killed a prime minister. Coral questions her boss, TREVOR, about whether or not it’s true. Trevor tells her to shine a flashlight through the shark. She does—and sees a dismembered human head inside the shark’s body. When Barry finally comes home and finds all the furniture, Barry has her committed at an insane asylum. The girls run Barry even more ragged than Shirley. While driving home from work, he spots a “normal-looking” hitchhiker (SHAZ) walking along the road with a terrifying dog. He offers Shaz a ride and brings her to the house to take care of the girls. Shaz quickly reveals herself to be more insane than Shirley—frequently cawing like a crow and rambling incoherently. The girls, particularly Coral, hate her. However, Shaz’s brash, in-your-face attitude wins them over when she starts insulting and barking orders at Nancy and Doris.

Coral takes her friend, TROUT, to see the shark show after closing time. She flashes her light into the shark, which freaks Trout out—but he realizes it’s just a rubber mask inside the shark. He kisses her, which leads to some heavy petting, which almost leads to sex—but Trevor jabs Trout with a prod, fearing he was attacking Coral. Trevor takes Coral out to dinner to warn her against males. Coral says she doesn’t mind, since she’s going insane. Trevor tells her he came close to insanity, after his daughter died and wife lost her mind. Coral sympathizes, mentioning Shirley is in the loony bin. At the loony bin, Shirley tells her therapist (unseen at first) about her history with Barry: he date-raped her, she got pregnant with Coral, and the happy ending is that he called for another date. The therapist is revealed to the audience as Shaz, who gives Shirley a lot of hackneyed advice about how to cope with her problems. She explains that there’s “defensive coping,” which is what Shirley’s doing, and “offensive coping,” which is what she should do. Another patient, SANDRA, recognizes Shaz and wonders why she’s impersonating a doctor. Shirley is too out of it to realize Shaz is deranged.

Shaz returns to the Moochmore home and drags the girls out of bed in the middle of the night. She forces them to climb a mountain, and once they reach the precipice, she gleefully announces that they can do anything, because whenever things get rough, they can remember they climbed this mountain. The girls discuss their feelings of mental illness. Shaz, who also has a copy of the DSM-IV, observes that everyone in their neighborhood is insane, if one went by clinical definitions. She observes that, although legend has it that Australia was formed as a penal colony, the truth is that it’s where the British sent its insane. Shaz takes the girls to a local bakery and tells them she stubbornly refuses to understand “conformity,” and as a result she’s being pursued by scientists. She needs the girls to form a protective army against the forces who want her. The snooty girls who work at the bakery, who once insulted Shirley and browbeat her into buying food she doesn’t want, try to pull the same shenanigans on Shaz, but she insults them and points out they suffer from “Sadistic Personality Disorder.” Then, she slams her DSM-IV shut on one of the girls’ faces. All the girls are impressed—except Coral, who is too crippled by low self-esteem to follow Shaz’s free-spirited advice. Shaz tells Coral she once threatened a doctor with a knife after he told her she only had six months to live. He took back his proclamation, and she lived longer than six months. Coral remains unsure.

Detectives with a very good description of Shaz come to the Moochmore home, looking for her. While Shaz hides, the girls give a false description of Shaz to throw them off her scent. Shaz brings Sandra and the girls to Nancy’s house, where they torment her by throwing boomerangs through her windows and mucking up her extremely tidy house and yard. Nancy overreacts, violently throwing them out of the house and burning all of her furniture, which results in her being sent to the asylum. Coral takes Trout to the shark show in the middle of the night. While they have sex, both Trevor and Shaz prowl around the couple—and Trevor recognizes Shaz. He tries to kill her, but she flees. Shaz drags Barry home from work by implying someone has died—turns out, she’s talking about the chicken she roasted. Barry is enraged. He treats Shaz horribly, so in the middle of the night she sits on his chest with her frightening dog growling at him as she shouts about his abuse and neglect of his children. Shaz forces Barry into the crawlspace under the house to fend for himself. Down there, they find Michelle, totally disoriented from the voices in her head. Coral realizes, based on Shaz’s ranting, that she was married to Trevor. Shaz tells Coral that Trevor’s full of shit—he tells everyone both she and their daughter died, but she’s alive, and their daughter’s being held by Trevor against his will. Once things calm down, Barry calls a psychiatrist to help Michelle.

Doris discovers her expensive doll collection is missing. Shaz announces she’s blackmailing Doris—she’ll return the dolls if Doris goes to the mental hospital and reassures Shirley. Doris does so, ineptly, under Shaz’s supervision. Barry shows up at the hospital, surprised to see Shaz and Doris there, and even more surprised to learn Shirley thinks Shaz is a doctor. Meanwhile, Coral and Shaz spy on Trevor, figuring out his routine, trying to identify where he’s keeping Shaz’s daughter and when the best time to get her would be. Now back at home, Shirley is surprised and terrified to find five black, shadowy figures surround her in the kitchen—it turns out to be the girls, prepared to go after Shaz’s daughter. Just then, the police pull up, led by Barry and Doris. They’re after Shaz. Shaz and the girls flee in her car, with Doris’s doll collection, which they toss out the window. Coral tries to convince Shaz to stop. She’s learned from Trevor that the daughter, Kim, died of a drug overdose. Shaz insists the shark at her—the one he claims ate the prime minister. Coral accuses Shaz of being a con artist, going from town to town, propping up damaged people so she can use them for her own gain before moving on, and now that she’s finally found Trevor, she’ll just betray them and move on. The other girls refuse to help Shaz, so she goes by herself. She goes to the shark show and attempts to retrieve the shark. Before she can, the police arrive and arrest her. In the hospital, Shaz accuses the girls of betraying her, but Shirley confesses she told the police where to find her.

Trevor fires Coral. He says that he hopes Shaz ends up killing herself, which will make everyone’s lives much easier. Coral is horrified. Shirley goes to see Barry at work and discovers he’s cheating on her. She’s enraged and leaves him. Coral drugs Trevor, and Trout ties him up and keeps watch. He explains that Coral and the girls went off to break Shaz out of the hospital and steal the shark. Shirley tries to delicately convince the nurses to release Shaz. When they won’t, she and the girls sing “Climb Every Mountain” from The Sound of Music, and Shaz hears them and comes running. Trevor breaks free of his restraints and zaps Trout with the shark prod. Shaz and the girls try to load the shark tank on the back of a rented truck, but the hydraulic lift can’t support the weight and it rolls away. They chase after the tank, just as Trevor arrives. He tells Shaz to stay away from the tank, and when she won’t, he shoots it, shattering the glass and releasing the formaldehyde. Trevor ties a rope around the shark’s head and attaches it to the truck’s winch, but everything goes sideways and both Trevor and Shaz are pulled into the ocean, along with the shark, which drags them down further.

Some time later, a distraught Barry starts randomly singing “Edelweiss” during a campaign fundraiser. He’s laughed at by donors, but Shirley and the girls show up and join him in a rousing chorus. Shaz mysteriously reappears in Doris’s home, standing with her pants around her knees, aiming her rear end at Doris’s most treasured doll, a lighter held beneath it. She unleashes a fart, and the blue flame destroys all of her dolls. Shaz and her dog run out through the countryside.

Comments:

Like the character Shaz, Mental is an incoherent mess. The scattershot story is exceptionally rambling and unfocused, the characters are overloaded with cloying quirks, and the frequent jarring tonal shifts don’t exactly help the script feel like a cohesive whole. As written, it merits a pass.

The story is a complete disaster, chaotic both structurally and tonally. The writer seems to have decided he wants to write a script about the Shaz character, but he doesn’t have any idea where to go with the story, so it just ambles in whatever direction seems interesting or amusing. This never jells into a coherent story. It’s not even clear who the main character is supposed to be—it starts out focused firmly on Coral, then moves on to Shirley until she’s institutionalized, then moves on to Shaz, then flips back to Coral. This is not a case of a layered ensemble each getting roughly equal time. This is purely a lack of focus.

The problems start in what can generously be called the first act. The Moochmores and their many quirks are introduced, but none of the characters’ actions, or their reasons for their actions, are ever really clear. Nothing anyone does has any real motivation, and none of the events depicted has any dramatic thrust. It’s simply a series of events, not building toward anything, not generating any suspense—and not even really generating any laughs. Granted, this is a comedy about mentally ill people, but the fact that it’s a comedy doesn’t forgive the lack of structure, and the fact that the characters are mentally ill doesn’t mean everything they do is arbitrary. There should, at the very least, be a consistent internal logic for the characters’ actions, even if they strike the audience as laughably insane.

Things don’t improve once Shaz hits the scene in the second act. The writer clearly wants her to be a memorable comic creation, but like the Moochmores in the first act, everything she does is frustratingly random and unmotivated. Worse than the Moochmores, much of what she does is incredibly creepy (wielding knives, siccing dogs on people, tearing apart others’ homes, forcing the children to climb mountains in the middle of the night, breaking into a mental hospital and pretending to be a doctor, etc.), which would cause any audience member to wonder about Barry’s sanity—but strangely, the writer never questions that. Barry picking up a cartoonishly insane hitchhiker and leaving them alone with his five underage children is perfectly acceptable in the mind of the writer—until he changes his mind late in the second act and decides Barry is neglectful and evil.

The story pretty much peters out in the third act, as the writer scrambles to tie up loose ends that aren’t all that loose, and aren’t all that interesting. He attempts to bring some pathos to Shaz’s character by chalking her insanity up to the death of her child, as well as backtracking to explain all those unclear, seemingly unmotivated actions in the first act, but that doesn’t undo the damage of how frustrating and confusing those early scenes are. The writer has already lost the audience, so all these long overdue explanations of weird behavior have arrived far too late to really matter.

The frantic pace and slipshod execution of the story does a lot of damage to the characters. Beyond the general lack of motivation and the writer’s apparent uncertainty about who the protagonist and antagonist are, each character is so overloaded with quirks, actual personalities fail to form. They’re just walking wackiness machines, doing and saying weird things that are supposed to be funny, but it’d all be a lot funnier if anything they did made even a tiny bit of sense. Coral and Shaz receive the most development, by virtue of the fact that they’re in the most scenes, but nobody—including these two—really seems to grow or change as a result of the events in the story. The family is brought together at the end through a lazy musical outburst, but Shaz isn’t exactly Marry Poppins. Her impact on the family, and the family’s impact on her, is never made clear.

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The Dog Squad: 3D

Author: Steve Carpenter

Genre: Comedy/Kids

Storyline: 5

Dialogue: 6

Characterization: 5

Writer’s Potential: 5

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

A ragtag group of dogs escape from a kennel and, with nowhere else to turn, enlist to become police dogs.

Synopsis:

CLINT (a serious-minded beagle) and DONUT (a fat bulldog who lacks impulse control) enter a supermarket, with hopes of stealing some dog food for survival. Donut gets distracted with the people food and goes nuts, running around the store, shoveling as much into his mouth as will fit. Shoppers are disgusted and terrified. The police are called in, and a few K9 German shepherds apprehend Clint and Donut. They’re turned over to DOBSON and CLARK, animal control officers. In their cell at the pound, they meet HECTOR (a lady’s-man chihuahua), SAMANTHA (an angry mutt), and BERT (a perpetually terrified, incontinent yellow labrador). Nobody likes Clint and Donut until Clint tells them he was a dog in the Secret Service, who was shamefully fired after sniffing what he thought was a bomb but was actually an empty gas can. A mother and son arrive at their cell to pick a dog. Samantha and Bert play up their cuteness, desperate to leave. Donut notices the kid has a corn dog, devours it, and unleashes an epic fart. The mother and son are both horrified, so they leave empty-handed.

The next morning, Clint overhears a TV news report about a new initiative to train dogs of all breeds to become police dogs, to save money on the expensive German shepherds. Clint thinks they should all escape and enlist in the program, but Donut thinks things are great in the kennel. Hector lets them in on a secret: if nobody comes to claim or adopt them after 30 days, they’re taken through the mysterious “red door.” Nobody knows what’s beyond the red door, but the dogs who go through it don’t come back. Terrified, Donut agrees to Clint’s plan. Dobson and Clark torment the dogs instead of feeding them properly. When Samantha rebels, Dobson decides it’s time for her to go through the red door. Clint has come up with a plan for escape, but it’s undermined by Hector, who’s tiny enough to walk through the gaps in the bars. He leaps up and pushes a button to unlock the cell doors. They flee, narrowly escaping their captors, and get on a bus headed for the police station. Samantha thanks Clint for saving her life.

At the K9 training academy, the mayor is irritated to discover no dogs have shown up. Before long, Clint and the gang arrive, to the irritation of Drill Instructor PIKE. He’s a stereotypical, in-your-face D.I., who browbeats his crop of “soldiers,” much to their fear and annoyance. Samantha responds with anger, and Bert pees on Pike, but he insists he’ll whip them into shape over the course of the six-week program. The German shepherd K9s scoff at this weak bunch. That night, the other dogs are angry at Clint for dragging them into this. Hector tries to escape, but can’t squeeze through the chainlink fence. At dawn, Pike wakes the dogs noisily and forces them to run a grueling obstacle course. None of them have the strength or stamina to complete it. Clint comes the closest. Pike has the German shepherd officers run it, just to show the others how pathetic they are.

Dobson and Clark show up to retrieve the dogs, but Pike refuses to give them up. They claim to have an order from the county, but Pike points out it’s merely a parking ticket. Annoyed, Dobson and Clark leave, vowing to think of some way to get their dogs back. That night, the dogs are despondent. Donut is so upset, he can’t even eat. He confesses that, as a puppy, he was the runt of the litter, so he always had to struggle to get fed. When he got a human family, he would eat everything in sight, so no humans would keep him for long. Dobson and Clark break into their kennel. Clint shows the others how to flatten, and the two guards assume the kennel is as empty as the others. They leave, disappointed and empty-handed.

The next day, Pike introduces them to the “sniffing” section of the obstacle course. Clint is too traumatized by his Secret Service experience to participate. Pike is angered and disappointed by Clint’s refusal to participate. He sends Clint to the “Square of Shame.” To Clint’s surprise, Pike commiserates. He recalls being a wild child—until a K9 officer took a chunk out of his arm, the wake-up call he desperately needed. That night, Clint has trouble sleeping. Samantha sees him staring out at the night. She tells Clint he’s lucky to have a second chance—most dogs don’t get that. Samantha confesses she ended up here because her anger caused her to lash out at kids, and she started nipping. Clint tells her to focus the anger and use it in the training. Samantha tells Clint to do the same.

A montage depicts their continued training: marching, slowly improving at the obstacle course, sniffing suitcases, learning commands. Meanwhile, Dobson and Clark invest in a “compliance collar” (one of those steel collars on a long pole that police use when confronted with dangerous dogs) to retrieve their missing dogs. They hear pounding from behind the red door. Dobson opens it, revealing WOLFF (“Dog the Bounty Hunter, but nastier”). Wolff runs a secret dogfighting ring and needs more dogs. Dobson and Clark are out of dogs to sell him, but they promise him five vicious, police-trained dogs—for a higher price than normal. Wolff agrees to it. Pike sends the dogs on a ride-along with human officers. Most of the cops match the temperaments of their animal charges (Donut is paired with a fat, lazy cop, for instance). As a result, they all get excellent commendations for the humans. Pike is shocked by the praise, because they’re all still terrible at the obstacle course. However, as a show of good faith, he gives them a day off before the final test. The dogs all go to the beach to blow off steam. Even Pike shows up.

On the morning of their big test, Clint inflates Samantha’s self-esteem by telling her that her mutt heritage doesn’t mean she’s “nothing”—it means she’s “everything.” Donut struggles to get over the climbing wall. He manages to do it with Clint’s encouragement. Although all the dogs start off well, each makes a series of mistakes that causes them to fail the test: Donut falls off the balance beam, Hector is flung through the air by a teeter-totter, Bert urinates all over a man in a padded suit he’s supposed to attack, and Samantha attacks the same man without being instructed to by Pike. This leaves Clint, who gets all the way to the suitcase-sniffing exercise before refusing to continue—partly out of fear of failure, partly because he’d rather be with his friends than be on the force. Clint sees Dobson and Clark in the Animal Control van, waiting. The dogs have one more night to stay in the training center kennel before they’re released.

In the middle of the night, Pike unlocks the gate, announcing that he’s duty bound to turn them over to Animal Control—unless they escape. As they’re leaving, the dogs notice Dobson and Clark sneaking into the kennel. They find the empty one, but undeterred, they go to the kennel filled with the German shepherd officers, luring them into their van with steaks. Pike sees what Dobson and Clark are doing and orders them to stop—so Dobson knocks Pike unconscious. They drag him into the van. Reluctantly, the dogs agree they must save the others. They have to rely on Clint’s nose to find out where Dobson and Clark are leading them. Clint doesn’t have much faith, but the others prop him up. He leads them to a construction site, where Dobson and Clark wait for Wolff to arrive.

Clint and the others launch Hector across the construction site. He slams into Dobson and Clark, surprising them. Dobson tries to attack with a 2×4, but ends up whacking Clark instead. Clint leads the other dogs to attack Dobson and Clark. They wrap the pair in a big net and toss them into a vat of wet cement. Bert frees the German shepherds from the van. They revel in their victory, but it’s short-lived—Wolff shows up and holds Pike hostage with his gun. He orders all the dogs to come with him, or he’ll kill Pike. Menacing, Clint keeps moving forward, causing Wolff to keep moving back, until he backs up against an electric fence and is fried to death. The dogs and Pike celebrate. Samantha asks how Clint knew Wolff wouldn’t shoot. Clint proudly declares he could smell the fear. At the K9 graduation ceremony, Pike proudly introduces the new team of officers to an excited crowd. Pike leads the dogs on a march through the beach. Over the credits, each of the dogs explains (through Cops-like interviews) how they’ve each managed to overcome obstacles to become successful police officers. Clint and Samantha are married and have a litter of puppies. Pike arrives to lead their litter on a march.

Comments:

The Dog Squad: 3D is a cute concept for a kids’ movie, and not much else. Overall, the story lacks conflict and is loaded with filler to pad it out to feature length. As written, it merits a pass.

The first act competently establishes the characters and the major sources of conflict (overcoming their own fears while avoiding Animal Control). However, from the moment the dogs arrive at the K9 training center until the moment in the third act when Dobson and Clark kidnap Pike and the German shepherds, not much of note happens to the characters. They train poorly, feel anxiety about the difficulties of the training, and continue to train poorly. There’s not much jeopardy for the dogs, as they’re well-protected from Animal Control when they’re within the training center (and there’s no mention of them being turned back over to Animal Control until the third act, so there’s no suspense there), and the goal to successfully run the obstacle course and become police officers is played with the lowest possible stakes. It may seem strange to talk about high stakes and suspense in a kids’ movie, but giving kids cute, anthropomorphic dogs will only hold their attention for so long before they get bored and move on to something more compelling.

In the third act, something interesting finally happens: after failing their test, the dogs are forced to prove their worth and foil Dobson and Clark’s kidnapping scheme. It all goes by so quickly and easily, however, that it’s an unsatisfying conclusion to a mostly unsatisfying story. Worse than that, the script hits on a few too many uncomfortable adult themes (ostensibly to keep parents interested), such as depictions of dogfighting, choking animals, holding hostages at gunpoint, and dialogue frequently laced with sexual innuendo and, for some reason, politics. It’s creepy and off-putting to find material like this in a kids’ movie, and it causes the script to suffer from a problem not uncommon to kids’ fare: it’s too adult for kids, but too kid-friendly for adults. Some of this “adult” material exists solely to attempt to raise the stakes, but it does a poor job of that, so why does it need to be here?

The characters don’t really rise about the level of stereotype, but they’re about as well-developed as they need to be for a kids’ movie. Each has a well-defined hurdle to overcome, and although their struggles create a lot of unnecessary repetition in the second act, it leaves the audience with the decent (if overused) moral that people shouldn’t let fear prevent them from succeeding. Clint is effective as the protagonist, the other dogs are moderately entertaining in their ineptness, and Dobson and Clark are decent enough as villains, although they come across more as stupid than sinister, which again contributes to the lack of jeopardy.

The only character who doesn’t really work is Wolff: the only thing he contributes to the story are the disturbing elements that don’t quite work (he’s the dogfighting ringleader, and he’s the one threatening to murder people at the end). He also has the unfortunate side effect of making Dobson and Clark seem like idiotic patsies instead of actual villains. Wolff, himself, is not really the villain of the story. Everything he does is just a failed attempt to raise the stakes, but his presence inadvertently lowers them by deflecting the “light-hearted menace” Dobson and Clark should possess.

Despite reservations about the quality of the story, an effective promotional campaign will likely draw a sizable audience in its opening weekend. However, positive word-of-mouth is bound to be low, as are DVD/Blu-ray sales.

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The Fallen

Author: Emilio Mauro and Michael Yebba

Genre: Action/Crime/Drama

Storyline: 4

Dialogue: 5

Characterization: 4

Writer’s Potential: 4

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

A Marine-turned-firefighter grapples with drug addiction and criminal friends.

Synopsis:

Marine MIKE KELLY (23) drunkenly picks a fight in a biker bar, to the chagrin of his wife, LISA. One of his opponents pulls a knife and nearly severs Mike’s thumb. Two years later, Mike arrives for his first day at a South Boston firehouse. His lieutenant, O’BRIEN, introduces Mike to the rest of the crew: McNULTY, NEE, RODRIGUEZ, WASHINGTON. As the new probationary officer, they sentence Mike to cleaning the kitchen and bathrooms. Later, Mike picks up daughter AMY (8) from Lisa’s place. Things are tense between Mike and Lisa. That night, Mike is awakened by some old friends (including DANNY), who insist he must go with them to see JOE, recently released from prison. Mike gets a neighbor to babysit Amy while he goes to a pub to meet Joe. After talking about women and Mike’s new job, Joe asks Mike to join him on a drug-dealing plan. Mike refuses, saying he’s clean now.

Some time later, Mike catches his first fire. The other guys good-naturedly mock his inexperience. They take Mike out to a bar to celebrate. When he comes home, Joe, Danny, and DINK (Joe’s little brother) are waiting. They drive him around and explain their plan: they’ll steal Oxycontin from all the local pharmacies and sell it. They’ve already made $10,000 after stealing a mere 500 pills. Mike adamantly refuses. Joe invites Mike to a party. Mike demures until he finds out JILL RYAN will be there. Mike takes Amy to the zoo. She confesses that some of the boys at school called her ugly. After reassuring her, Mike takes his crew to school to threaten the boys, who are all terrified. At the firehouse, McNulty hints that he knows about Mike’s shady past and hopes Mike still has enough connections to score him some drugs. Mike won’t.

Mike goes to Joe’s party, where he’s well-known by everyone. Jill (high as a kite) is there with her unpleasant boyfriend, KEVIN. Joe tells Mike that Kevin’s working with him, selling in Hartford and Providence. Mike warns Joe not to get too close to “Five Families” territory, but it falls on deaf ears. Mike decides to go with Joe, Dink, and Jill to buy cigarettes. He’s shocked when Joe comes back with a bunch of candy and Oxycontin. At a particularly brutal fire, Mike is separated from the crew by a backdraft and a fallen beam. He tries to axe his way through the drywall in one of the rooms when he sees a little girl trapped in the room. He gets her out through the window, and just as he’s about to go back in after O’Brien and Nee, an explosion rocks Mike.

He wakes up in the hospital burn ward, covered in burns, with a massive head injury. He’s prescribed opiate painkillers, and before long he’s addicted again. The crew comes to visit him once he’s released from the hospital. O’Brien thanks him for saving his life, but Mike downplays it. He returns to work, possibly a little too soon. They’re called in on a strange call—an elderly couple, attempting to have sex, resulted in the husband having a heart attack. He tells them he needs his medication, but his wife is too senile to give it to him. Mike goes into the bathroom to get the medication, but he finds a bottle of Percocet, as well, and pockets it. Nee witnesses this theft. Before long, Mike is a full-time addict again. He comes after Joe to buy drugs, but instead he finds Jill (who is now living with Kevin, Joe, and Dink). Jill invites her in, and although he’s attracted to her, he treats her horribly because she’s on heroin. They have sex, but they’re caught in the act when Kevin, Dink, and Joe come home. Kevin comes after Mike, who simply allows himself to be beaten. Dink pulls a gun on Kevin, and Joe fires him. Kevin gripes that they owe him $12,000. Mike warns Joe about Kevin, making him and Dink promise not to retaliate in any way.

Some time later, Lisa comes after Mike for the child support he owes her. He pays her entirely in cash, and she’s instantly suspicious. Mike falls asleep when it’s his turn to watch the firehouse. He’s suspended without pay. Danny shows up at Mike’s apartment to tell him Kevin stole Dink’s supply of Oxycontin, and Dink and Joe have gone after him. Mike and Danny speed to the confrontation. Mike manages to defuse the tension and get everyone out unscathed—until Kevin starts saying derogatory things about Jill. Mike beats the shit out of him. Mike helps Joe and Jill plan and execute the robbery of a CVS pharmacy, using a series of stolen cars. Mike takes Jill to a high-end jewelry store, where he pays for extremely expensive items using fresh $100 bills.

Mike, Joe, and Dink count their money. Mike realizes that he’s probably never going back to the firehouse. Dink tells them Kevin got out of the hospital and has been spreading a rumor that his friends from New Jersey might be coming to take Joe and his crew down a notch. Mike tells them they don’t have the firepower to take on any big New York crews. Mike comes home to find Jill has overdosed on heroin. He rushes her to the hospital. When he confronts Joe and Dink about where she could have gotten it, he realizes it probably traces back to Kevin. Mike and Jill try to detox together. Jill sneaks out and scores, to Mike’s disappointment. When Mike finds out she scored from Kevin, he gets his gun and storms out to find Kevin. He doesn’t find Kevin, but he does find a bunch of his buddies, all high as kites.

On his way back home, Mike sees a cop. Paranoid, he runs into a cathedral and hides in the confessional. He admits his drug dealing, and the priest asks if he wants to be forgiven. Mike doesn’t. Mike returns to his apartment to find Jill’s mother taking her to a clinic. When Mike tries to stop her, she pulls a gun on him. High as a kite, Mike meets Lisa to give her the child support money. She refuses to take it, and refuses to let Mike see Amy. Mike goes to her van and tries to pull Amy out. Amy’s willing to go, but Lisa starts threatening Mike. Eventually, he gives up. Lisa tells Mike she’s going to move to Pennsylvania with the man she’s seeing, and hopefully Mike will never see her again.

Completely despondent, Mike upgrades to heroin, using one of his firefighting medals to tie himself off. O’Brien comes by Mike’s apartment for a man-to-man talk. Like Mike, O’Brien came up in “Southie” and understands the life. He knows Mike has it in him to be a good man, but Mike doesn’t think he’ll ever change. O’Brien gives Mike the number of a detox center. Mike checks himself in, but he has second thoughts and leaves. Instead, he hooks up with Joe and Dink for a final big score—on a van from an Oxycontin distribution facility. Mike is calculated and precise despite his intoxication, but he doesn’t count on Dink’s ineptitude. Dink gets nervous and shoots one of the van drivers. Mike tries to keep the driver alive, as the police close in on them. They barely manage to escape, but Dink is fatally shot by the police. Joe decides they need to unload their product immediately, so Dink’s death won’t be in vain. They drive to the shipyard to meet their connection, but Mike is angered when he learns it’s Kevin.

Kevin and his cronies show up, ready to double cross Mike and Joe—but first, Kevin’s JERSEY GUY kills Kevin and his men, and he wants to kill Mike and Joe, as well, deciding that Boston dealers need to be out of the business. Joe manages to get to the car. Mike is able to kill Jersey Guy. Joe won’t let Mike into the car. He speeds away, leaving Mike to take the fall. Mike throws the money into the bay and starts running. He reaches the cathedral, which is on fire, and is being put out by his old crew. Mike sees the cause of the fire: Joe’s car smashed into the church and went up in flames. Mike helps his fellow firefighters put out the blaze.

Five years later, Mike works as a housepainter. He’s just been released from prison. Jill stops by to see him for the first time since he’s been released. They have a tentative conversation. Jill announces she’s going to go to Detroit and attempt to make something of herself. She writes her number on Mike’s hand. Mike goes back to his painting.

Comments:

The Fallen is a drab, leaden attempt at an action script. It can’t seem to figure out if it wants to be a bombastic action flick about macho drug dealers, or a depressing character study of a pathetic drug addict. As a result of trying to awkwardly cram these two stories together, it ends up telling neither story particularly well. As written, it merits a pass.

Right out of the gate, the story hits a number of familiar beats: Mike is a brooding antihero with a dark past, struggling to make something of his life even though his friends keep pulling him back to his criminal life. The first act isn’t strictly bad—it’s just a dull, paint-by-numbers effort that hits the same notes as many other attempts at “thoughtful” action movies. The second act does up the ante a little bit, by saddling Mike with an opiate addiction (followed by a full-blown heroin addiction). However, when the “drug-addicted criminal” scenes in the second act aren’t stealing from Goodfellas, the portrayal of Mike is extremely inconsistent. He goes from a man who can, while strung out, plan masterful robberies, to a man who has to resort to snatching $10 bills from a convenience store cash register to pay his child support—and this is not an attempt to show a downward slide, because he bounces back to “master criminal” mode a few scenes later, despite his worsening dependence on heroin.

The third act inserts high melodrama, bordering on campy, between raucous but startlingly derivative action sequences. It reaches its nadir when Mike confesses all his sins in a cathedral (in the world’s laziest attempt to reveal to the audience what this normally taciturn character is thinking), which later Joe drives into, causing it to catch fire. Why does Joe drive into it? Doesn’t matter—it’s symbolism! The third act also tries to make far too much out of characters who are either repugnant (Joe and Dink) or poorly developed (Kevin). If this is a script about a man who loses everything to criminal behavior and heroin addiction, it should focus a little more on the loss of his ex-wife and child than the loss of his jackass criminal buddies.

As mentioned, Mike’s character ultimately becomes very inconsistent in the midst of the drug haze. Part of the problem is that he’s the “strong and silent” type—at first, this is remedied by having the other characters talk nonstop (in mostly on-the-nose fashion) about who he is and what drives him. However, it reaches a point where he’s alone the majority of the time, and he starts doing strange things that could maybe be chalked up to the poor decision-making skills of an addict, but that’s meeting the writers more than halfway. Because of the way the behavior is portrayed, it feels more like sloppy writing than a conscious decision—especially when Mike finally spills the beans in a church confessional, in a shockingly hackneyed scene.

The supporting characters are a vast sea of unpleasant people. Some (like Joe and Dink) have a reasonable amount of depth, but most simply exist to either anger or betray Mike. Across the board, they’re portrayed as grotesque and monstrous, with the lone exception of Mike’s daughter, Amy. However, like the priest in the awful church confessional scene, Amy exists as little more than a cheap window into Mike’s soul. She’s not a character so much as a cheap device to make Mike feel conflicted for a few scenes, before binging on Oxycontin and forgetting he even has a daughter.

At its core, this is an action-movie story written by people who wanted to write more than a simple action movie. It doesn’t quite work out for them. The writers would have been better off dropping the heroin addiction and having a little fun with the ridiculous, over-the-top nature of its Mafia conspiracies and “Southie” histrionics. Significant rewriting is required to make this script commercially viable.

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A Beginner’s Guide to Endings

Author: Jonathan Sobol

Genre: Comedy

Storyline: 5

Dialogue: 6

Characterization: 5

Writer’s Potential: 5

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

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

Synopsis:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Raven

Author: Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare

Genre: Crime/Drama/Historical

Storyline: 5

Dialogue: 5

Characterization: 5

Writer’s Potential: 5

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

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

Synopsis:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Man Who Killed Don Quixote

Author: Tony Grisoni and Terry Gilliam

Genre: Comedy/Fantasy

Storyline: 7

Dialogue: 8

Characterization: 6

Writer’s Potential: 7

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Reluctant pass

Logline:

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

Synopsis:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Dangerous Method

Author: Christopher Hampton

Genre: Drama/Historical

Storyline: 5

Dialogue: 7

Characterization: 6

Writer’s Potential: 6

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

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

Synopsis:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Transit

Author: Michael Gilvary

Genre: Action/Thriller

Storyline: 7

Dialogue: 7

Characterization: 7

Writer’s Potential: 7

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Strong consider

Logline:

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

Synopsis:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Safe

Author: Boaz Yakin

Genre: Action

Storyline: 3

Dialogue: 3

Characterization: 4

Writer’s Potential: 4

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

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

Synopsis:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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This Must Be the Place

Author: Paolo Sorrentino & Umberto Contarello

Genre: Drama

Storyline: 2

Dialogue: 3

Characterization: 3

Writer’s Potential: 3

Jump to: [Synopsis] [Comments]

Recommendation?

Pass

Logline:

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

Synopsis:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Comments:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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