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April 27, 2012

Script Reviews: A Double Dose of Dumb — Safe and The Raven

Safe by Boaz Yakin

J.J. Abrams didn’t invent the cliché, but he certainly did perfect it. You know how every other episode of Alias opened in medias res, and Syd seemed like she was about to get taken down for good. Smash cut to: Credit Dauphine, 48 hours earlier, and the first half of the episode builds to that moment, while the second half expands on it. Abrams shows frequently overuse this device — he even used it, albeit effectively, in Mission: Impossible III — and their popularity (among creative types, moreso than “the masses”) led to widespread abuse of a flawed narrative device.

Nowhere have I seen it more poorly used than in Safe, an unmitigated disaster brought to you by the same writer as the equally sloppy Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Boaz Yakin, whose name is more entertaining than much of his career output (low blow, sorry), managed to craft an in medias res opening, a “how they got here” flashback, and the resolution to the opening in the space of the first ten pages. You might think, “Wow! Breathless action!” If you read it, you’ll think, “Wow! Where’s the suspense?” Isn’t the basic narrative premise of this type of opening to keep the audience in suspense? At the start, we get to see the metaphorical bomb, which should leave us guessing at every turn. Is that bagboy at the grocery store the guy who’s going to stick him with a paralyzing drug and dump him off at the shady Chinese chemist’s dirty lab?

After a dizzying opening that barely makes sense even after the flashbacks, Safe rewinds a year to show Luke’s (Jason Statham) motivation: for unclear reasons (until later), the Russian mob kills his entire family in front of him and hopes the subsequent guilt and despair will cause him to commit suicide. They’re all surprised when Luke — who, by the way, is a master assassin — decides to take revenge instead of taking his own life.

This should be a great dumb-action-movie twist. You know me: I love dumb action movies. However, I find it personally offensive when a dumb action movie doesn’t know what it is and unsuccessfully sets its aspirations higher than its genre will allow. Such is the case with Safe, which shackles psychopathic loner Luke with adorable Chinese moppet Mei (Catherine Chan), whom he needs to keep safe (get it?) from the Chinese Triad, the Russian Mob, and corrupt New York cops and politicos. Yakin wants us to believe a sort of father-daughter relationship exists between these two characters, and that Luke changes for the better over the course of the script. It uses the line “I didn’t save you — you saved me” without irony.

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Posted by D. B. Bates on April 27, 2012 11:31 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (1)

October 17, 2011

Kevin Spacey Awards Grab Double Feature: Margin Call by J.C. Chandor and Father of Invention by Jonathan D. Krane and Trent Cooper

Well, it’s Monday, and I’m cranky, and the new At the Movies tells me Father of Invention and Margin Call will both be hitting theatres soon. I could do a Script to Screen on either of them, but let’s face it: I’m not going to see either one. Let’s take a look at them now, shall we?

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Posted by D. B. Bates on October 17, 2011 10:23 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

September 23, 2011

Script to Screen: Drive

[As one might expect from an article called “Script to Screen,” this article is a spoilertastrophe for Drive. If you haven’t seen it, don’t read it.]

Let’s get this out of the way first thing: Drive is a terrible script. I don’t usually pay much attention to news and gossip, but it’s hard to avoid when Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, Bryan Cranston, Ron Perlman, and my beloved Albert Brooks sign on to a script that ranks near the very bottom of the shit heap I’ve read (keep in mind, I read Law-Abiding Citizen, so that’s saying something). “Maybe,” I speculated, “the script has dramatically changed to make it appealing to competent actors.”

It hasn’t, but — get this — I actually liked the movie. They changed the absolute worst thing about the script — a serious, debilitating plot hole — But did I like the movie for what it was, or what it imitated? Because, you see, Drive’s greatest liability and second-greatest asset (the greatest being the quality of the actors, elevating material far beyond the cheap, B-movie schlock it should have been) is director Nicolas Winding Refn’s self-conscious aping of early Michael Mann. Drive rehashes Thief, both in style and in content (swap out safe-cracking for stunt driving, and it’s basically the same movie), right down to the cursive, hot-pink credits and abuse of low-rent synth-pop.

The thing about Mann, for me, is that he knows how to blend the superficial gloss of contemporary coolness with the grit that permeates…pretty much everything in modern society. The Tangerine Dream score of Thief was not a self-conscious throwback or an attempt to emulate earlier directors. Tangerine Dream was just a few years past its peak popularity, and I’d make the argument that synth-pop evolved naturally from disco by amping up the experimental digital sounds and eliminating actual instruments. Synth-based pop was quickly becoming the Next Big Thing, but Mann heard the darkness and the coldness underneath the peppy veneer and exploited that to create Thief’s mood. Mann has always used music expertly in his films, but it comes across as both derivative and self-conscious to simply ape choices he made 30 years ago rather than looking at the underlying reasons for those choices and finding a modern equivalent.

That said, the overwhelming majority of Mann’s movies — especially his crime epics — are so fucking good, pilfering his style can only help a bad script. One could argue that makes Drive style over substance, but Refn steals Mann’s style expertly. Ignoring all the self-consciousness (like the dingy, ’80s aesthetic of “Driver“‘s apartment), Refn creates the cinematic equivalent of highway hypnosis through the motion (or lack thereof) of his camera and expert sound design, lulling us into a false sense of calm until the relentlessly — almost comically — violent second half.

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Posted by D. B. Bates on September 23, 2011 10:00 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

August 19, 2011

Dual Script Reviews — Conan and Untitled Lucas & Moore Comedy (a.k.a., Flypaper)

It’s been awhile, and I figured I should get back into this since I’ve noticed a half-dozen scripts I’ve read have made their thrilling theatrical (or direct-to-video) releases over the past few months, and I failed to reenact the death of Dennis Nedry by spewing poisonous dilophosaur bile in their general direction.

I’ll be honest: I haven’t really kept up on movies this year. I think, after the end of The Parallax Review, the only new releases I’ve seen have been Source Code, Bridesmaids, and The Tree of Life. Oh, and Super, the movie of the year. After hearing some positive buzz, I did decide to check out Ceremony to see if it amounted to more than its terrible script. I made it through about fifteen minutes before my Z’Dar-esque face flushed with rage and I shut it off in disgust.

Below, I’ll be reviewing scripts for two more movies I’ll probably never see. I may check out Conan solely because the love of my life, Rachel Nichols, is in it. As she knows from the thousands of fan letters I’ve sent, I will watch anything she’s in from P2 to blurry secret recordings of the outside of her house recorded by a crappy cell phone. Not my crappy cell phone. A totally different one that I also own.

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Posted by D. B. Bates on August 19, 2011 3:51 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

April 15, 2011

Script Review: Ceremony by Max Winkler

[In lieu of actual content, for the next several weeks I will present, at least, one review of an upcoming film each week. These are scripts that I’ve been paid money to read, and many of them contain watermarking, identification numbers, password-protection, and other ways of tracking what company it was sent to; because of this and my desire to keep my job, I will not offer downloads for ANY of the scripts I review here. Don’t bother asking.]

“Now, Henry Winkler — there’s a father. Listen to what he told a close friend. ‘I don’t always keep my cool like the Fonz, but my love for my kids has given me plenty of happy days.’” — The Simpsons, “Saturdays of Thunder”

Ceremony confines its setting to a weekend-long bacchanal, and that decision is where it goes wrong. It’s not the single setting in and of itself. Plenty of films, many of them set at weddings (Robert Altman’s A Wedding leaps to mind, and though I’m generally not a big Altman fan, his film pretty much does everything right that Ceremony does wrong), have utilized this type of single-setting technique in effective ways. From claustrophobia (Das Boot, Lifeboat — which manages to generate claustrophobia on the open goddamn sea) to farce (Death at a Funeral) to all those filmed plays where disparate characters share intense experiences and find out new things about themselves and each other (A Raisin in the Sun and The Big Kahuna among the zillions out there), use of one setting over a short period of time can amp up tension more than just about anything else. In fact, my favorite film of last year, Lebanon, utilizes this technique masterfully.

I wonder if this style of storytelling stems from the days when large family systems had the misfortune of sharing a single, cramped dwelling (those days aren’t as long ago as one might imagine, and in many non-American cultures it’s still quite common). That’s just an idle thought that has little to do with anything.

The problem with Ceremony has less to do with its setting than with the story told within that setting. In every film mentioned above (and plenty more), the story and characters are inextricably linked to the choice of setting. Those stories would not be more compelling if things were expanded. This might sound like a violation of the “show, don’t tell” rule, especially in the case of the filmed plays. The rules say that it’s a movie — you can show anything, so why would you have a character tell a story to his friends instead of showing the story to the audience?

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Posted by D. B. Bates on April 15, 2011 8:57 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

June 3, 2010

Script Review: Five Killers (a.k.a., Killers) by Bob De Rosa, Ted Griffin and Michael Brandt & Derek Haas

[In lieu of actual content, for the next several weeks I will present, at least, one review of an upcoming film each week. These are scripts that I’ve been paid money to read, and many of them contain watermarking, identification numbers, password-protection, and other ways of tracking what company it was sent to; because of this and my desire to keep my job, I will not offer downloads for ANY of the scripts I review here. Don’t bother asking.]

Without having seen the movie, I speculate that everything that’s gone wrong with Five Killers can be traced to the title change: from the fairly specific (or, at least, enigmatically intriguing) Five Killers to the generic, not-at-all-compelling Killers. I say this based mainly on promos that fancy this a wacky, action-packed romance a la Date Night or Did You Hear About… God, I’m bored before I even finish the title of that piece of shit. They don’t get into what the script is actually about, which is disappointing, because it’s actually a funny story. I’ve complained a lot about the spy scripts I had to endure during the last half of 2008 and first half of 2009, but Five Killers was among the cream of the crop.

Even though I mostly liked the script (and The Spy Next Door, for that matter, although it turns out I read a different one than the script that actually got made), it got me thinking about the whole spy thing again. Much like changing from Five Killers to Killers, the fact that the overwhelming majority of the spy scripts I had to read were comedies — even if they’re good comedies — speaks volumes about the hackery that has slowly corroded Hollywood. I think the prevailing mentality is, “Every story’s been done, so there’s no sense in trying to engage an increasingly aloof audience with pathos and drama in a story they’ve already seen.” Writing a spy comedy is easier. Conventional (wrong) wisdom tells you the spy plot doesn’t matter, and if it gets so hole-filled it resembles John Holmes’s underwear circa 1979, you just insert a quick scene of characters trying to figure out the plot and lapping themselves. Pointing out the shortcomings of your script is way easier than fixing it.

More than that, you can hide from real emotion and suspense by undercutting anything serious with a wacky, unexpected moment. It’s sort of like Hollywood is now catering to the “nervous giggle” reaction many people have to visceral moments in horror movies. Now, the audiences don’t have to feel like depraved/confused monsters laughing at graphic depiction of murders, because the movie says it’s okay to laugh. Maybe I’m off-based on that assumption, but I do know that inserting cheap laughs just when the characters are about to feel and/or express genuine emotions like “fear” or “manimal lust,” the writers back away from it and slide in a joke. Maybe it goes back to the mentality in the previous paragraph: why bother inserting (so to speak) a genuine romantic subplot or legitimate suspense when everybody’s just going to call it hackneyed and predictable? That’s fucking lame, guys. Sac up and go for emotional truth, not ironic detachment.

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Posted by D. B. Bates on June 3, 2010 4:58 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

May 18, 2010

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

[In lieu of actual content, for the next several weeks I will present, at least, one review of an upcoming film each week. These are scripts that I’ve been paid money to read, and many of them contain watermarking, identification numbers, password-protection, and other ways of tracking what company it was sent to; because of this and my desire to keep my job, I will not offer downloads for ANY of the scripts I review here. Don’t bother asking.]

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

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

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Posted by D. B. Bates on May 18, 2010 7:45 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

March 24, 2010

Script Review: Hot Tub Time Machine by Josh Heald and Jarrad Paul & Andrew Mogel & Steve Pink

[In lieu of actual content, for the next several weeks I will present, at least, one review of an upcoming film each week. These are scripts that I’ve been paid money to read, and many of them contain watermarking, identification numbers, password-protection, and other ways of tracking what company it was sent to; because of this and my desire to keep my job, I will not offer downloads for ANY of the scripts I review here. Don’t bother asking.]

Is funny enough?

I’m not trying to blow your mind. I just think that’s Hot Tub Time Machine’s unintended central dramatic question. Because, honestly, it is funny…but it’s not much more. It’s filled to the brim with what I call “empty laughs.” I frequently use the pilot of How I Met Your Mother as an example. I sat there and laughed my ass off for 22 minutes, and when it ended, I shrugged and said, “That wasn’t very good.” The characters ranged from bland (Ted) to irritatingly over-the-top (Barney), the episodic story wasn’t terribly compelling, the premise seemed extremely limited (I’m amazed they’ve sustained it this long), and the “surprise ending” (Aunt Robin!) blew ass. Although it consistently made me laugh, it didn’t really make me do much else (and not for a lack of trying). Frankly, I want more than that, even in a crappy CBS sitcom. I know I’m a creepy alien in the current culture, but I like entertainment that makes me think and feel — not a string of cheap laughs predicated on ironic detachment and obvious pop-culture references. I don’t even mind cheap laughs like that as long as they’re entrenched in something with a bit of depth. Maybe I’m missing something special in How I Met Your Mother, but based on the fact that promos show they still use “suit up” (a gag that came close to getting stale before the pilot episode ended), holy shit am I glad I didn’t stick with it.

Hot Tub Time Machine is a lot like that. It’s one of the rare comedy scripts that’s actually funny on the page, but to get back to the opening question, is that enough? Unfortunately, the answer is no.

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Posted by D. B. Bates on March 24, 2010 1:09 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

March 3, 2010

Script Review (Odds ‘n’ Ends Edition): The Spy Next Door by Joe Ballarini

[In lieu of actual content, for the next several weeks I will present, at least, one review of an upcoming film each week. These are scripts that I’ve been paid money to read, and many of them contain watermarking, identification numbers, password-protection, and other ways of tracking what company it was sent to; because of this and my desire to keep my job, I will not offer downloads for ANY of the scripts I review here. Don’t bother asking.]

Has it been almost a month? Jeez, my combo of laziness and apathy sure make the time fly. Here’s the problem with February: with the exception of Dread and most of Frozen, I didn’t get paid to read any of those scripts. Not a single one. And honestly, I just couldn’t muster up the enthusiasm to read the copies of The Wolfman, Shutter Island, and A Couple of Dicks (a.k.a. Cop Out) that I’ve had sitting on my hard drive for months, specifically for last month. I just said, “Fuck it.” When I can’t muster up the enthusiasm to want to see these movies, imagine how hard it is to get me the scripts when you aren’t waving a check in my face. And even that bites me in the ass. (Yeah, I just finished doing my taxes — I always forget what a shit-ton I end up having to pay because I’m technically “self-employed” and, therefore, my pay isn’t taxed until I get my 1099-MISC, fill out all those stupid forms, and shout obscenities when I see the amount I owe.)

I’ll be honest: March probably won’t fare much better. The majority of scripts I planned to review got delayed. Hot Tub Time Machine is the lone exception, so those of you who are into these reviews can look forward to that in a few weeks. I also read a script that’s a lot like Brooklyn’s Finest, but it’s not Brooklyn’s Finest, so maybe I’ll toss that up for shits and giggles. Otherwise, I’ll either be dusting off odds ‘n’ ends like I am today, or I’ll actually produce real content. By that, I mean I’ll do my Andy Rooney schtick about current Hollywood conventions that I don’t like. I’ll probably also talk a little more about masturbation and/or why my friends are all idiots.

Anyway, enough of my bullshit… Let’s enjoy a review of a script you’ll probably never read, which in no way resembles the film it turned into!

Remember the basic setup to Action? (Hint: not to alienate you, gentle reader, more than usual, but if you don’t know what I’m talking about, and you’re interested in screenwriting, something in your life has gone awry.) Dorky nobody writer suddenly finds himself approaching the A list simply because one of the biggest producers in Hollywood confuses him for an established writer? I had a similar situation crop up about a year ago, when I received the screenplay for Joe Ballarini’s The Spy Next Door. I thought little of receiving it, because I’d been deluged with not just spy scripts but wacky, In-Laws-esque spy comedies. But something weird happened. As I often do, I Googled information about the movie shortly after finishing the coverage and disocvered, to my surprise, that Jackie Chan had signed on to star.

“Huh,” I thought. “He doesn’t seem like a very good fit for either of the main characters.” I prepared to dismiss it, assuming they’d done some rewrites to adjust the role to Chan (after all, the draft I read was dated 2002 — a lot of development may have happened since then), when I noticed something even odder: the plot described Chan as a spy who agrees to babysit his next-door neighbor’s kids.

“The fuck?” I thought. This description had virtually nothing to do with the script I’d read, other than the title. More than that, the IMDb didn’t credit Ballarini at all (nor, would I eventually learn, did the film itself) — in fact, the only reference I could find was a USC alumni magazine interview with Ballarini in which he briefly mentions selling the script. I don’t have a clue if this script went through such a long, arduous development process that it bears no resemblance to its source, or if two completely different scripts just happened to have the same title. It made me wonder if my bosses had simply requested the wrong script from the wrong people — and that’s still a possibility. I don’t know all the details, and I don’t have much interest in researching it.

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Posted by D. B. Bates on March 3, 2010 9:04 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (2)

February 9, 2010

Script Review: Clive Barker’s Dread by Anthony DiBlasi

In which I argue “Dread” is a missed opportunity.

Posted by D. B. Bates on February 9, 2010 3:13 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

January 12, 2010

Script Review: The Book of Eli by Gary Whitta and Anthony Peckham

[In lieu of actual content, for the next several weeks I will present, at least, one review of an upcoming film each week. These are scripts that I’ve been paid money to read, and many of them contain watermarking, identification numbers, password-protection, and other ways of tracking what company it was sent to; because of this and my desire to keep my job, I will not offer downloads for ANY of the scripts I review here. Don’t bother asking.]

The Book of Eli tells a pretty straightforward western story: one taciturn man shows up in a town controlled by a power-hungry madman. Captain Taciturn (hereafter known as Eli) has something the madman wants, and the madman is confounded when Eli won’t give it up immediately. He’s not used to a fight, but a fight is exactly what Eli intends to give him. Does any of this sound familiar?

The amazing thing about The Book of Eli is that it uses genre tropes so damn effectively. It paints a startling, “a few years after The Day After” nightmare world, but aside from that, it’s your standard western plot. More than anything, it shows the importance of developing characters. Audiences are much more willing to go along with a plot they’ve seen before (and what plot haven’t they seen before?) if the characters within that well-worn storyline breathe new life into it.

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Posted by D. B. Bates on January 12, 2010 1:54 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

January 5, 2010

Script Review: Daybreakers by Michael & Peter Spierig

[In lieu of actual content, for the next several weeks I will present, at least, one review of an upcoming film each week. These are scripts that I’ve been paid money to read, and many of them contain watermarking, identification numbers, password-protection, and other ways of tracking what company it was sent to; because of this and my desire to keep my job, I will not offer downloads for ANY of the scripts I review here. Don’t bother asking.]

Here we are in the world of Daybreakers, in which vampires have become the majority (after some sort of viral pandemic) and the few humans left (5% of the total world population) are hunted for their delicious blood. After establishing this offbeat world and its central conflict — that vampire numbers increase while the “food” supply dwindles — the writers focus on hapless vampire hematologist Ed Dalton. He works for a pharmaceutical magnate, Bromley, who farms humans to provide blood for vampires. Ed, who’s conflicted about using humans, has the moral-balancing task of coming up with a feasible substitute that can sustain vampires without requiring them to kill humans.

One night, Ed comes upon an erratically driving car, which narrowly avoids hitting his sunlight-proofed Escalade. The car’s on the run from the police, because it’s filled with humans (including AUDREY, the de facto love interest). Ed surprises the humans by allowing them to hide in his Escalade while he lies to the police about where they ran off to. Once the police get a safe distance away, the humans leave — but not before Audrey notices Ed’s work ID badge, which identifies him as a hematologist. Ed continues home, where younger brother FRANKIE has returned from military service (in this world, the military simply hunts for human camps). It’s Ed’s birthday — which Ed deems meaningless, considering his immortality — so Frankie surprises him with a premium bottle of 100% human blood. Ed and Frankie argue about the righteousness of killing humans to feed on their blood.

Before the argument can get too heated (though it does get heated enough for Frankie to smash the bottle against the wall), they’re attacked by a “subsider” — a freakish sort of vampire who feeds on other vampires (and/or themselves). This is the sort of world they live in. Frankie and Ed dispatch the subsider. After the police sweep the scene, they discover the subsider was actually a neighbor who disappeared. Ed is incredibly disturbs and feels increased pressure to come up with a substitute. Later that night, Audrey sneaks into Ed’s house, announces that the vampire world is falling apart (citing, among other things, the opening scene — a child vampire committing suicide after deeming an ageless body pointless). Ed tells Audrey he can’t help her, but she gives him a note with a meeting place and time. After Audrey leaves, Frankie hears the commotion and wonders who it was. Ed says it was nobody, but Frankie is quietly suspicious.

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Posted by D. B. Bates on January 5, 2010 4:54 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (9)

December 25, 2009

Black List 2009 – Black Christmas Wrap-Up

To recap:

  • The Muppet Man — A dreadful script that manages to dramatize much of Jim Henson’s life without ever providing any insight into what drove him to create.
  • The Social Network — A quick, compelling read thanks to Sorkin’s ease with generating conflict and suspense almost entirely through well-written dialogue. The script also wisely focuses on Mark Zuckerberg and the other people involved in the foundation of Facebook more than the story of its founding.
  • The Voices — A flat-out great script — funny, insightful, tragic, and brilliant. One of the best scripts I’ve ever read. If it can make it through development unscathed, it’ll be one hell of a movie.
  • Prisoners — Too much intricately plotted story, too little anything else.
  • Cedar Rapids — A mild-mannered but genuinely funny comedy. As a frequent visitor of Cedar Rapids, it’s nice to see a story set there that doesn’t condescend to what idiots assume “flyover country” responds to.
  • Londongrad — One hell of a dull docudrama, telling an interesting story in a remarkably lifeless way.
  • L.A. Rex — A convoluted yet hackneyed look at policing in South Central L.A. Full of everything you’d expect and little you wouldn’t (I didn’t see the pit sequence coming, so they have that going for them): gangsters with ties to celebrities, dirty cops, a veteran partnered with a rookie.
  • Desperados — A bland but genial comedy that suffers from an overdose of Idiot Plot.
  • The GunslingerDull Country for Old Men
  • By Way of Helena — An historical drama that manages to combine three of my favorite subjects (religious battles, post-Civil War America, and hunting men for sport) without making any effort to make the subjects compelling
  • The Days Before — A sci-fi comedy that gets off on its own cleverness, which is particularly irksome because the script is not as clever as it thinks it is. It’s pretty much just Independence Day with a darker edge and time travel.

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Posted by D. B. Bates on December 25, 2009 7:16 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (1)

Black List Script #10B: The Days Before by Chad St. John

MAJOR DISCLAIMER: Since these scripts, bought or not, are currently unproduced and/or in the midst of long, tedious development processes, they may not make it to the screen for up to three years, if ever. You should know that the synopsis contains MASSIVE, EARTH-SHATTERING SPOILERS, even though this screenplay may not resemble the finished film (if any) in any way. Read at your own risk.
Secondary Disclaimer: I refer to what follows as “coverage” by the loosest definition of that term. In keeping with this blog’s tradition, I’ve crammed the notes so full of rancorous rants, it’s 1/10th as concise as actual coverage, almost falling into the category of a review. However, since I’ve included the loglines and a detailed synopsis, it’s close enough to coverage for my purposes. Deal with it.

Logline (provided by The Black List): “A man who possesses a time travel device uses it to go back in time to prevent an alien invasion.”

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Posted by D. B. Bates on December 25, 2009 7:16 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (3)

Black List Script #10A: By Way of Helena by Matt Cook

MAJOR DISCLAIMER: Since these scripts, bought or not, are currently unproduced and/or in the midst of long, tedious development processes, they may not make it to the screen for up to three years, if ever. You should know that the synopsis contains MASSIVE, EARTH-SHATTERING SPOILERS, even though this screenplay may not resemble the finished film (if any) in any way. Read at your own risk.
Secondary Disclaimer: I refer to what follows as “coverage” by the loosest definition of that term. In keeping with this blog’s tradition, I’ve crammed the notes so full of rancorous rants, it’s 1/10th as concise as actual coverage, almost falling into the category of a review. However, since I’ve included the loglines and a detailed synopsis, it’s close enough to coverage for my purposes. Deal with it.

Logline (provided by The Black List): “A Texas Ranger and his wife move to a frontier town to investigate the disappearance of Mexicans in the area, and soon find themselves caught in the cult of personality that rules the area.”

Read "Black List Script #10A: By Way of Helena by Matt Cook" »

Posted by D. B. Bates on December 25, 2009 5:16 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (1)

December 24, 2009

Black List Script #9: The Gunslinger by John Hlavin

MAJOR DISCLAIMER: Since these scripts, bought or not, are currently unproduced and/or in the midst of long, tedious development processes, they may not make it to the screen for up to three years, if ever. You should know that the synopsis contains MASSIVE, EARTH-SHATTERING SPOILERS, even though this screenplay may not resemble the finished film (if any) in any way. Read at your own risk.
Secondary Disclaimer: I refer to what follows as “coverage” by the loosest definition of that term. In keeping with this blog’s tradition, I’ve crammed the notes so full of rancorous rants, it’s 1/10th as concise as actual coverage, almost falling into the category of a review. However, since I’ve included the loglines and a detailed synopsis, it’s close enough to coverage for my purposes. Deal with it.

Logline (provided by The Black List): “A tough ex-Texas Ranger has unfinished business with the Mexican gangsters who tortured his brother to death, and when they kidnap his brother’s young son, he comes after them with everything he has got.”

Read "Black List Script #9: The Gunslinger by John Hlavin" »

Posted by D. B. Bates on December 24, 2009 5:16 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (1)

December 23, 2009

Black List Script #8: Desperados by Ellen Rapoport

MAJOR DISCLAIMER: Since these scripts, bought or not, are currently unproduced and/or in the midst of long, tedious development processes, they may not make it to the screen for up to three years, if ever. You should know that the synopsis contains MASSIVE, EARTH-SHATTERING SPOILERS, even though this screenplay may not resemble the finished film (if any) in any way. Read at your own risk.
Secondary Disclaimer: I refer to what follows as “coverage” by the loosest definition of that term. In keeping with this blog’s tradition, I’ve crammed the notes so full of rancorous rants, it’s 1/10th as concise as actual coverage, almost falling into the category of a review. However, since I’ve included the loglines and a detailed synopsis, it’s close enough to coverage for my purposes. Deal with it.

Logline (provided by The Black List): “After a woman sends an indignant email to her new beau, who’s gone radio silent postsex, she discovers he’s comatose in a Mexican hospital and races south of the border with her friends in tow to intercept the email before he recovers.”

Read "Black List Script #8: Desperados by Ellen Rapoport" »

Posted by D. B. Bates on December 23, 2009 5:16 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (4)

December 22, 2009

Black List Script #7: L.A. Rex by Will Beall

MAJOR DISCLAIMER: Since these scripts, bought or not, are currently unproduced and/or in the midst of long, tedious development processes, they may not make it to the screen for up to three years, if ever. You should know that the synopsis contains MASSIVE, EARTH-SHATTERING SPOILERS, even though this screenplay may not resemble the finished film (if any) in any way. Read at your own risk.
Secondary Disclaimer: I refer to what follows as “coverage” by the loosest definition of that term. In keeping with this blog’s tradition, I’ve crammed the notes so full of rancorous rants, it’s 1/10th as concise as actual coverage, almost falling into the category of a review. However, since I’ve included the loglines and a detailed synopsis, it’s close enough to coverage for my purposes. Deal with it.

Logline (provided by The Black List): “Based on the author’s book of the same name. A young gangster goes to work in the LAPD as a mole investigating a crime against the head of the Mexican mafia but learns more about justice than he expected from his seasoned partner.”

Read "Black List Script #7: L.A. Rex by Will Beall" »

Posted by D. B. Bates on December 22, 2009 5:15 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

December 21, 2009

Black List Script #6: Londongrad by David Scarpa

MAJOR DISCLAIMER: Since these scripts, bought or not, are currently unproduced and/or in the midst of long, tedious development processes, they may not make it to the screen for up to three years, if ever. You should know that the synopsis contains MASSIVE, EARTH-SHATTERING SPOILERS, even though this screenplay may not resemble the finished film (if any) in any way. Read at your own risk.
Secondary Disclaimer: I refer to what follows as “coverage” by the loosest definition of that term. In keeping with this blog’s tradition, I’ve crammed the notes so full of rancorous rants, it’s 1/10th as concise as actual coverage, almost falling into the category of a review. However, since I’ve included the loglines and a detailed synopsis, it’s close enough to coverage for my purposes. Deal with it.

Logline (provided by The Black List): “Based on the book by Alan Cowell. The story of the life and subsequent poisoning death of Alexander Litvinenko, a former officer of the Russian Federal Security Service, who escaped prosecution in Russia and received political asylum in the United Kingdom.”

Read "Black List Script #6: Londongrad by David Scarpa" »

Posted by D. B. Bates on December 21, 2009 5:15 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

December 18, 2009

Black List Script #5: Cedar Rapids by Phil Johnston

MAJOR DISCLAIMER: Since these scripts, bought or not, are currently unproduced and/or in the midst of long, tedious development processes, they may not make it to the screen for up to three years, if ever. You should know that the synopsis contains MASSIVE, EARTH-SHATTERING SPOILERS, even though this screenplay may not resemble the finished film (if any) in any way. Read at your own risk.

Secondary Disclaimer: I refer to what follows as “coverage” by the loosest definition of that term. In keeping with this blog’s tradition, I’ve crammed the notes so full of rancorous rants, it’s 1/10th as concise as actual coverage, almost falling into the category of a review. However, since I’ve included the loglines and a detailed synopsis, it’s close enough to coverage for my purposes. Deal with it.

Comically Long Logline (provided by The Black List): “After his co-worker dies from auto-erotic asphyxiation, an emotionally stunted insurance salesman from small town Wisconsin takes the man’s place at the division insurance convention in Iowa City, IA, only to find himself coming out of his shell as he bonds with his fellow conventioneers and gradually uncovers a money laundering scheme involving his employer.”

Read "Black List Script #5: Cedar Rapids by Phil Johnston" »

Posted by D. B. Bates on December 18, 2009 5:14 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

December 17, 2009

Black List Script #4: Prisoners by Aaron Guzikowski

MAJOR DISCLAIMER: Since these scripts, bought or not, are currently unproduced and/or in the midst of long, tedious development processes, they may not make it to the screen for up to three years, if ever. You should know that the synopsis contains MASSIVE, EARTH-SHATTERING SPOILERS, even though this screenplay may not resemble the finished film (if any) in any way. Read at your own risk.

Secondary Disclaimer: I refer to what follows as “coverage” by the loosest definition of that term. In keeping with this blog’s tradition, I’ve crammed the notes so full of rancorous rants, it’s 1/10th as concise as actual coverage, almost falling into the category of a review. However, since I’ve included the loglines and a detailed synopsis, it’s close enough to coverage for my purposes. Deal with it.

Comically Long Logline (provided by The Black List): “After his six-year-old daughter and her friend are kidnapped, a small town carpenter butts heads with a young, brash detective in charge of the investigation. Feeling failed by the law, he captures the man he believes responsible, holding him captive in a desperate attempt to find out what he did with the girls, whom he’s convinced are still alive. But the further he’s forced to go to get the man to confess, the closer he comes to losing his soul.”

Read "Black List Script #4: Prisoners by Aaron Guzikowski" »

Posted by D. B. Bates on December 17, 2009 5:13 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (1)

December 16, 2009

Black List Script #3: The Voices by Michael R. Perry

MAJOR DISCLAIMER: Since these scripts, bought or not, are currently unproduced and/or in the midst of long, tedious development processes, they may not make it to the screen for up to three years, if ever. You should know that the synopsis contains MASSIVE, EARTH-SHATTERING SPOILERS, even though this screenplay may not resemble the finished film (if any) in any way. Read at your own risk.
Secondary Disclaimer: I refer to what follows as “coverage” by the loosest definition of that term. In keeping with this blog’s tradition, I’ve crammed the notes so full of rancorous rants, it’s 1/10th as concise as actual coverage, almost falling into the category of a review. However, since I’ve included the loglines and a detailed synopsis, it’s close enough to coverage for my purposes. Deal with it.

Logline (provided by The Black List): “A disturbed man attempts to walk the straight-and-narrow while receiving advice from his ‘talking’ pets.”

Read "Black List Script #3: The Voices by Michael R. Perry" »

Posted by D. B. Bates on December 16, 2009 5:13 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

December 15, 2009

Black List Script #2: The Social Network by Aaron Sorkin

MAJOR DISCLAIMER: Since these scripts, bought or not, are currently unproduced and/or in the midst of long, tedious development processes, they may not make it to the screen for up to three years, if ever. You should know that the synopsis contains MASSIVE, EARTH-SHATTERING SPOILERS, even though this screenplay may not resemble the finished film (if any) in any way. Read at your own risk.

Secondary Disclaimer: I refer to what follows as “coverage” by the loosest definition of that term. In keeping with this blog’s tradition, I’ve crammed the notes so full of rancorous rants, it’s 1/10th as concise as actual coverage, almost falling into the category of a review. However, since I’ve included the loglines and a detailed synopsis, it’s close enough to coverage for my purposes. Deal with it.

Logline (provided by The Black List): “The story of the founders of the social networking website Facebook and how overnight success and wealth changed their lives.”

Read "Black List Script #2: The Social Network by Aaron Sorkin" »

Posted by D. B. Bates on December 15, 2009 5:12 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

December 14, 2009

Black List Script #1: The Muppet Man by Christopher Weekes

Download PDF: The Muppet Man

MAJOR DISCLAIMER: Since these scripts, bought or not, are currently unproduced and/or in the midst of long, tedious development processes, they may not make it to the screen for up to three years, if ever. You should know that the synopsis contains MASSIVE, EARTH-SHATTERING SPOILERS, even though this screenplay may not resemble the finished film (if any) in any way. Read at your own risk.
Secondary Disclaimer: I refer to what follows as “coverage” by the loosest definition of that term. In keeping with this blog’s tradition, I’ve crammed the notes so full of rancorous rants, it’s 1/10th as concise as actual coverage, almost falling into the category of a review. However, since I’ve included the loglines and a detailed synopsis, it’s close enough to coverage for my purposes. Deal with it.

Logline (provided by The Black List): “The life story and tragic early death of Jim Henson, creator of the Muppets.”

Read "Black List Script #1: The Muppet Man by Christopher Weekes" »

Posted by D. B. Bates on December 14, 2009 5:10 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (4)

December 11, 2009

Surprise Script Review: A Single Man by Tom Ford and David Scearce

Script Download Link: None Available (sorry, kiddies, I’m not risking my neck just to placate you, and I couldn’t find a download anywhere else online) [Although I mostly agree with John August, I am offering this script download because my not-entirely-captive audience has threatened to abandon me if I don’t start “offering downloads like Carson.” It is not for educational purposes. It’s for the purpose of placating people who want to feel good that they know more about an upcoming movie than their plebeian friends and coworkers. If anyone affiliated with this production requests that I remove the link, I won’t lose any sleep over it. Just send an e-mail to the address on the sidebar.]

Note: I would have posted this earlier than the date of its release, but I honestly forgot about this project until I saw a bunch of reviews pop up last night, which doesn’t bode well, right?

Adapted by legendary fashion icon Tom Ford (who, apparently, self-financed the entire project) and David Scearce from the semi-iconic 1964 Christopher Isherwood novel, A Single Man is one of those scripts that lives and dies based solely on the actors selected to play the roles. Ford (who also directed) could have done worse than Colin Firth and Julianne Moore, but still, I feel compelled to examine this phenomenon of “the right actor” saving an otherwise dismal project.

Read "Surprise Script Review: A Single Man by Tom Ford and David Scearce" »

Posted by D. B. Bates on December 11, 2009 5:20 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

Black List 2009

In which I catalogue the unproduced scripts mentioned in 2009’s Black List.

Posted by D. B. Bates on December 11, 2009 2:29 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

December 8, 2009

Script Review: The Lovely Bones by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson

[In lieu of actual content, for the next several weeks I will present, at least, one review of an upcoming film each week. These are scripts that I’ve been paid money to read, and many of them contain watermarking, identification numbers, password-protection, and other ways of tracking what company it was sent to; because of this and my desire to keep my job, I will not offer downloads for ANY of the scripts I review here. Don’t bother asking.]

Like Fight Club, The Lovely Bones reads like the kind of thing that would be aces as a novel but might not exactly work on film. Plenty of people argue with me, but I stand by it: the “o btw i r u” “twist” in Fight Club just doesn’t work on film. You can do a lot in cinema with point of view, but I find more often than not that attempts at “unreliable narrator” stories in film turn out more like a cheap betrayal than a legitimate shocking twist. A novel can provide a true first-person narrator experience, allowing the reader to take the journey through the eyes of a single person. If that narrator discovers he has a second personality that he happens to believe is a real person, the reader discovers this right along with them, and it’s a shocking twist. Movies with unreliable narrator twists frequently portray it in exactly the same way: a long-winded explanation accompanied by an unintentionally hilarious montage with people/objects flitting in or out of existence to illustrate the fragile mental state of the character. Fight Club makes it even more hilarious by including eye-rollingly ridiculous moments like Edward Norton beating himself up while confused onlookers watch…and for some reason decide to follow a man who’s clearly out of his mind? Ugh…

Face it: no matter how you tell the story, short of making it a 90-minute POV shot loaded with internal-thought voiceovers, no film can tell a first-person story. At best, it’s third-person limited, but more frequently it’s third-person omniscient. Even with voiceover narration, it’s virtually impossible to sell an unreliable narrator story on film. (The Usual Suspects comes closest by showing its unreliable narrator’s non-insane motivations to weave a bullshit tale.)

Read "Script Review: The Lovely Bones by Fran Walsh, Philippa Boyens & Peter Jackson" »

Posted by D. B. Bates on December 8, 2009 10:29 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

November 30, 2009

Script Review: Armored by James V. Simpson

[In lieu of actual content, for the next several weeks I will present, at least, one review of an upcoming film each week. These are scripts that I’ve been paid money to read, and many of them contain watermarking, identification numbers, password-protection, and other ways of tracking what company it was sent to; because of this and my desire to keep my job, I will not offer downloads for ANY of the scripts I review here. Don’t bother asking.]

Over the long holiday weekend, I watched 30 Days of Night for the first time. (I know, I know… But I TiVo’ed it around Halloween and haven’t had a chance to watch it until now.) While I haven’t exactly made it a high priority, I’ve wanted to see the movie since it came out because, really, is there a better idea for a vampire movie than setting it in permanent-night Alaska? (Answer: no, there isn’t. Not even The Twilight Saga.) I came away from the movie with one thought: “Great concept, horrible execution.” As longtime readers of this blog know, I have a bigger problem with poorly executed great ideas than I am with movies that unabashedly suck balls.

Read "Script Review: Armored by James V. Simpson" »

Posted by D. B. Bates on November 30, 2009 5:22 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

November 23, 2009

Script Review: Ninja Assassin by Matthew Sand & J. Michael Straczynski

[In lieu of actual content, for the next several weeks I will present, at least, one review of an upcoming film each week. These are scripts that I’ve been paid money to read, and many of them contain watermarking, identification numbers, password-protection, and other ways of tracking what company it was sent to; because of this and my desire to keep my job, I will not offer downloads for ANY of the scripts I review here. Don’t bother asking.]

Teachers of screenwriting and alleged screenwriting gurus consider two techniques verboten for green writers: voiceover narration and flashbacks. Anybody who has ever seen a good movie knows there are a plethora of examples in which both voiceover and flashbacks are used quite effectively (Election leaps to mind as a movie that uses both devices extremely well). While I’ve never personally cautioned any fellow writers against voiceovers and flashbacks, I can understand why beginners are cautioned against it. It’s very easy to use these techniques to lazily distribute information about character and backstory instead of finding a way to integrate the necessary information organically into the story you want to tell.

Read "Script Review: Ninja Assassin by Matthew Sand & J. Michael Straczynski" »

Posted by D. B. Bates on November 23, 2009 5:38 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

November 16, 2009

Script Review: Planet 51 by Joe Stillman

[In lieu of actual content, for the next several weeks I will present, at least, one review of an upcoming film each week. These are scripts that I’ve been paid money to read, and many of them contain watermarking, identification numbers, password-protection, and other ways of tracking what company it was sent to; because of this and my desire to keep my job, I will not offer downloads for ANY of the scripts I review here. Don’t bother asking.]

Even now, I don’t spend much time thinking about a prospective audience. On some level, it’s both naïve and misguided to completely ignore the idea that producers and executives (a) need to know who a script might appeal to and (b) receive too many to waste time running your piece of crap by a marketing department to see if they can sell it. Frankly, though, now that I’ve dealt with the issues of working the weirdness out of my scripts, potential audiences have become less elusive. However, potential sales remain just as elusive as always, but that’s a story for another day…

Read "Script Review: Planet 51 by Joe Stillman" »

Posted by D. B. Bates on November 16, 2009 5:33 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

November 10, 2009

Script Review: 2012 by Roland Emmerich & Harold Kloser and Matt Charman

[In lieu of actual content, for the next several weeks I will present, at least, one review of an upcoming film each week. These are scripts that I’ve been paid money to read, and many of them contain watermarking, identification numbers, password-protection, and other ways of tracking what company it was sent to; because of this and my desire to keep my job, I will not offer downloads for ANY of the scripts I review here. Don’t bother asking.]

The script for Roland Emmerich’s latest disaster spectacle, 2012, is exactly what I expected. I can’t figure out if that makes it a disappointment (because it wasn’t very good) or a triumph (because it could have been worse).

Full disclosure: I unabashedly love Independence Day. Some people consider Armageddon to be the biggest, dumbest, funnest star-studded disaster movie, but it doesn’t do anything for me. Armageddon just has seizure-inducing editing and a shitty Aerosmith song. Independence Day has everything a super-nerd like me wants in a movie like this: shit blowing up, Area 51, drunk Randy Quaid, and treacly yet suspiciously affecting interpersonal relationships. In the pantheon of high-quality filmmaking, Independence Day doesn’t rate highly. However, it aims low and succeeds at exactly what it seeks to accomplish: being a semi-hokey but mostly fun “Irwin Allen of the ’90s” flick.


Read "Script Review: 2012 by Roland Emmerich & Harold Kloser and Matt Charman" »

Posted by D. B. Bates on November 10, 2009 5:16 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

November 2, 2009

Script Review: The Box by Richard Kelly

[In lieu of actual content, for the next several weeks I will present, at least, one review of an upcoming film each week. These are scripts that I’ve been paid money to read, and many of them contain watermarking, identification numbers, password-protection, and other ways of tracking what company it was sent to; because of this and my desire to keep my job, I will not offer downloads for ANY of the scripts I review here. Don’t bother asking.]

Richard Matheson’s 1970 short story “Button, Button” would be most easily described as a meditation on greed and the consequences of money for nothing. It describes the story of a married couple, Arthur and Norma, whose lives are turned upside down when Norma receives a box from a creepy stranger. The box houses a button, and the creepy stranger (Mr. Steward) tells Norma that if she pushes the button, she will receive a no-strings-attached payment of $50,000 — but wait, there’s one string attached: someone she doesn’t know will die. After debating the pros and cons with her husband, Norma pushes the button. Arthur is hit by a train, and Norma receives $50,000 as an insurance payment. The Serling twist is: per Steward, Norma “never really knew” her husband, which I guess adds an additional theme about what a person will sacrifice (intentionally or unintentionally) to get some money. It doesn’t exactly break new ground with any of its themes (John Huston’s adaptation of The Treasure of the Sierra Madre is probably the best exploration of all these themes and more), but it’s a nice story, typical of Matheson’s Twilight-y stories.

Now, Richard Kelly has updated and greatly expanded the story. He’s moved the setting to 1976, added a son (among a plethora of other new characters), and upped the stakes to $200,000 (though, according to the trailers, the final film has upped this to $1 million). In expanding the story, Kelly made quite a few choices that I initially disliked quite a lot. I still sort of dislike most of them, but at least I finally have at least some understanding of why he made them. Before I get to that, let me get into the plot a little bit.

Read "Script Review: The Box by Richard Kelly" »

Posted by D. B. Bates on November 2, 2009 2:44 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

October 26, 2009

Script Review: Gentlemen Broncos by Jared Hess and Jerusha Hess

[In lieu of actual content, for the next several weeks I will present, at least, one review of an upcoming film each week. These are scripts that I’ve been paid money to read, and many of them contain watermarking, identification numbers, password-protection, and other ways of tracking what company it was sent to; because of this and my desire to keep my job, I will not offer downloads for ANY of the scripts I review here. Don’t bother asking.]

I guess Jared and Jerusha Hess don’t really need to learn anything. After all, their modestly budgeted debut, Napoleon Dynamite, made assloads of money and developed a small army of devoted, quote-happy friends. Their formula (combine hateful characters with zero empathy and self-consciously arty, Wes Anderson-lite mise-en-scène) obviously succeeded, so why deviate from it? Here’s why: it sucks. Compare Napoleon Dynamite to Rushmore, the film it so desperately wishes it could be. Rushmore’s Max Fischer has a very well-defined arc, starting as a self-absorbed prick with little regard for friends and family. By the end of the film, he’s realized the importance of others and has become relatively selfless. Even though he’s not entirely likable, Anderson gives us more than enough information about Max for us to understand why he’s so awful. On the other hand, Napoleon Dynamite starts the movie a self-absorbed prick, things happen to him, then the movie ends with him still self-absorbed and still a prick. He doesn’t do anything, and he doesn’t change. Totally inert. But, hey, who cares? It’s funny, right? …right.

Read "Script Review: Gentlemen Broncos by Jared Hess and Jerusha Hess" »

Posted by D. B. Bates on October 26, 2009 11:09 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (1)

October 19, 2009

Script Review: Cirque du Freak by Brian Helgeland

script_reviews/[In lieu of actual content, for the next several weeks I will present, at least, one review of an upcoming film each week. These are scripts that I’ve been paid money to read, and many of them contain watermarking, identification numbers, password-protection, and other ways of tracking what company it was sent to; because of this and my desire to keep my job, I will not offer downloads for ANY of the scripts I review here. Don’t bother asking.]

Awhile back, The Manager presented me with a treatment he had co-written with a writer I once ranted far too long and hard about. Somehow, he had gotten the ear of Warner Bros. president Alan Horn, and he used the opportunity to pitch one of the worst ideas in recent memory: a live-action trilogy based on a mid-’80s Saturday-morning cartoon. Actually, in this era of remakes and comic-book franchises, trying to revive this series isn’t a horrible idea commercially. It just doesn’t quite lend itself to live action. I don’t really want to give away the name of the property, but it’s the sort of thing that would just look silly if presented in a non-animated form, like Fat Albert or Vincent Gallo’s upcoming Fritz the Cat*.

At any rate, The Manager sent me the treatment for part one of a proposed trilogy, looking for feedback. I had could distinctly recall two things about the original cartoon: the name of the main character, and the name of the planet on which the action took place. Reading the treatment, the lack of these names took me aback. I wondered if I had misremembered the show, until I got to the last page of the treatment. At the end of the story, the main character is born, and refugees flee to the planet I remembered. He had sent me a treatment for a movie that was 100% backstory.

Adding insult to injury, the story concentrates on political machinations that have no bearing on anything except why the refugees left their home planet (something that plays a small, inessential role in what happens in the cartoon — certainly nothing worth devoting an entire feature film to explaining). It also has a Romeo & Juliet-esque subplot focusing on two characters who will die at the very beginning of the second film. When I sent him the feedback, I compared this to the first 20 minutes of Superman, except for the part where they clear up Superman’s backstory in 20 minutes, then get on to two hours of throwing buses into buildings and shit. Could you imagine having a comic-book movie where the entire thing isn’t even the origin story of the hero — it’s the story of the parents? I argued that audiences will have zero interest in a movie portraying the origin of two characters they won’t remember from the cartoon and feel betrayed by an ending where the hero they do remember is merely born. I also argued that one of the (many) flaws of the Star Wars prequels was Lucas’s insistence on concentrating on the made-up political minutiae that led to the rise of the Empire and the formation of the Rebel Alliance — without actually showing any of that cool shit. You have endless Galactic Senate meetings instead of spending two hours in the fray of an orgy of destruction called the Clone Wars. Audiences were unhappy but put up with it, because it’s Star Wars, a franchise ever-so-slightly different than a long-forgotten cartoon.

The Manager sent me a curt reply telling me all the things that stuck in my craw “could not be addressed.” I didn’t ask why, because I didn’t really care. But I held on to my belief that, while a franchise starter that contains little more than backstory can succeed financially, it’ll never succeed creatively. Why do you think so many franchise sequels surpass their originals these days? They skimp on the story and characters in favor of reams of tedious exposition introducing things that will only pay off in future films. To me, that’s a rip-off.

Read "Script Review: Cirque du Freak by Brian Helgeland" »

Posted by D. B. Bates on October 19, 2009 6:34 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

October 12, 2009

Script Review: Law-Abiding Citizen by Frank Darabont and Kurt Wimmer

[In lieu of actual content, for the next several weeks I will present, at least, one review of an upcoming film each week. These are scripts that I’ve been paid money to read, and many of them contain watermarking, identification numbers, password-protection, and other ways of tracking what company it was sent to; because of this and my desire to keep my job, I will not offer downloads for ANY of the scripts I review here. Don’t bother asking.]

When I first started Law-Abiding Citizen, I quickly concluded the writers had decided to make a Death Wish for the new millennium. When I finished it, I decided I’d much rather have a shitty Death Wish knockoff than Law-Abiding Citizen. The screenplay suffers from a common problem with many of the scripts hitting the market over the past year or so: genre confusion. It thinks it’s a talky psychological thriller; in reality, it’s a schlocky action movie. Had the writers embraced the proper genre, maybe some good could have come from Law-Abiding Citizen. Instead, they tried to get a little haughty and pretentious, with half-assed chess metaphors and quarter-assed stabs at ethical complexities occasionally interrupted by explosions.

Of course, it doesn’t help that the writers paint themselves into a corner by page four, shackling the story with Nick Price, a protagonist whose opening moment involves explaining that he intends to grant one murderer immunity in exchange for ratting out another. His palpable apathy toward Benson Clyde, the grieving husband and father, is honestly a little unsettling, and the writers work overtime in the first act to undo that douchebag opening gambit. They work even harder to paint eventual antagonist Clyde — the aforementioned grieving husband and father — as so cartoonishly evil, he lacks only a mustache to twirl.

Read "Script Review: Law-Abiding Citizen by Frank Darabont and Kurt Wimmer" »

Posted by D. B. Bates on October 12, 2009 5:09 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

October 5, 2009

Surprise Script Review: I Know Who Killed Me by Jeff Hammond

[In lieu of actual content, for the next several weeks I will present, at least, one review of an upcoming film each week. These are scripts that I’ve been paid money to read, and many of them contain watermarking, identification numbers, password-protection, and other ways of tracking what company it was sent to; because of this and my desire to keep my job, I will not offer downloads for ANY of the scripts I review here. Don’t bother asking.]

It might confuse and irritate some of you to know that I don’t revel in my disdain for things. I have a lot of negativity in my heart, but it always comes from a place of steadfast disappointment. I don’t want movies/books/TV shows/music/people to suck; when they do, my reaction ranges from feeling mild sadness that it couldn’t be better to unrepentant rage (usually that’s reserved for cases where a flaming turd of entertainment is inexplicably beloved by many).

I’m not going to merely like something because I want to like it, nor am I going to water down my opinion out of respect for prior work of the people involved. At least, I won’t water it down on this blog, where I remain semi-anonymous. In real life, other than a 90-minute argument with my sister on my fucking birthday about Juno, I usually don’t waste my breath. I either feign ignorance or pretend I like it, depending on the circumstances. There’s nothing worse than saying, “No, I haven’t [seen Juno/heard The Decemberists/read Motherless Brooklyn],” and having whoever you’re talking to immediately spring into action, thrusting it down your throat. Actually, there is: the upset/baffled expression on the face of someone who has exposed you to something “new” when your stony face and lack of enthusiasm betrays your dislike. It depends on the person, but around 60% of the time it’s easier just to say, “Yeah, man, I love it,” and the conversation can usually move on. Once in awhile, you run into an obsessive fan who wants to discuss the minutiae of something pop-culture-related. (I’ll never forget the time a girl asked me Xander Harris’s middle name; I’m a big fan of Buffy, the Vampire Slayer, and after this incident the name (Lavelle) has been seared into my brain, but I think you can enjoy something without memorizing all the tedious details. Maybe I’m just an inferior fan.) Most of the time, however, you just agree and move on. The end.*

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Posted by D. B. Bates on October 5, 2009 1:18 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

October 1, 2009

Script Review: Whip It! by Shauna Cross

[In lieu of actual content, for the next several weeks I will present, at least, one review of an upcoming film each week. These are scripts that I’ve been paid money to read, and many of them contain watermarking, identification numbers, password-protection, and other ways of tracking what company it was sent to; because of this and my desire to keep my job, I will not offer downloads for ANY of the scripts I review here. Don’t bother asking.]

I’ll bet you’re wondering why I veered off the beaten path of reviewing a script on Monday for a movie that’ll be released later in the week. When compiling notes on which movies are released when, I somehow got the impression that Whip It! doesn’t hit theatres until October 9th. Turns out it comes out tomorrow, and since this is a rare positive review, I figured I should get it out sooner rather than later. I apologize for not realizing this until the day before the movie comes out.

The alternate downside: I don’t have any reviews prepared for next week. So I guess I’ll toss out a surprise script review I’ve kept in my back pocket for awhile. By which I mean a review for a movie that already came out (and flopped) that I started reviewing, then got distracted and never finished. Now, on to the review…

This script surprised the shit out of me. I have to admit, I prejudged it based on the fact that I am a misogynist bastard trying my damndest to keep women down by spraying them with a heady coat of sticky testosterone-like fluid, preventing them from making it in a man’s world. But, seriously, folks, here’s how it went down: a few years ago, IFC produced a fantastic series called The Minor Accomplishments of Jackie Woodman, starring Laura Kightlinger (who created the show and wrote many of the episodes) and Nicholle Tom as bottom-feeding wannabe screenwriters trying to make it in Hollywood. One running gag was Jackie’s pet project, a story about a Depression-era roller derby queen (modeled after her aunt) that Jackie frequently hyped but never actually wrote. (It reached a point where the idea was actually stolen because of this combination of hype and laziness.) IFC unceremoniously canceled the show during the writers’ strike, when they opted instead to produce improv-heavy shows that didn’t have WGA affiliation. Fucking dicks.

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Posted by D. B. Bates on October 1, 2009 10:17 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

September 28, 2009

Script Review: Zombieland by Rhett Reese & Paul Wernick

[In lieu of actual content, for the next several weeks I will present, at least, one review of an upcoming film each week. These are scripts that I’ve been paid money to read, and many of them contain watermarking, identification numbers, password-protection, and other ways of tracking what company it was sent to; because of this and my desire to keep my job, I will not offer downloads for ANY of the scripts I review here. Don’t bother asking.]

Jeez, I know I’m going to start sounding like a broken old record playing a crazy old coot’s minor hits, but Zombieland pretty much exemplifies everything that just kinda bugs me about contemporary comedies. I’ll find it hard to write this review without comparing it to Shaun of the Dead, because Zombieland feels like a vastly inferior version of that film (and one could speculate this movie would have never been made if not for Shaun…), but I’ll try to refrain from turning this into a “Zombieland sux cuz its not liek this other movie!!!”-type rant.

However, you should know that Zombieland has one big, distracting similarity: it merges the zombie horror subgenre with the 20-something slacker comedy subgenre. Sound familiar? Unfortunately, instead of using familiar horror tropes to tell a solid, somewhat unique story about a 20-something slacker getting his shit together in order to embrace adulthood (not to mention using the “zombie” motif to great satirical effect), Zombieland…just kinda rests on the not-so-novel conceit of having semi-nerdy 20-something slackers wandering through a world filled with zombies. I’m not saying that in a post-Whedon world, every horror-comedy has to have some sort of satirical edge and metaphoric purpose, but a Kevin Smith “hang out and shoot the geeky shit”-type comedy occasionally interrupted by zombie shootouts doesn’t quite have the same effect as Shaun of the Dead’s “thrust a reluctant slacker into a leadership role, forcing him to realize there are more important things in life than getting pissed and playing Playstation” story. Zombieland shambles aimlessly toward some loose goals, but while it flashes back to the characters’ pre-zombie lives, it never quite accomplishes the job of showing how these experiences are changing them or making them grow.

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Posted by D. B. Bates on September 28, 2009 2:11 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

September 21, 2009

Script Review: I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell by Tucker Max & Nils Parker

[In lieu of actual content, for the next several weeks I will present, at least, one review of an upcoming film each week. These are scripts that I’ve been paid money to read, and many of them contain watermarking, identification numbers, password-protection, and other ways of tracking what company it was sent to; because of this and my desire to keep my job, I will not offer downloads for ANY of the scripts I review here. Don’t bother asking.]

Where do I even begin?

I’ve never liked Tucker Max. I’m not calling him a pale, friendless virgin, and I’m sure his fans (who might be pale, friendless virgins) will dogpile on me for even suggesting this, but his stories always struck me as bullshit. I didn’t think this at first, mostly because I didn’t care, but I have a friend who liked Tucker Max’s material more than any sane person should, so I checked out a couple of his stories. I recall reading his “Absinthe Donuts” story shortly after its debut. My immediate thought: “This sounds like the kind of bullshit a guy would make up to impress much stupider friends.” My second thought: “Let me use my knowledge of the Chicago news media to debunk this story.” Because, you know, when somebody crashes a stolen car into a donut shop and flees the scene, it’ll make the news. It might be on page 17 of Section E, or even worse, a tiny blurb in the police blotter, but it’ll be there, and since allegedly the story had taken place “a few weeks ago” and had just been posted to his site, it’s not like it’d be impossible to find any information about it.

Except it was. Because it didn’t happen. So there’s that. When you go to a site where a guy emphasizes repeatedly, almost to the point of suspicion, how true his stories are, yet you find one that both rings cartoonishly false and isn’t corroborated by, um, reality, and you don’t even find it funny? Why waste your time with that shit? The only thing that makes Tucker Max’s bullshit stories even remotely funny is the slim possibility there’s some truth to them. But when the “outrageous” things Max says and does strain credulity, and they’re barely funny even when they seem true, well… Let’s just say I read the stories, got annoyed enough to Google him in an attempt to find out what the fuss was all about, and then forgot about him again…

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Posted by D. B. Bates on September 21, 2009 10:53 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

September 14, 2009

Script Review: Fame by Allison Burnett

[In lieu of actual content, for the next several weeks I will present, at least, one review of an upcoming film each week. These are scripts that I’ve been paid money to read, and many of them contain watermarking, identification numbers, password-protection, and other ways of tracking what company it was sent to; because of this and my desire to keep my job, I will not offer downloads for ANY of the scripts I review here. Don’t bother asking.]

Before I begin, don’t forget: Jennifer’s Body, “from the mind of” Juno scribe Diablo Cody. Check out the review I wrote back in March of 2008.

Ten main characters. Nine hundred and fifty thousand secondary and tertiary characters. One hundred and four pages. Approximately 175 scenes. Four years. Does anything look a little fishy about these numbers?

Yes, the central problem with the amiable yet massively flawed Fame screenplay is that it’s more overstuffed than a morbidly obese man on a La-Z-Boy, napping after a six-hour “Neverending Pasta Bowl” adventure at the Olive Garden. It tries to take on so much that it gets spread too thin, turning its central characters into one-dimensional stereotypes as it plots a course through four years (about three more than it should have covered) at New York’s performing arts high school.

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Posted by D. B. Bates on September 14, 2009 3:17 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

September 7, 2009

Script Review: Sorority Row by Josh Stolberg & Peter Goldfinger

[In lieu of actual content, for the next several weeks I will present, at least, one review of an upcoming film each week. These are scripts that I’ve been paid money to read, and many of them contain watermarking, identification numbers, password-protection, and other ways of tracking what company it was sent to; because of this and my desire to keep my job, I will not offer downloads for ANY of the scripts I review here. Don’t bother asking.]

First, a mini-rant about remakes:

Remakes have been around forever, and plenty of classics (The Maltese Falcon, Ben-Hur, His Girl Friday) were actually vastly improved remakes of films forgotten even in their own time. I never object to remakes if they improve on the original. The problem I have with the recent glut of remakes is that, instead of striving to best their source material, it usually turns out significantly worse (Alfie, The Amityville Horror, Assault on Precinct 13 — and that’s just the A’s!). It’s not that the movies can’t be improved on; it’s that the filmmakers seem content with the notion that, hey, the original made money, and so will this one. They don’t have to make it good as long as they slap a familiar title on it.

More studios should embrace the idea of taking a mediocre (or outright bad) movie that didn’t make a huge amount of money. Many movies have a few great ideas buried in a mountain of trash; I’d need at least three hands to count the number of Mystery Science Theater 3000 movies where I’ve said, “Man, with a budget and a better script, this could be a great movie.” I know I should be ashamed of this, but I’ve always felt like I could make Soultaker into the great movie it should have been. Of course, certain examples suggest that throwing more money at a decent idea won’t make it better (1998’s Godzilla, 1976’s King Kong, 2005’s The Island), but in the hands of competent filmmakers, it couldn’t hurt (see also: 2005’s King Kong). At any rate, Ocean’s Eleven took a bland, poorly received Rat Pack vehicle and turned it into one of the better remakes — and better heist movies — of the past decade. Compare that to The Italian Job remake: the original is actually pretty great, and while the remake isn’t offensively bad, it doesn’t do much to better its source. So why bother? Oh right, there’s profit to be had.

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Posted by D. B. Bates on September 7, 2009 11:02 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

August 31, 2009

Script Review: Extract by Mike Judge

[In lieu of actual content, for the next several weeks I will present, at least, one review of an upcoming film each week. These are scripts that I’ve been paid money to read, and many of them contain watermarking, identification numbers, password-protection, and other ways of tracking what company it was sent to; because of this and my desire to keep my job, I will not offer downloads for ANY of the scripts I review here. Don’t bother asking.]

Here’s the deal: I hate fanboys. They don’t really add anything to an argument but shrill hyperbole, and they can’t take even the smallest amount of constructive criticism against whatever it is they love. That is, at least, my definition of “fanboy”/”fangirl.” A fan of something, although they may be labeled (inaccurately or not) as “casual” fans by their fanboy brethren, is perfectly fine. For instance, I’d consider myself a fan of Joss Whedon’s oeuvre: I love Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Angel, and Firefly. However, I fully admit that the final two seasons of Buffy and the final season of Angel sucked about as much ass as a once-great TV show can; I just happen to think what came before it sort of makes up for the crappiness. Nevertheless, I like to pretend Buffy ended with “The Gift” and Angel ended with…whatever episode comes just before the fourth-season finale. You can run around blaming the badness of these later seasons on other producers, Whedon focusing his attention elsewhere, etc., etc., but that doesn’t change the suckiness. It also certainly doesn’t change the suckiness of Dollhouse, a sinking ship he’s allegedly piloting with as much enthusiasm as Buffy’s glory years.

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Posted by D. B. Bates on August 31, 2009 3:47 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

August 24, 2009

Script Review: Taking Woodstock by James Schamus

[In lieu of actual content, for the next several weeks I will present, at least, one review of an upcoming film each week. These are scripts that I’ve been paid money to read, and many of them contain watermarking, identification numbers, password-protection, and other ways of tracking what company it was sent to; because of this and my desire to keep my job, I will not offer downloads for ANY of the scripts I review here. Don’t bother asking.]

Taking Woodstock, the upcoming Ang Lee film, seeks to capture the zeitgeist of the summer of ‘69 by focusing on a marginalized figure in the history of the Woodstock festival: Elliot Tiber, who this script claims was almost solely responsible for the festival’s happening. James Schamus’s screenplay is based on Tiber’s own book, but I don’t have a clue about the validity of his claims. Personally, I don’t care too much about historical accuracy as long as it’s not something totally ridiculous, like wearing a digital watch in a Renaissance love story. If it doesn’t distract me, I’m more interested in the characters and the story than whether or not Confederate Soldier #3 has the correct patches. Nevertheless, I figured I should point out that maybe Tiber’s — and, therfore, Schamus’s — claims might be a tad dubious, and further point out how little I care.

On to the actual script…

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Posted by D. B. Bates on August 24, 2009 6:11 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

December 25, 2008

Black List 2008 – Black Christmas Wrap-Up

To recap:

  • The Beaver — A disaster of a script that the development process may or may not redeem.
  • The Oranges — Terrible. Everything it tries to do has been done better elsewhere.
  • Butter — One of the worst scripts I’ve ever read, and I’ve read a lot of bad ones.
  • Big Hole — This is a movie that should be made. Not a perfect script, but pretty great despite its few flaws.
  • The Low Dweller — Decent writing but boring as hell. If this embraced its schlocky action-movie roots rather than trying for “pretentious meditation on tedium,” it could be very enjoyable.

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Posted by D. B. Bates on December 25, 2008 2:29 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

December 24, 2008

Black List Script #10 – Our Brand Is Crisis by Peter Straughan

MAJOR DISCLAIMER: Since these scripts, bought or not, are currently unproduced and/or in the midst of long, tedious development processes, they may not make it to the screen for up to three years, if ever. You should know that the synopsis contains MASSIVE, EARTH-SHATTERING SPOILERS, even though this screenplay may not resemble the finished film (if any) in any way. Read at your own risk.
Secondary Disclaimer: I refer to what follows as “coverage” by the loosest definition of that term. In keeping with this blog’s tradition, I’ve crammed the notes so full of rancorous rants, it’s 1/10th as concise as actual coverage, almost falling into the category of a review. However, since I’ve included the loglines and a detailed synopsis, it’s close enough to coverage for my purposes. Deal with it.

Logline (provided by The Black List): “Based on the eponymous documentary. James Carville and a team of U.S. political consultants travel to South America to help Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada (aka ‘Goni’) become President of Bolivia.”

Jump to:
Synopsis
Notes
The Bottom Line

Synopsis

PEDRO IGNACIO GALLO maneuvers triumphantly through a joyous crowd after winning a presidential election in Bolivia. Fifteen years later, the nation is crumbling. He walks through a supermarket in what’s supposed to be a photo op, but the store has no customers because nobody has any money. His campaign manager, HUGO, is angry about this. He tries to get Gallo to leave, but he won’t. EDDIE CAMACHO, 20s, enters the store and approaches Gallo. Hugo gets between them and forces Gallo to leave.

Pollsters BENJAMIN CARVER and MAX TALBY goes to rural Virginia to seek out WILD BILL BODINE, supposedly the best political strategist alive. At the moment, he doesn’t look so wild — he mostly looks depressed. Carver tries to convince Bodine — known as “the King of the Comeback” — to join the campaign, noting that Gallo has made some mistakes but he won his first victory handily. He can win again. Bodine contemplates this and agrees to go with them. In Bolivia, they regroup with SCOTT BUCKLEY, a media consultant. They drive through La Paz and find their path blocked by protesting Indians marching in the street. When they arrive at the president’s mansion, the group hears what sounds like gunfire. It doesn’t alarm Gallo, who leads them inside and asks about his chances. With 100 days left in the campaign, Gallo has 8% and his primary opponent, River, has 36%. Carver, Buckley, and Talby restate the obvious, all of them subtly looking toward Bodine for insight. He has none — in fact, he seems a little out of it, dispirited.

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Posted by D. B. Bates on December 24, 2008 10:17 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

December 23, 2008

Black List Script #9 – I’m with Cancer (a.k.a., 50/50) by Will Reiser

MAJOR DISCLAIMER: Since these scripts, bought or not, are currently unproduced and/or in the midst of long, tedious development processes, they may not make it to the screen for up to three years, if ever. You should know that the synopsis contains MASSIVE, EARTH-SHATTERING SPOILERS, even though this screenplay may not resemble the finished film (if any) in any way. Read at your own risk.

Secondary Disclaimer: I refer to what follows as “coverage” by the loosest definition of that term. In keeping with this blog’s tradition, I’ve crammed the notes so full of rancorous rants, it’s 1/10th as concise as actual coverage, almost falling into the category of a review. However, since I’ve included the loglines and a detailed synopsis, it’s close enough to coverage for my purposes. Deal with it.

Logline (provided by The Black List): “A autobiographical comic account of one man’s struggle to beat cancer.”

Jump to:
Synopsis
Notes
The Bottom Line

Synopsis

On a gorgeous San Diego day, ADAM SCHWARTZ (26) is forced to go to the hospital. A receptionist who treats Adam like dirt gives him a gown to get into, and he’s greeted by JOANNE, a cheery nurse leading around a group of students who observe his behavior. She gives Adam a sample cup for urine — he has trouble with that. By the time he gets through the lengthy process of a full-body X-Ray and MRI, Adam has to pee. The next day, Adam’s alarm clock/white noise machine goes off. Adam finds himself unable to turn it off — it merely switches from a braying alarm to various forms of white noise. This wakes his girlfriend, RACHEL, who’s irritated by it. By the time she gets it off, he’s fully awake. She runs her fingers through his hair and spots a gray one. Adam freaks out and investigates it in the bathroom. He smiles when he finds it.

After showering using Rachel’s shampoo/body-wash, Adam is picked up by his longtime best friend, SETH (25), who rolls down the windows to get rid of the girly scent. Waiting in line at a coffee shop, single Seth wonders why a couple ahead of them can’t keep their hands off each other. Adam laments that he and Rachel used to be that way, but the relationship has slowed down. Adam thinks Rachel is waiting for him to take the next step by asking her to move in. Seth suggests Adam dump Rachel, but Adam loves her. Seth doesn’t care — Adam’s good-looking and could get laid easily. To prove it, Seth asks the gay baristas if they’d sleep with Adam, given the opportunity. They’re all enthusiastic.

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Posted by D. B. Bates on December 23, 2008 2:15 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

December 22, 2008

Black List Script #8 – Broken City by Brian Tucker

MAJOR DISCLAIMER: Since these scripts, bought or not, are currently unproduced and/or in the midst of long, tedious development processes, they may not make it to the screen for up to three years, if ever. You should know that the synopsis contains MASSIVE, EARTH-SHATTERING SPOILERS, even though this screenplay may not resemble the finished film (if any) in any way. Read at your own risk.

Secondary Disclaimer: I refer to what follows as “coverage” by the loosest definition of that term. In keeping with this blog’s tradition, I’ve crammed the notes so full of rancorous rants, it’s 1/10th as concise as actual coverage, almost falling into the category of a review. However, since I’ve included the loglines and a detailed synopsis, it’s close enough to coverage for my purposes. Deal with it.

Logline (provided by The Black List): “A New York private investigator gets sucked into a shady mayoral election.”

Jump to:
Synopsis
Notes
The Bottom Line

Synopsis

At the Bolton Village housing project, Detective BILLY TAGGART (mid-30s) stands over the dead body of a 16-year-old kid, MIKEY TAVAREZ, who has been shot in the head. Sirens approach. Some time later, Taggart’s murder trial has become a zoo, the courthouse steps flooded with protesters and media. Mayor NICHOLAS HOSTETLER, 50s, discusses the possible outcome with police chief COLIN FAIRBANKS. Fairbanks tells Hostetler a witness came forward with a videotape of the shooting. Hostetler wants a copy, which Fairbanks says will arrive later; meanwhile, the original is being “misplaced” in evidence control. Billy’s verdict comes back innocent, and as he descends the courtroom steps, Billy hands his badge to Mikey Tavarez’s father.

Eight years later, Billy is bathing with his attractive, long-time girlfriend, NATALIE BARROW. She’s an actress and is flirting with the idea of moving to L.A. to pursue more lucrative work. Billy’s willing to go with her, but he’s concerned about how quickly these changes are coming. He offers to fool around; Natalie tells him no. The next morning, the media is buzzing with news that the city has sold the Bolton Village project to “Solstein Donagan” for $6 billion. HENRY LUDLOW, a convicted stalker, rejoices at an early release. Others involved in the parole hearing console Billy, who testified to keep Henry in prison.

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Posted by D. B. Bates on December 22, 2008 11:40 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

December 21, 2008

Black List Script #7 – Winter’s Discontent by Paul Fruchbom

MAJOR DISCLAIMER: Since these scripts, bought or not, are currently unproduced and/or in the midst of long, tedious development processes, they may not make it to the screen for up to three years, if ever. You should know that the synopsis contains MASSIVE, EARTH-SHATTERING SPOILERS, even though this screenplay may not resemble the finished film (if any) in any way. Read at your own risk.
Secondary Disclaimer: I refer to what follows as “coverage” by the loosest definition of that term. In keeping with this blog’s tradition, I’ve crammed the notes so full of rancorous rants, it’s 1/10th as concise as actual coverage, almost falling into the category of a review. However, since I’ve included the loglines and a detailed synopsis, it’s close enough to coverage for my purposes. Deal with it.

Logline (provided by The Black List): “When Herb Winter’s wife of fifty years dies, the faithful but sexually frustrated widower moves into a retirement community to start living the swinging single life.”

Jump to:
Synopsis
Notes
The Bottom Line

Synopsis

On HERB WINTER’s 75th birthday, he attends his wife’s funeral. In voiceover, he gripes that, while he maybe didn’t want her to die, he hasn’t had sex in decades. He’s been faithful, but now it’s time to get some. At the wake, Herb talks to mourners and his best friend JULES ROSENBAUM, described as “a Jewish Mister Rogers.” Throughout his conversation, voiceover continues, providing ironic commentary to the relatively innocuous things Herb says. (This device continues intermittently throughout the script.) Herb bugs Jules for details on Spruce Gardens, a retirement community with a 4:1 woman:man ratio. Jules sarcastically plays it off and grumbles about Herb’s lack of compassion for his own wife. CHERYL (40s), Herb’s good-looking real estate agent, approaches, and Herb thinks lewd things while discussing the sale of his home.

When Herb arrives at Spruce Gardens, KATE BENTLEY (late 50s) gives him a grand tour. She shows Herb the music room and asks if he plays an instrument. Herb tells her piano, years ago. She shows him the gym and asks if he works out; Herb says he hasn’t since he served in Korea. Kate says her dad was in Korea, which stings Herb. WANDA NEWTON (70s) walks by, “eye-fucking” Herb as she passes. Kate asks what Herb used to do for a living; Herb sold typewriters, and not very well. Kate suggests it was a good fit — piano and typing.

Later, in the cafeteria, Herb tries to discuss all the feminine potential at Spruce Gardens, but Jules has no interest. Instead, Herb finds like minds in ELMER WILLIAMS and CHARLIE HASSELBACK, longtime residents who have a good thing going with the women at Spruce Gardens. They immediately welcome Herb to the fold, as they discuss fond wartime memories of women. Elmer and Charlie give Herb the lay of the land, describing each woman and her foibles. Herb’s really interested in Kate, but the others believe she’s too young — there’s no way she’ll give him the time of day. Herb asks who he should approach instead. They ask how long it’s been since he’s had sex. Herb can’t even remember. Elmer and Charlie suggest Wanda Newton.

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Posted by D. B. Bates on December 21, 2008 1:43 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

December 20, 2008

Black List Script #6 – Fuckbuddies (a.k.a., No Strings Attached) by Liz Meriwether

MAJOR DISCLAIMER: Since these scripts, bought or not, are currently unproduced and/or in the midst of long, tedious development processes, they may not make it to the screen for up to three years, if ever. You should know that the synopsis contains MASSIVE, EARTH-SHATTERING SPOILERS, even though this screenplay may not resemble the finished film (if any) in any way. Read at your own risk.

Secondary Disclaimer: I refer to what follows as “coverage” by the loosest definition of that term. In keeping with this blog’s tradition, I’ve crammed the notes so full of rancorous rants, it’s 1/10th as concise as actual coverage, almost falling into the category of a review. However, since I’ve included the loglines and a detailed synopsis, it’s close enough to coverage for my purposes. Deal with it.

Logline (provided by The Black List): “A guy and a girl struggle to have an exclusively sexual relationship as they both come to realize they want much more.”

Jump to:
Synopsis
Notes
The Bottom Line

Synopsis

EMMA FRANKLIN and ADAM KURTZMAN lie in bed together, discussing the word “fuckbuddies” and trying to find an alternative to it.

In 1994, a group of 13-year-olds at summer camp sneak to watch the girls dance — specifically, the one girl in the group whose recently developed breasts bounce with each movement. Adam is among them, but he’s not looking at this girl — he’s looking at Emma, tall and scrawny. He asks her if she wants to “freak.” Moments later, they’re freaking to TLC’s “No Scrubs.” Emma doesn’t understand the song lyrics, so Adam attempts to explain in a faux-black patois. Annoyed by the noise from other campers, Emma invites Adam to “the Dumpster.” Adam’s surprised. We discover this is a mysterious make-out spot because of the moderate privacy it affords. Adam and Emma talk about themselves — Emma’s “life is pretty fucked up,” Adam’s parents are getting divorced, Emma believes marriage is bad and that people aren’t meant to be together forever. A couple of other campers ask for their spot since they aren’t even making out. Instead of leaving, they make out, which causes Adam to cry. Emma’s not very sensitive to the situation.

In 2001, Adam is at a University of Michigan frat party with his friends SCOTTIE (athletic) and ELI (unknown). Adam makes out with his girlfriend, VANESSA. When she goes to get a beer, Eli gripes that Adam’s never going to have sex with Vanessa. Adam doesn’t mind. Eli observes that Scottie, who’s dancing shirtless, has a gay nipple. This prompts Eli to mention that he was raised by two gay dads and he’s proud of them. Adam catches sight of a girl walking into the party — it’s Emma. He hasn’t seen her since camp. Adam approaches her, and she knows exactly who she is and where they met, immediately. Surprised to see her, Adam asks if she goes to the school. Emma says she goes to MIT but grew up in nearby Ypsilanti.

Adam and Emma flirt with each other until Emma asks if he has a girlfriend. Adam points out Vanessa, whom Emma describes as “fat” and having a “McDonald’s face.” She asks why Vanessa won’t sleep with him; Adam is surprised she guessed that but denies it. Adam’s baffled, but Emma explains she’s pre-med and is, therefore, comfortable talking about the human body. Also, she’s kind of a slut, so she knows a lot about the genitalia in particular. Adam reluctantly confides that he and Vanessa are waiting until they’re ready. Emma doesn’t understand this logic. They go out to her car and have sex. In the midst of it, Adam feels a little uncomfortable about cheating on his girlfriend. He starts to ramble, so she gives him his pants back.

Read "Black List Script #6 – Fuckbuddies (a.k.a., No Strings Attached) by Liz Meriwether" »

Posted by D. B. Bates on December 20, 2008 10:41 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (4)

December 19, 2008

Black List Script #5 – The Low Dweller by Brad Ingelsby

MAJOR DISCLAIMER: Since these scripts, bought or not, are currently unproduced and/or in the midst of long, tedious development processes, they may not make it to the screen for up to three years, if ever. You should know that the synopsis contains MASSIVE, EARTH-SHATTERING SPOILERS, even though this screenplay may not resemble the finished film (if any) in any way. Read at your own risk.
Secondary Disclaimer: I refer to what follows as “coverage” by the loosest definition of that term. In keeping with this blog’s tradition, I’ve crammed the notes so full of rancorous rants, it’s 1/10th as concise as actual coverage, almost falling into the category of a review. However, since I’ve included the loglines and a detailed synopsis, it’s close enough to coverage for my purposes. Deal with it.

Logline (provided by The Black List): “A man trying to assimilate into society after being released from jail discovers that someone from his past is out to settle a score.”

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Synopsis
Notes
The Bottom Line

Synopsis

CHARLIE “SLIM” HENDRICK (late 20s), identified in the script as the low dweller of the title, wakes up disheveled, under a tree on a summer night. Sheriff’s deputies, led by MULBY NOLAN (late 20s), tries to get the disoriented Slim to talk. When he doesn’t, Nolan cuffs Slim.

FOUR YEARS LATER. 1986. LOWLANDS. SOUTHERN INDIANA.

Slim is released from prison. He walks to a roadside diner, where the owner automatically knows the story — anyone passing through this town on foot could only come from one place. The owner invites a fat trucker to give Slim a ride into nearby Easton. Slim refuses it. He makes the 23-mile walk into Easton and arrives at his brother’s home. CORMAC, Slim’s younger brother, lies in bed next to an obese girl when Slim shows up. Cormac welcomes his brother home by yelling for him to shut the bedroom door.

A month later, Slim is working a farm. He asks the owner for more hours. He goes home to Cormac’s, offers to go out with him for a burger. Cormac tells him he already ate, so Slim goes alone. He eats in silence at a tavern frequented by local day-laborers. Days later, Slim goes to a restaurant, Jilly’s, run by JOHN O’RILEY (60s, also the local bookie), and asks where Cormac is and “who did it.” Cormac got his ass kicked over a woman, and he lies in a bloodied heap out back. After taking a look at him, John warns Slim that Cormac changed when Slim “left,” and also that he’s into John for a lot of money. Slim offers to pay half in a few days, which John grudgingly accepts.

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Posted by D. B. Bates on December 19, 2008 10:45 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

December 18, 2008

Black List Script #4 – Big Hole by Michael Gilio

MAJOR DISCLAIMER: Since these scripts, bought or not, are currently unproduced and/or in the midst of long, tedious development processes, they may not make it to the screen for up to three years, if ever. You should know that the synopsis contains MASSIVE, EARTH-SHATTERING SPOILERS, even though this screenplay may not resemble the finished film (if any) in any way. Read at your own risk.
Secondary Disclaimer: I refer to what follows as “coverage” by the loosest definition of that term. In keeping with this blog’s tradition, I’ve crammed the notes so full of rancorous rants, it’s 1/10th as concise as actual coverage, almost falling into the category of a review. However, since I’ve included the loglines and a detailed synopsis, it’s close enough to coverage for my purposes. Deal with it.

Logline (provided by The Black List): “An old cowboy goes on a mission to recover his money after a million dollar sweepstakes scam cleans out his entire bank account.”

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Notes
The Bottom Line

Synopsis

FRANCIS LEE, SR. (78), is a curmudgeonly old Montana ranch owner with a simple ritual: on the first of each month, MAYA (30s, Blackfoot Indian) comes to clean his house and take him into town. In Glass Valley, Lee gets a trim at Dutch’s Barbershop, picks up his prescriptions and buys his groceries from the Cole Mercantile, does his banking at Wachovia, and has lunch at a restaurant called the Steak Knife. His lunch has a ritual of its own: the waitress brings him a thick, juicy steak and a plate of French fries. He cuts up the steak, savors the juices, and spits out each piece, then sucks the salt off the French fries.

In September, the routine goes off without a hitch, despite the minor irritation of DEAN (Dutch’s technophile son) acting like an idiot, young bank teller LORETTA ignoring him as he philosophizes, elderly checkout clerk ALMA griping that the Cole Mercantile is struggling against a competing warehouse store, and seeing HECK — a mysterious man who once knew Lee very well — at the Steak Knife. Also, Maya gets stuck behind a long freight train and is late picking Lee up. Irritated, Lee threatens to fire her. Maya acts like this is a normal thing and pays it no mind.

Read "Black List Script #4 – Big Hole by Michael Gilio" »

Posted by D. B. Bates on December 18, 2008 1:39 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

December 17, 2008

Black List Script #3 – Butter by Jason Micallef

MAJOR DISCLAIMER: Since these scripts, bought or not, are currently unproduced and/or in the midst of long, tedious development processes, they may not make it to the screen for up to three years, if ever. You should know that the synopsis contains MASSIVE, EARTH-SHATTERING SPOILERS, even though this screenplay may not resemble the finished film (if any) in any way. Read at your own risk.

Secondary Disclaimer: I refer to what follows as “coverage” by the loosest definition of that term. In keeping with this blog’s tradition, I’ve crammed the notes so full of rancorous rants, it’s 1/10th as concise as actual coverage, almost falling into the category of a review. However, since I’ve included the loglines and a detailed synopsis, it’s close enough to coverage for my purposes. Deal with it.

Logline (provided by The Black List): “A small town becomes a center for controversy and jealousy as its annual butter carving contest begins.”

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Synopsis
Notes
The Bottom Line

Synopsis

Dueling voiceovers introduce us to the two main characters, LAURA PICKLER (40s, shrill, trophy wife) and DESTINY (12, black, orphaned). Laura narrates the story of her husband’s success. For the past 15 years, BOB PICKLER has won the blue ribbon in the butter-carving competition at the Iowa State Fair. His most recent sculpture was a life-size take on Da Vinci’s Last Supper. Destiny narrates the story of her struggles in the foster-care system, which has led her to a number of bad parents. After visiting the butter-carving display, Destiny goes to a nearby 7-Eleven to buy a stick of butter. She takes it back to the Last Supper display and carves a perfect replica of Jesus’ chalice. Bob notices this and is genuinely impressed by her talent.

Destiny is introduced to a new set of foster parents, yuppies ETHAN and JILL. They awkwardly introduce Destiny to her new home. At the State Fair butter gala, committee judge ORVAL ANDERSON makes a jokey speech, then plays a video tribute to Bob Pickler. He congratulates Bob on 15 years of wonderful service to this art form. After bedtime, Destiny sneaks to the beautiful, modern kitchen and searches the refrigerator for butter. All she finds is soy spread. After the speechmaking section of the gala, Orval approaches Bob and Laura. He gracelessly suggests that Bob should step down and let someone else have a chance to win. Bob’s fine with it, but Laura is not, so Orval has to put his foot down and ban Bob from competing.

Read "Black List Script #3 – Butter by Jason Micallef" »

Posted by D. B. Bates on December 17, 2008 10:27 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

December 16, 2008

Black List Script #2 – The Oranges by Ian Helfer and Jay Reiss

MAJOR DISCLAIMER: Since these scripts, bought or not, are currently unproduced and/or in the midst of long, tedious development processes, they may not make it to the screen for up to three years, if ever. You should know that the synopsis contains MASSIVE, EARTH-SHATTERING SPOILERS, even though this screenplay may not resemble the finished film (if any) in any way. Read at your own risk.

Secondary Disclaimer: I refer to what follows as “coverage” by the loosest definition of that term. In keeping with this blog’s tradition, I’ve crammed the notes so full of rancorous rants, it’s 1/10th as concise as actual coverage, almost falling into the category of a review. However, since I’ve included the loglines and a detailed synopsis, it’s close enough to coverage for my purposes. Deal with it.

Logline (provided by The Black List): “A man has a romantic relationship with the daughter of a family friend, which turns their lives upside down.”

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Synopsis

[Removed by request.]

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Posted by D. B. Bates on December 16, 2008 12:38 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

December 15, 2008

Black List Script #1 – The Beaver by Kyle Killen

MAJOR DISCLAIMER: Since these scripts, bought or not, are currently unproduced and/or in the midst of long, tedious development processes, they may not make it to the screen for up to three years, if ever. You should know that the synopsis contains MASSIVE, EARTH-SHATTERING SPOILERS, even though this screenplay may not resemble the finished film (if any) in any way. Read at your own risk.

Secondary Disclaimer: I refer to what follows as “coverage” by the loosest definition of that term. In keeping with this blog’s tradition, I’ve crammed the notes so full of rancorous rants, it’s 1/10th as concise as actual coverage, almost falling into the category of a review. However, since I’ve included the loglines and a detailed synopsis, it’s close enough to coverage for my purposes. Deal with it.

Logline (provided by The Black List): “A depressed man finds hope in a beaver puppet that he wears on his hand.”

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Synopsis
Notes
The Bottom Line

Synopsis

THE BEAVER, in voiceover, introduces us to WALTER BLACK, mid-40s, a depressed man at the end of his rope. Appointed to CEO of a toy company — a position well beyond his abilities — he’s led the company to the verge of bankruptcy, his youngest son (HENRY, 8) is depressed and withdrawn himself, his oldest son (PORTER, 18, “emo kid”) wishes his parents would divorce, and his wife (MEREDITH, late 30s) spends much of her time weeping openly. Now, The Beaver continues to explain, Meredith is at the end of her rope and has finally taken it upon herself to throw Walter out.

At school, jock JARED tries to convince Porter to write papers for him. Porter explains that it’s a gradual process of building the grade up over a series of weeks, so he’ll only help Jared if he commits for the long haul. Jared reluctantly agrees and pays him. NORAH, a good-looking cheerleader, approaches Porter for roughly the same reason. Porter’s surprised because, academically, she’s smarter than he is. Norah says she needs help writing her valedictory speech.

Read "Black List Script #1 – The Beaver by Kyle Killen" »

Posted by D. B. Bates on December 15, 2008 3:34 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (0)

December 12, 2008

Black List 2008

Say, these aren’t the best scripts. They’re just the “most liked.” Because why would anyone like the best scripts the most? That’s crazy talk!

I’ve made the bold decision to cover the top ten on this blog over the course of the next two weeks — one a day, starting with The Beaver, ending with Our Brand Is Crisis. This schedule assumes, of course, that these scripts don’t disillusion or enrage me to such a degree that I give up on life altogether.

THE BLACK LIST was compiled from the suggestions of over 250 film executives, each of whom contributed the names of up to ten of their favorite scripts that were written in, or are somehow uniquely associated with, 2008 and will not be released in theaters during this calendar year.

This year, scripts had to receive at least four mentions to be included on THE BLACK LIST. All reasonable effort has been made to confirm the information contained herein. THE BLACK LIST apologizes for all misspellings, misattributions, incorrect representation identification, and questionable “2008” affiliations.

It has been said many times, but it’s worth repeating:

THE BLACK LIST is not a “best of” list. It is, at best, a “most liked” list.

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Posted by D. B. Bates on December 12, 2008 4:15 PM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (1)

March 3, 2008

Script Review: Jennifer’s Body by Diablo Cody

It might surprise you to learn I didn’t hate Jennifer’s Body. I didn’t like it much, either, but it manages to eschew most of Juno’s more egregious problems with its legitimate fantastical setting (as opposed to Juno’s “people are accusing us of offering an irresponsible message, so we’re calling it a fantasy” fantastical setting). It also, despite its problems, doesn’t try to forget or ignore where the story should naturally head in favor of a sloppy, forced happy ending. It’s sloppy and forced in other areas, to be sure, and its ending is unremarkable, but Jennifer’s Body knows its role and, for the most part, lives up to it.

Here’s a brief outline of the story: plain-jane Anita “Needy” Lesnicki (I am not making up that name) is 17 and institutionalized. In voiceover, she suggests that we ought to know how she ended up in the nuthouse, which flashes back to her killing her best friend, the once-beautiful Jennifer Check who has now become some sort of unknown monster. Jennifer’s mother catches Needy in the act; she’s arrested and, eventually, hauled into the nuthouse. Of note is a song — a “soaring rock anthem” — which places twice during this opening sequence — once when Needy is dragged into solitary confinement, and again during the flashback where she’s arrested.

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Posted by D. B. Bates on March 3, 2008 8:22 AM  | Permalink  | Print-Friendly  | Comments (2)