Monday, October 28, 2013

Film Review: Beautiful Thing (1996)


Premise: In a London suburb, young Jamie (bullied by his peers) and his neighbour/classmate Ste (beaten by his brother and father) start to develop feelings for each other.

Director: Hettie Macdonald

Written by: Jonathan Harvey

Technical: 90 minutes.

This is my second time watching Beautiful Thing (and it will not be my last). After the first viewing, I thought it was great, but not phenomenal. I was bothered by a few very minor things. Regardless, the film made a large impression on me. Over time, the film grew on me. After watching Beautiful Thing for the second time, I found not a single fault within it. (It doesn't matter if you can't understand some of what is said in the film, due to the accents. In fact, it makes the film more authentic, and better). Beautiful Thing is a small, quiet masterpiece.

The players in Beautiful Thing are not merely characters. They are familiar, and they are real, and they are family. We see all their different shades; rude, vulgar, dirty, desperate, scared, loving, selfless. They really do struggle; they are living life, and doing their best, and being pushed back three steps for every one they take forward. Some parts are hard to watch, because the emotion is just so genuine. (To be clear: I am not saying that this film has the realism of, say, an Italian neorealist film. This is a different type of realism.) Beautiful Thing does not show you what you want to see. It is not an easy film. The story is effortless to follow, but still requires the viewer to think and feel.

This is not a film about homosexuality (though Ste and Jamie's relationship is quite touching.)  In fact, this film has very little to do with homosexuality. It has everything to do with being human. This is a film about bigotry and ignorance, viewed through one particular lens, but having universal meaning.

Thankfully, this lens ain't rose coloured.

About: Based on the play of the same name (which was also written by the screenwriter, Jonathan Harvey.)

Sunday, October 27, 2013

(Unproduced) Screenplay Review: The Brigands of Rattleborge


(Note: read this script with a dictionary beside you)

Premise: A group of bandits ransack and terrorize a small town. After the rampage, the sheriff seeks revenge.

Written by: S. Craig Zahler

Technical: Original 2006 draft.

As a whole, Rattleborge is bombastic and verbose.

At first, I enjoyed the "thesaurus writing". It adds another dimension to the screenplay. It is a different style, refreshingly unique. While reading I looked up every word that I didn't know in the dictionary (online dictionary, not paper). It is refreshing to be exposed to such foreign, precise words. After all, part of reading is to improve your vocabulary, is it not? The problem is that it got old fast, and stopped developing the world of Brigands, and started detracting from it. The verbiage eventually becomes over the top, and unecessary.

Here is an example from page 2:
Billy SNAPS the reins to his horse, a subtle and efficient flicker. The horse obediently takes to the steep decline beyond the lip of the plateau, and picks its footing down.
Another example (from page 27):
Pickman runs his hand over his bare scalp to the point from which his retreating hair has not yet surrendered.
And it goes on. Further into the screenplay, about halfway through, the verbosity noticably slowed my read down, making it draggy. Trying to get through the pages felt like trying to run through water.

The wordy writing is a double edged sword. When it does work the situations and characters are wonderfully articulated, conveying as much as words can (on page 14, Ermine the barber is creepy before he even says or does anything!)

If used carefully, and in moderation, this writing style could have enhanced the script. In Rattleborge, this was the case sometimes. But overall, the language weakens the screenplay significantly.

The first third of the script was really good. But from post-rampage to the arrival in Quarterstone, everything dragged, and the quality of the writing declined significantly. By page 75, it was utter garbage.

By that point, it's blatantly obvious that the script is too long, in that there is a lot that should have been cut. Speaking of which-the journey to Quarterstone was painful to get through. All of the travel through the plains, or most of it, is very unnecessary. (This fluctuation of quality was extremely frustrating.) Aside from quality, there were other inconsistences. For some sections, the author uses normal, clear description. At other times, it seems as though large portions were written using a thesaurus.

Once Pickman and Abraham get to the Higgensford residence, the screenplay becomes brilliant, once again?? It's better written, and is really tense. And when Billy Lee comes home... it has to be one of the best scenes I have ever read in a screenplay. Intensely, sickeningly satisfying, and terribly exciting, it is the absolute definition of badass. Reading through the entire screenplay, just to get to the climatic ambush scene,  is worth it. After this, thankfully, there is an avalanche of chaos and violence, and things go full force until the end.

For the most part, the characters have razor sharp personalities, and are well developed. Even the smaller characters pop off the page. But the inclusion of some characters is unecessary (Ermine, The Gouley Brothers, Grant and Donna Tylor, etc.) They are introduced, and then die. They contribute nothing to the screenplay. They aren't very interesting or entertaining alive, nor are they dead. Cutting superfluous characters and situations like these would shorten 9and tighten) the script significantly.

Rattleborge is quite a creative, clever piece. It has moments, even sections, of brilliance. But some heavy reworking still needs to be done.

As it stands, The Brigands of Rattleborge is better than mediocre, but far from great.

History: Rattleborge was the number one 2006 Black List script. It has rotted in development hell, probably due to its extremely violent content. As of October 2013, the the project is unproduced.

Monday, October 21, 2013

(Rookie) Screenplay Review: Our Last Days As Children


Premise: A former close-knit group of young adults return to their small town for a final summer together.

Written by:  Kevin Revie

Technical: 77 pages. First Draft (May 18, 2011)

"Our Last Days As Children" script link here

Saying that Our Last Days As Children is inconsistent... would be putting it mildly. Some elements are terrible, and some... are brilliant. The script does need some substantial adjustments. Some of the characters need more definition. Much of the dialogue needs to be shortened or removed altogether. But the strengths of the writing far outweigh the weaknesses.

The script beautifully exudes realism. The writer is either ignorant, or brash; either way, thankfully, they throw the ideas of "plot points", "character arcs", and other such offal out the window.

A "trained" or "professional" screenwriter would have a very difficult time writing something as genuine and heartfelt as Our Last Days As Children. If a studio, or anyone other than the sole writer had been involved, Last Days probably would have lost its authenticity, and become more of a product. As it is, the work of a beginning writer, the reader must look past the (at times) horrendously shitty writing, to the truth and the perspective of the characters.

What do I mean by "horrendously shitty" writing? Well, the screenplay is flat-out sloppy, filled with endless typos. No apostrophes where there should be. No commas where there should be. Run on sentences. No capitalization where there should be. The writer uses you're when it should be your. Constant, inappropriate exclamation points. And so on.

I am not even close to being a grammar freak... but these problems are prevalent throughout the entire screenplay. The mistakes are truly over the top. And this show of laziness on the writer's part is disappointing, and is the screenplay's biggest weakness. I could not care less about typos, but in this situation, when they fill every page, the issue must be addressed.

At it's best, Last Days is refreshingly contemplative. The characters are viewed as young adults by their families, their society, according to their age. But they truly are, in every way, still children. The fact that these young, unexperiences characters could get one to become so reflective, says something. (I myself felt a strong sense of nostalgia while reading this script, thinking back to my days as a teenager...) Sure enough, it is not the long, contemplative speeches (such as on pages 38-39) that cause such acute rumination.... but it is instead the smaller, simpler moments. The moments that don't make such an obvious effort.

The characters are the essence of the screenplay's realism. Yes, they are quite flat, and uninteresting, and uncreative. I mean, really, they are quite dumb. But so are the majority of teenagers now. Teenagers now are all the same as each other; they dress the same, talk the same, behave the same. It is the same as those in Last Days.

(Something interesting to note, and I believe this strengthens rather than detracts from the story: the teenagers in Last Days are much tamer, and more innocent, than the average teenager today).

The honesty and truth within this work is touching. But the writer's laziness shows a lack of care for the craft.

Overall, Our Last Days As Children is a wonderful portrait of young adults, in a small town, trying to find themselves.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

(Produced) Screenplay Review: Winter's Bone


Premise: Living in secluded wilderness, and struggling to get by, seventeen year old Ree finds out that her missing father has put up their house and land as bond. Already raising her younger siblings, with her mother severely ill, Bree tries to find her father.

Written by: Debra Granik / Anne Rosellini

Technical: 73 pages. Based on the novel 'WINTER'S BONE' by Daniel Woodrell.

Poor writing is usually redundant, and states the obvious. Winter's Bone, however, is a solid illustration of subtleness in screenwriting.

This script is 73 pages, but by the end, I literally felt as though I had only read 10 pages. 10 spectacular pages. Even though the tone of this piece was slow, quiet, and serious, script reads don't get much faster than this. The writing is sparse, yet sharply articulate (a tremendous example of less is more). And the material is so emotionally deep, yet written so it is simple to understand.

The screenplay is genuine and thoughtful, with a sensitive approach to the subject matter. Ree is extremely likable, and a complex, fascinating character. And every stone she upturns, every new clue she uncovers, is intriguing. From page 9 onwards, I was genuinely anticipating the conclusion to the mystery: what happened to Jessup?

Winter's Bone is a relevant, educative piece of material.

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Television Script Review: LOST "Two for the Road" Season 2, Episode 20

Premise: Previously on Lost (the word epic is overused and misused... but this has to be one of the most epic lines in the history of television) we saw Ana Lucia commit a murder in a flashback. On the island, Michael left the camp, looking for Walt, and disappeared. At the end of the previous episode, Jack and Kate went out to the territorial line that they're not supposed to cross, to tell the Others that they have Benjamin Linus captive. The episode ends on a shocking revelation... they come across Michael, who stumbles out of the bushes.

Written by: Elizabeth Sarnoff & Christina M. Kim

The writers of this episode were nominated for the Writers Guild of America (WGA) Award for Best Episodic Drama at the February 2007 ceremony, for writing this episode.

Technical: 58 pages. Final Production Draft (April 3, 2006)

Lost is famous for its addictive quality. I have heard it compared to crack, numerous times.. Watching Lost for the first time was very, very addicting. But a while back, for whatever reason, I re-watched the entire third season. And the second time around... Lost was different. It wasn't as addicting, or thrilling, as I remembered it. There were moments that were still great to watch a second time, and it was still kind of enjoyable... but it was not like watching it for the first time. Maybe it was because I hadn't started from the beginning; the momentum has not been built. But I suspect another explanation.

It is curious, the comparison of Lost to crack. The comparison almost always has a positive connotation. But like crack, after the initial highs of Lost... it becomes less brilliant over time. After you've watched Lost once,  the largest revelations are already known. You know who lives, who dies. You know that at the end, there are almost no answers or explanations to anything, which, in a way, makes the entire experience meaningless. And even if some decent answers were included... it was the guessing, and the waiting, that was the most fun. Clearly, one of Lost's greatest assets is the cliffhangers, the mysteries, the twists, the suspense. That stuff... basically made the whole show. But once that is taken out of the equation (once you see it all once), there is little repeat value.

Other popular shows, like Breaking Bad, or Game of Thrones, might not have the severe level of addictiveness that Lost carries... but unlike Lost, those shows do have repeat value. They have so much more depth, and have so many more layers, and so much more complexity, that they have tremendous repeat value. Like so many other things in this day and age, Lost provided immediate, instant gratification... but was meant for one-time use, and pretty much fell apart after that, and became useless. When I think of Lost now, the word "disposable" comes to mind. You always hear about/see people, like, re-reading the Harry Potter books, or watching great films a dozen times. But I have never once heard someone talk about
 re-watching Lost. Perhaps because there isn't much of a reason to?

On to the script.

The writing is very articulate; clear, explicit, and potent.

But the writers, constantly, use the word "fucking" for emphasis. Is this lazy? Yes. Does this show a lack of creativity? Yes. Is this unprofessional? Yes. It is especially distracting, and does make me aware that I am reading a script.

Page 16:

I was on my way here, John, because
I was coming for you.


LOCKE! Get out here!

ON HENRY. Laid bare. Not a shred of the Lecter bullshit --
he’s as GENUINE as we’ve ever seen him.

ON LOCKE. Head SPINNING. Doesn’t know whether he’s being
fucked with or he’s just been given the meaning of LIFE.

The language... however juvenile it is... is effective. It definitely does provide emphasis, here. When I read Henry's shocking revelation, I did feel the "holy fucking shit". But there are two important points to consider.

One: Just because the language it is effective, is that necessarily a good thing? No. Just because the writing is effective, that does not make it good writing, or does not justify its usage. The Nazis were effective at killing Jews. But does that make it a good way to treat other human beings? Does their effectiveness justify their actions? No. There are many different ways to do one thing effectively. 

Point two. When Henry says his shocking line, I truly am shocked. But then... is the writer writing "HOLY. FUCKING. SHIT." not redundant?

If there is a shocking moment, the reader will recognize it. Or they won't, because the writer didn't clearly convey something. In this example, the script is written the way the show is produced. The reader/viewer is endlessly spoon fed. They don't have to think; they just have to absorb. Nothing is left open to interpretation.

At the end of all this, while I can't exactly say I am unimpressed, I can say with certainty that I am not moved. Despite the razor sharp writing... there is just nothing to it all, a second time. It wasn't very interesting, knowing what was going to happen. 

As for how the script relates to the show itself? Well, reading the script made me realize how neat and tidy it all is. Lost is nothing like reality. People don't talk this neatly, or act this neatly. Everything is too well written, too perfect. The subtext, the actions.

And it's as well-written... as phony can be.

Jack, Kate, Locke, Sawyer... these are all definitely characters... but do they seem like real people? Absolutely not. 

Lost is not based in the real world. It was produced by some well off, Caucasian, heterosexual, Western males, greedy for ratings. Racism, sexism, homophobia, mental illness, whatever, the issues of the world are never dealt with. The show has a very, very limited perspective. 

With the future of television and film making the slow but sure transition into gritty realism, Lost has, and is, dating very, very quickly. And that is no surprise, as the show is nothing special.

Thursday, October 03, 2013

(Rookie) Screenplay Review: Max's Traveling Carnival

Premise (from author): A young girl discovers she has a superhuman ability and embarks on a quest to save her parents from an evil carnival leader. It's Harry Potter meets X-Men. 

Writer: Gabriel Moronta 

Technical: 96 pages. 

"Max's Traveling Carnival" script link here

Page 1:
From afar, we see a speck close in. 
It flies over the big top and descends. Growing in size, the speck morphs into a clown who... 

 What is a big top? 

MAX TRAINER (43, a short, thin man with a gold-t) comes behind Smiley, throws an arm around him, and speaks to us. 
What is a gold t? Is that suppose to be a gold tooth? Regardless, Smiley is a cliche clown. I would say Max is boring... but Max kind of makes boring look sensational.

Fireballs, firestarters... it's all cliche and shit. The first page is one of the most bland I have ever read.

English is obviously not the writer's first language. Why are so many individuals writing screenplays when English is not their first language? Ninety nine percent of people who write screenplays, who do have English as a first language... should not be writing screenplays. So why do these foreigners... the entire thing is absolutely infuriating.

Page 2. The content... is beyond juvenile. If the writing on page 2 was filmed, I would not screen it for a six month old infant. It is too puerile even for them. And that sounds ludicrous... but the actual ludicrous part, is that it's true. The only audience this might be acceptable for is someone, like, in a hospital bed, connected to a bank of machines keeping them alive. They are a vegetable; they can't eat, breathe, or defecate on their own. There is no brain activity. But, like, even if this movie was made, and shown to a patient in that kind of condition.... I would still be concerned, about it dumbing them down. 

Page 4 (bottom). I cannot go any further. Not, 'I don't want to go any further', but I can't. 

Why in the world... do the, least imaginative, least sensitive, frankly stupid, people in the world, try to write screenplays? And then why do they continue doing it, even after people suggest that they stop, that they are not made to be a writer? (I realize that people are into different things, different films, different stories. But if there is one thing that drives me crazy... it's people trying to dumb down other people with, like, McDonald's for the mind.)

Do these people hope to "win the lottery", make a big sale, and earn a boatload of money? Are they lying to themselves; do they truly think they are good writers? Something is obviously not right in their head. 

Sometimes I just think people, the general population, are so intelligent. And I believe that everyone is clever, and critical, in their own way. And then there are other times, when I become so pessimistic, I almost become physically ill. Something will happen and I will become convinced that people are, for the most part, utterly stupid. That most people are selfish... lazy... ignorant...etc. I now find myself in one of these pessimistic depressions.  

I am over the fatuous, narcissistic individuals who write the worst screenplays, and load them onto the internet by, like, the freighter full. They write a screenplay without reading any screenplay books, without reading professional screenplays, or novels, or anything. And then they ask people to take time out of their lives, to review their screenplay? It's unacceptable.

(Gabriel Moronta, the following message is directed at you, and all others like you. You want a solution? You want advice? Here it is. Do not ask anyone to review your screenplays. Especially not on the internet. From now on, you are the only judge, the only opinion. Take all the "writing" you have regurgitated, and throw it out. You will never look at it or think about it again. If you are attatched to a part of it, and want to rediscover that world... rewrite it eventually, but the new version will not resemble the old in any way. Okay, so now you are starting fresh. Read as many screenplays as you can. Write as often as you can. Read everything other than screenplays, and write everything other than screenplays. Obsess over this lifestyle. Eventually you may notice that you are very, very slowly, writing better. If you don't enjoy this process, if this isn't the most fun you've ever had, the hardest you've ever worked, if you don't love every minute of it, if you don't hate every minute of it, if you don't have a breakdown, if you don't want to quit every day... then this isn't the work for you. Constantly compare your work to the works of everyone else; novels, television shows, screenplays, etc. What do you not see on screen that you would want to? What do you find exciting? Always be asking yourself questions. And question everything you see, read, hear. This is the time to be more selfish than you will be at any other point of your existence. If you write for other people, for anyone else, you will NEVER go anywhere. Do anything for anyone else, you will NEVER go anywhere...)

search screenplay isles