Saturday, November 30, 2013

Film Review: Room 237 (2012)

"One can always argue that Kubrick had only some, or even none, of these in mind; but we all know from postmodern film criticism that author intent is only part of the story of any work of art, and those meanings are there regardless of whether the creator of the work was conscious of them."

Premise: In this documentary, various interpretations of Stanley Kubrick's film "The Shining" are explored.

Director: Rodney Ascher

Featuring: Bill Blakemore, Geoffrey Cocks, Juli Kearns, John Fell Ryan, Jay Weidner

Technical: 102 minutes

Room 237 background

The people interviewed for "Room 237" offer various interpretations of Stanley Kubricks's 1980 film "The Shining". We only hear the voices of the interviewed, and the film's visuals are a mix of "Shining" clips, as well as relevant photographs and video. Some of the most prominent theories presented include "The Shining" being a metaphor for the Holocaust and the genocide of Native Americans. It's also theorized that the film is a confession of Kubrick's involvement in the Apollo 11 moon landing hoax. These ideas might sound slightly bizarre, but the theories are presented in an unbiased, intriguing, and sometimes convincing way.

Aside from being genuinely unsettling, the film really exercised my imagination, and stimulated my curiosity. The theories, fair and far-reaching alike, were interesting, and I was thinking hard the entire time. The film is all speculation, and yet still mentally riveting. One shouldn't go into the film expecting any definite answers, because there are none. "Room 237" is refreshing in that it forces the viewer to come to their own conclusion. The film is filled to the brim with theories, in an avalanche of information, but the running time flies by.

The commentary is a mix of thoughtful intelligence, clever observation, blurry guesses, and obvious stretches, but there is a good balance of it all. I think the only stinker among the interviewees is the smug Juli Kearns, the lone female, and annoyingly idiotic.

The music was terrific; eerie, frightening, and bizarre. The score is wonderfully different, and suits the film perfectly.

My only complaint (and it is a minor one) is that the film could have had more visual clarity. At the beginning of the film, the interviewed individuals' names come across the screen when they first speak. We never actually see the speakers, and their names are not shown again until the end credits. Aside from Juli Kearns, I was never quite sure who was speaking. It would have been helpful if the speaker's name was shown on-screen whenever they spoke. Because the film moves so quickly, and is so full of information, the speaker is next to impossible to identify.

I have never read Stephen King's novel "The Shining", nor have I seen Kubrick's film. This didn't affect my viewing experience at all. In fact, "Room 237" has inspired me to visit these two works.

I don't think "Room 237" fits into the classification of a documentary. This film is of the kind that defies classification, as it is neither objective nor subjective, but rather a conglomeration of ideas, theories, musings, factoids, and questions. In this way, the film is quite unique.

"Room 237" was a definite success.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

(Unproduced) Screenplay Review: When The Street Lights Go On

"Becky and I became friends again during that Midwestern winter. We cruised around in my car beneath newspaper skies and smoke stained snow, listening to the Beach Boys."

Premise: In the 1980s, after a double murder in a small town, those close to the deceased try to go on living.

Written by: Eddie O'Keefe & Chris Hutton

Technical: 108 pages. June 29, 2011 draft.

The town of Colfax, Illinois. It's the summer of 1983.

Chrissy Monroe, seventeen, is secretly dating her school's young hip English teacher, Mr. Pulaski. One night they are in his car, and Pulaski is telling Chrissy that he is going to leave his wife, to be with her... when a man enters the back of the car, pointing a gun to Pulaski's head. He forces them to drive into a secluded forest, and then murders them.

Chrissy and Mr. Pulaski's bodies are found by fifteen year old Charlie Chambers. (An older Charlie is also the narrator.) The other main characters are Becky Monroe (Chrissy's younger sister), Ben Kirchhoff (star of the school football team; he was Chrissy's boyfriend), Detective Hoffman (he's investigating Chrissy's murder), and Casper Tatum (the town rebel, and lead suspect in the double homicide). The script follows these individuals, and their friends and family, as they try to make sense of the murders, and move on with their lives.

Casper is in a gang called The Hillbilly Wolves (ugh). Charlie writes for the school paper. Hoffman investigates the Monroe-Pulaski case, himself a sickening agglomeration of verbal-abuse, homophobia, deficient social skills, and perposterous behaviour. Becky and Casper - sister of the murdered girl, and lead suspect in the murder case - begin dating. But Ben developes feelings for Becky too, and has a serious rivalry with Casper. During it all, no one seems very bothered by the loss of Chrissy and Mr. Pulaski.

The first three quarters of the script is a sewage-quality wreck. The flashbacks, the voice over, the flashbacks with voice over.... it's all a mess. (Most of the time the narration just telling us.) It's way, way too overwritten. And it couldn't get any more trite:
The SOUNDS of July play over the following string of images: 
I. A group of CHILDREN play on a Slip-n-Slide. 
II. Two teenage GIRLS sunbathe on the hood of a newly washed Trans Am. Journey BLASTS from the radio. 
III. The high school FOOTBALL TEAM practices drills under the sweltering sun.
And talk about on the nose (here is one example):
I was taking notes on football
practice for the newspaper.
Charlie’s Father flips a page in his book. 
Shame you can’t be on the field
like I was instead of reporting on
the drills.
I know, Sir.
Hoffman's dialogue is nonsensical, inappropriate, and unrealistic. For example, the way Hoffman speaks to the Charlie (who discovered the murder scene) doesn't make any sense. The first thing he says:
Alright Chambers, why’d you leave
your bicycle?  
I dunno, Sir. I forgot about it. I
just ran home.
Or what about when Hoffman is questioning Chrissy's boyfriend, Ben:
How do you feel about the fact that your girly was tap assing with that faggy English teacher.
Or Hoffman at the PTA meeting:
Why have no arrests been made?  
Because there is no one to arrest.  
And what is the likelihood of the
killer striking again?  
Low. Murderers very seldom strike
the same place twice. We also have
cops patrolling the town up the

"When The Street Lights Go On" seems like it was written by guys who haven't had a lot of experience, who aren't very mature, who have never felt loss, and who have read too many Hollywood screenplays. Needless to say, the treatment of the subject matter is insensitive and puerile.

And it is just so poorly written. For example, Charlie's introduction:
Charlie looks like a young Spielberg. He wears an old bomber jacket and a pair of Coke bottle glasses. Thoughtful. Boyish, but cool. The kind of kid who’s had character since he could walk.
Our town was put under a dark spell in the summer of 1983. I observed it all from my Schwinn Sting-ray. It began with a fire and didn’t end until six months later when the Monroe sisters were finally dead--
--robbing us of our juvenescence and spreading unshakable anxiety like cyanide in the minds of those who remember.
A lot of the writing, especially the descriptions, just don't make any sense:
Ben leans against the Mustang parked in his driveway. He looks as cool as a drunk high schooler can.
Another example:
In their moments of solitude each
yearned for the other. They counted
down the days till they could
reunite on a slate black chalkboard
in the back of their minds.
And people's reactions don't make sense. Like Charlie; for some reason he really wants to cover the murder of Chrissy Monroe for the school paper. He doesn't seem affected by the fact that he was the first to stumble across the murder scene (there are only, literally, two lines hinting at any sort of trauma, on page 22, when Charlie envisions Chrissy's dead body in the bottom of the school pool. But he doesn't freak out; he just wipes his goggles?)

No one in Colfax (that we see) really cares about the murders, except maybe Chrissy's parents. But other than that, the town isn't affected.

I have many more complaints, but I will just add this last one, because it is so bizarre: why, for no reason, do the characters sometimes became aware of the camera?
The hallway is now empty. We rapidly push in on Ben who is in
the distance chucking a tennis ball at a locker bay.
As we get closer, he turns to the camera and throws the
tennis ball straight at the lens.
The glass SHATTERS.
The bottom line is that the writers don't take the script seriously, and it is tremendously lazy. Really, the carelessness is shocking. It doesn't seem like the writers put an ounce of effort in. Much of the script is unintelligible, and the writers are either unable or unwilling to clearly, concisely articulate their ideas. Any fleck of potential is lost amongst the deluge of weak writing.

Around page 80, Casper murders Ben in front of the entire town at the halloween carnival, Becky drops out of high school, and the quality of the screenplay improves dramatically. Like from an F grade to a B grade kind of improvement. Past this point it feels like a different script altogether (a great compliment and a great insult to the writer).

Whether you should read "Streetlights" depends on yourself. As usual, one cannot just skip to page 80, and read from there to the end. There will only be impact if one reads through everything prior to that. If you are really dedicated, the final 30 pages are, for the most part, quite spectacular.

O'Keefe and Hutton come off as jerks that are not writers, but just type the words for the money; the kind of guys who want to get as much as they can from as little effort as possible. Do not associate the names O'Keefe/Hutton with passion, integrity, intelligence, or sensitivity. They're children of Hollywood, but instead of being pimped out (as Hollywood's children usually are), they're prostituting themselves out, for as much money as they can carry.

About: "Streetlights" placed 2nd on the 2011 Black List.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

(Produced) Screenplay Review: Mud

"Mud’s a born liar. That’s what makes him so likable. He makes people feel good about themselves."

Premise: Two boys befriend a homeless loner in hiding, who's trying to reunite with his girlfriend.

Written by: Jeff Nichols

Technical: 132 pages. Shooting script.

The Mississippi River (at Neely's Landing)

One day Ellis and Neckbone, both fourteen years old, are boating along the Mississippi river. They end up on the shore of a small island, and eventually find a 26 foot boat in a tree. They go inside it and discover that someone has been living there. They then meet that man, who calls himself Mud. The boys bring him back some food (as requested) and Mud tells them that he's waiting for his girlfriend, Juniper. He describes her to the boys, mentioning a nightingale tattoo on her hand.

One day at the store in town, Ellis spots Mud's girlfriend. Later, Ellis and his mother are stopped on a highway roadblock. And the state troopers are handing out pictures with Mud's photograph, looking for him. Ellis and Neckbone confront Mud, and he tells them that he killed a man that was abusive to Juniper.

Mud wants to get the boat stuck in the tree back into the water. He thinks it's his best chance of escaping, since he can't go by land, because everyone is looking for him. Ellis and Neck agree to help him get the boat down, in exchange for Mud's pistol.

But complications arise. The boys find Juniper, to give her a note from Mud, and walk in on a man beating her. Ellis tries to intervene, and gets hurt. Mud explains that the man's name is Carver, and he's the brother of the man Mud killed. Mud says that if Carver is nearby, then more men will be coming. Bounty hunters.

"Mud" is one of the worst screenplays I have ever read. It takes a person of a special calibre to write something this bad. It's absolutely soulless, and the very definition of artificial. "Mud" does not contain one moderately interesting or real character, nor an ounce of emotion. I despised it on every level.

Don't get me wrong: reading "Mud", I could very much see it being a movie. I could see the script being filmed and making money and attracting star talent. I could see it getting positive reviews. (The vast majority of reviews nowadays are so zanily inane and make so little sense, could one call them reviews? No, most of the dribble written has everything to do with ego-stroking, people-pleasing, job-advancing, and money-making, and nothing to do with cinema. They are not unbiased, brainwash-free opinions. Or if some are, than they are from individuals who should not be informing the public. The film "Mud" holds a 98% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Oh, and go look who's starring in it.)

The only genuine moment in the screenplay is the scene near the end, when Ellis confronts May Pearl, as well as the scene that immediately follows it. After this "Mud" switches gears, speeding into the most mindless, illogical part of the entire screenplay. The rest of the script is the usual unadulterated Hollywood dribble. The sappy, fake, contrived ending reads like it was written by the screenwriter's L.A. secretary. I lost count of the number of nonsensical cliches, and there are also about two dozen "payoffs" from earlier "set-ups". And of course the whole thing ends with shotgun-wielding hitmen closing in on Eliss' now-happy household (where a concerned Mud is visiting the bedridden Eliss). Mud joins the shootout, kills the bad guy, and fakes his own death. It all felt like "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close" meets "Kindergarten Cop". I am still asking myself: did the ending actually happen? Forget jumping the shark; the ending of "Mud" jumps across a line of sharks, with rocket jet packs attached to the water skis.

Save yourself the time and don't read this script; nothing can be gained from it. "Mud" is a ludicrous, imbecilic, degenerate disgrace. A writer can't get much lower than "Mud", and damned if they try.

About: "Mud" was released in 2012, directed by Jeff Nichols, and featuring Matthew McConaughey, Tye Sheridan, Sam Shepard, and Reese Witherspoon.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Film Review: Catching Fire (2013)

"You ready to work?"

Premise: After winning the Hunger Games, Katniss and Peeta have ignited a rebellion across the Districts of Panem, and the Capital wants them dead.

Director: Francis Lawrence

Written by: Simon Beaufoy and Michael Arndt (based on the book "Catching Fire" by Suzanne Collins)

Featuring: Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson

Technical: 146 minutes.

Finnick & Katniss

Note: I read The Hunger Games trilogy just before the first film was released, so it has been a long time since I read the books. In the review I will be comparing the film to the novel minimally, and focusing on film itself.

After winning the seventy-fourth Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark return home to District 12. They go back to their old routine (kind of; they now live in the Victor's Village, and possess terrific wealth) with Katniss and Gale hunting together, Peeta baking and isolating himself, and Haymitch getting very drunk. Katniss shows major signs of post-traumatic stress disorder.

President Snow pays an unexpected visit to Katniss' house. Apparently, because her and Peeta broke the rules to survive the Games, they have ignited rebellion in the Districts, against the Capital. Snow threatens everyone Katniss loves, and tells her that on the upcoming Victory Tour, her and Peeta need to convince the public they are in love. This will show the Districts that their stunt with the berries was out of love, and not in defiance of the Capital.

The Victory Tour is a disaster. The Peacekeepers are murdering and terrorizing innocents, and Katniss and Peeta can only helplessly watch it all, forced to praise the Capital. When they get back home, the violence and repression against the population only escalates. Then the bombshell: for the seventy-fifth Hunger Games (a special "Quarter Quell" Games is held every twenty-five years) they will reap from the pool of past victors. Katniss and Peeta are both chosen, and so they are going into the Games a second time, in a new arena, with a murderous batch of past winners.

I saw "Catching Fire" in IMAX during a pre-screening, and then again in IMAX the following evening, on opening day. I had been looking forward to the film for months, but I kept my expectations low. I am unhappy to report that "Catching Fire" is not the success that the reviews would have you believe. In the end it was a really, really lousy movie.

When I saw the initial previews for Catching Fire, the teaser trailer and the first theatrical trailer, I was aflame with excitement. But the film itself was flavourless, too tame, too watered down, and too rushed. For a movie about teens locked in an arena, forced to fight to the death... I don't think I saw more than a cupful of blood, drawn by a weapon. This is absolutely unacceptable, because the violence plays a very critical part in the source material's themes: the glamorizing of violence, present day desensitization to violence, and the sensationalism of modern entertainment, among others. But instead of exploring these and other ideas in the film, the gamemakers - sorry, I mean filmmakers - just watered down the politics, and everything else that might have induced too much thinking, to appeal to the widest audience possible. (I was speaking with someone about the film after we saw it, and he put forth the idea that perhaps the thinning of the material was fiscally strategic. He suggested that maybe if the film was too complex, it just simply would not translate well into other languages. Since overseas gross is a gigantic portion of blockbuster film revenue, I thought this was an excellent point, and true to some degree.) Among the other simplifications was the story of the rebellion, and even, just the barbarism of those in the Capital. These two things, detailed extensively in the novel, had barely any depth in the film.

The film was severely brought down by the godawful music, which was very poorly integrated. I lost count of the number of scenes, where it would have had much greater emotional impact without the added music.

"Catching Fire" was overproduced and rushed. The CGI in the film looked very phony. But they filmed on location in Hawaii, and had a massive budget ($130 million-double the budget of the first film) so why are huge chunks of the arena made of obvious-CGI? Other than for, say, the baboon creatures, there is no reason why this film should have the amount of CGI it does. The excessive effects took away from the film's authenticity, and feeling. "Catching Fire" looks like a expensive, overdone Hollywood product.

The same thing that happened with the first film, is happening with "Catching Fire". The first film was highly anticipated, released to critical praise, and made boatloads of cash. Then as time went on, people's opinion of the film went down. People started to admit that it wasn't that amazing. Meanwhile, the studio pocketed the profits, and fast-tracked the sequel. The hype for the sequel was insane, and then it was released. The second film received even more critical praise than the first film, had a bigger budget, and made more money. And I can guarantee, time will go on, and once people are not high on the hype, they will realize that the film isn't so fantastic. But it doesn't matter, because the studio is pocketing the profits, and now pumping out two back-to-back sequels....

Sound like a familiar pattern? Yes. Yes it does. It sounds a little bit like... "The Dark Knight Rises" (2012)? And so many other ballbusters. Sorry sorry, I mean blockbusters. This happens really, really often, and it annoys me.

All one must do to learn the truth about "Catching Fire", amongst all the biased, bought-and-paid-for, bullshit critics, and the delusional mooing public, is to observe. The truth can be gained from simple observation.

"Catching Fire" is slap in the face to any fan of the book. The sad irony of it all is that the crowds stuffing sold-out showings of Catching Fire strongly resemble the Capital citizens eagerly awaiting the latest Hunger Games battle. Meanwhile, the Capital elite - woops, I mean Hollywood - make obscene profit from it all, doing everything they can to make sure the current system stays in place...

Friday, November 22, 2013

TV Review: The Walking Dead - Season 4, Episodes 1-4

Cable television's #1 show is back... and deader than ever


Starting off in "30 Days Without Incident", the first episode of the fourth season, things are going well at the prison. The protagonists have taken the Governor's leftover followers under their wing, so now the prison is home to more people, living in multiple cell blocks. And in the time since we have last saw them, they've set up a garden. They're raising pigs for food. They have formed a council. And they have a stand outside where meals are handed out. It ain't no Bahavia, but everyone is fed and protected.

Alone in the forest outside the prison, Rick encounters a tattered, broken woman. She begs Rick to help take her catch back to her husband. Rick is hesitant, and as soon as he lets it slip, the woman wants to get her husband, and go live at the prison. Rick only agrees to meet her husband, but warns her: "You try anything... anything... you're gonna be the one who loses." Her haunting reply: "I don't have anything else to lose."

Meanwhile, some of the others (including Daryl, Michonne, Glen, and the now-established Sasha) go for a run at a supermarket. The military had set up base there, but now it's abandoned, and crawling with walkers. In the store, one of the new characters (Bob) knocks over a shelf of wine, and the noise attracts the walkers on the roof. The ceiling has rotted, so walkers begin raining-shooting-down through the ceiling. Visually, it's extremely clever, and executed in a grusomely terrific way. Also in this episode: Carol teaching the kids about knives, and how to use them (how disturbing). The new characters are all good-looking and boring. The show's portrayal of romantic relationships is a true weak spot, and always has been. It is the non-romantic relationships (the bond shared between Daryl and Carol, for example) that are the most fascinating. Rick's interaction with the woman he finds is tense, but predictable and pointless. And in usual Walking Dead fashion, everything in "30 Days Without Incident" is dragged out as long as possible. "30 Days Without Incident" was really, really bad. Highlights include Michonne's determination to hunt down the governor, and the supermarket scene.

In "Infected", the second episode of the fourth season, an advancing virus is turning the prison's inhabitants very ill, and people are dying. As a result, a string of walkers attack within the prison's walls. And outside the fences... the walkers are beginning to break through.

"Infected" was light years better than the previous episode. In this one, things are starting to pick up, very slowly. ("Infected" and "30 Days" should have been combined into the first episode of the season.) I do like how the show is introducing so many new characters, and then killing them off quickly and by the handful. It gives the show more suspense, makes it more dramatic, and keeps it unpredictable. Overall, "Infected" was a good episode... until about the last twenty minutes.

I am thinking of the penultimate scene when Carol finds Lizzie and Mika at the fence, after their father dies. The show's crew is trying (here, and in other places) to add so much emotion into the show... but most of the time it fails. And so, is there even a point to it? I am not suggesting that the characters should be two dimensional. But hello... it's a show about a zombie apocalypse. The show needs less coupling, less moral debate, and more conflict, more drama, more action. In the show's bleak, nihilistic setting and atmosphere, with such grim, desperate characters... the conditions are just not suitable for the emotional depth they are trying to attain.

The problem with most of the moral and ethical debates in The Walking Dead are a) they don't appear to be a metaphor for anything, and b) no one can really relate to the problems the characters face. What's the best way to kill the most zombies? How do we protect our shelter from the flesh-eating dead around us? The Walking Dead is just popcorn entertainment; and yet, the writers and directors are endlessly experimenting, trying to portray deeper concepts. Most of this ends up as romantic melodrama. And even the few moral dilemmas that real people can relate to (like how to approach the topic of guns, and self-defence, with children) are not handled very expertly. The Walking Dead needs to ease on the brake pedal and slam on the gas. Less schmaltz, more thrills. The highlight of episode two was seeing Michonne start to get a little more depth (Michonne became emotional when Beth tried to hand her Judith-I'm guessing that Michonne lost an infant at some point herself.)

In episode three, "Isolation", nothing really happens. I mean, more than usual. The only highlights were Rick rescuing Carol at the pump, and Daryl, Michonne, Bob, and Tyreese's escape from the crowd of walkers. The revelation that Carol killed Karen and David wasn't very shocking.

In episode four, "Indifference", Carol's explanation to Rick, of why she killed Karen and David, is really contrived. The Carol and Rick storyline was intriguing. But the other one, with Daryl and the others... God it was dull.

From Episode 4, "Indifference"

Over the four seasons of The Walking Dead, the quality has been inconsistent, ranging from horrendous to terrific. And yet, over time, the show's ratings have only continued to rise. This speaks volumes about the show, as well as the people who watch it.

In the past I have gotten sucked into watching crappy shows. I would watch a few episodes to see how it went... and then I would have to keep going. Maybe there was a character I wanted to follow. Maybe there was a mystery I wanted to see the conclusion of. But now, I have decided, I can no longer do this. There is too much good material out there to waste one's time with the bad stuff, hoping it will eventually pay off.

The biggest thing I was looking forward to, coming into the fourth season, was the conflict between our survivors and the Governor. And I know that The Governor will be back. But I won't be sticking around to find out what happens.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

(Unproduced) Screenplay Review: The Final Broadcast

"This has got to be the strangest day in KXRT history."

Premise: A cult kidnaps a local celebrity's daughter and begins calling the city's radio station, claiming that the impending lunar eclipse will be apocalyptic.

Written by: Chris Hutton & Eddie O'Keefe

Technical: Undated. 127 pages.

The script opens with clips and voice over from Henry Carnegie's television show, The Stars and You. Carnegie is a cosmologist and television personality. Is he a freak? A genius? It depends on who you ask. But he is a local celebrity.

Gary Glossup is our protag, currently working at a radio station (KXRT) in some desert city. There are some other characters we meet, too: Gary's burnout co-worker, Mark; Kirby Langer, director of programming (and their boss). The tone of the script is definitely atmospheric; eerily silent, uneasy. Reading, I was reminded of a popular podcast called Welcome to Night Vale (Night Vale is presented as a radio show). Night Vale and "Broadcast" both have an eerie, strange, implacable feel to them.

Gary, who's only been in town for a month, is bored and miserable at work. There's scant story material, and he has little creative control over his broadcasts. Also, he is still haunted by a tragedy from his past.

At a drive-in theatre, Teresa Carnegie (Henry Carnegie's daughter) and a friend of hers are attacked. The friend is murdered, and Teresa is kidnapped. KXRT immediately latches onto the story. Because in this is a small, safe community, exciting stories rarely come along. Gary hosts open lines at the station, and an odd man calls in, saying that he (and others) are responsible for Teresa's disappearance. And then he puts Teresa onto the phone for seconds, on live radio. Her screams are quickly cut out, and then the guy talks about how the world is going to end, and how he is doing this to please the cosmic monarchs. Soon, he hangs up. Of course Gary wants to investigate further, and Kirby reluctantly gives his permission...

The script is way too overwritten. Some examples of the needless verbosity:
CALLER #3’s voice is male, monotone and clear as day. He enunciates his words perfectly although there is a sinister coldness to his cadence. Like the voice of a fallen angel. 
Gary KNOCKS. MRS. TURMAN (50) answers shortlythereafter. She is a handsome woman. Other than crows feetand the faint smell of nicotine, she has fought the effects of grief well.
Another major issue is that "Final Broadcast" is thoroughly forced and artificial. Everything is too convenient, too coincidental. A perfect example: minutes after Gary and Mark leave the evidence impound (out of leads, and out of ideas) Mark suddenly remembers the significance of the name Billy Turnman. (Billy's name was found in Teresa Carnegie's car after her kidnapping, thus the interest.) Mark explains who Billy Turnman was: king of his high school, loved by everyone, and a smart kid. But six weeks before Gary arrived in town... Billy disappeared, and was later found to have hung himself.

So, in a community where not a lot happens, Mark just forgot about the shocking disappearance/suicide of the high school prince... but suddenly remembered just as he and Gary needed a new lead? I don't think so. No, this was totally forced... as was everything else in the script. (Henry is going to die in exactly six weeks? Are you kidding me? And they have four days to find Teresa, before she's killed, because the eclipse is in four days? Contrived contrived contrived.)

Every single character in the script is flat, bland, and unoriginal. None of the characters have a single iota of personality. The voice on the radio is lame. And another male protagonist who has lost a daughter? Give me a fucking break. Needless to say, there is no one to love, or hate, or have any feelings about.

"The Final Broadcast" was a complete abomination. Too long, when so much could have easily been cut. Predictable (Clare being involved in The Association? Jesus Christ, my cat could have written it better.) Melodramatic ("Why should I trust you, Claire?" "Because falling for you wasn’t a part of the job description. That just happened. That was real.") Nonsensical (when they know that The Association is going to call back... all I kept thinking was, 'Why isn't the FBI there?') Inaccurate, in that the beliefs that the voice/Satchell talks about seems completely made up by the writers. It doesn't seem authentic in any way, and is extremely poorly written.

The bottom line is this is a stupid script. The writers did not do one thing right. It's a zero out of four stars. Three thumbs down. Any way you slice it, this is nothing. And, in all seriousness, I demand an apology from the writers. And I demand that they admit that this is crap. Because the thing that bothered me the most was the laziness displayed by the writers. They obviously did not take this work seriously at all. I do not know if "The Final Broadcast" was written as a joke... but it sure as hell reads like one.

About: This script is from the same writing duo that wrote "When The Streetlights Go On" and "Shangri-La Suite". "Final Broadcast" took the fourteenth spot on the 2012 Black List.

Monday, November 18, 2013

(Rookie) Screenplay Review: All The Good Ones

"I don’t know a life without you."

Premise: The story of a small town, high school dropout's decade-long relationship with her drug addict boyfriend. Despite their struggles, neither one can leave the other.

Written by: Jentri Chancey

Technical: 111 pages. Undated draft.

"All The Good Ones" script link here

Austin, Texas

The script starts in 2004, in Gallup, New Mexico. We meet Story Leonard, 27. Immediately there are some great images: "The skyline fades and blossoms an array of colors over stacked mountains behind a modest, tasteful community." "Story stands in front of a mirror and stares at her reflection. She splashes water on her face and pats it dry with a hand towel. She observes the fine wrinkles on her forehead, lifts the skin above her eyes, smooths over her cheeks with her hands, gives a wide smile as she runs her tongue over her teeth." The imagery is sharp and concise. It's extremely articulate.

Now there's a flashback to the Leonard House, circa 1993. Story is 17, and her mother and father are splitting up. Furthermore, Story is not very popular in school, and she's not passing her classes. Michelle, Story's best friend, sets Story up with Billy (he's doing drugs on a toilet, when we first meet him). Story and Billy get along well, and start dating. At one point Story's ex-boyfriend (Will) calls her, but she wants nothing to do with him. (Early in the script, as well as later, there are some funny scenes of Story's cool mom, working at a retirement nursing home.)

In one scene Billy and a friend are smoking marijuana, drinking cheap beer, eating shrooms, and popping back codeine (Billy tells his buddy that he stole the codeine from Story's mom's medical cabinet.) Billy says to not tell Story what they are doing. And then the boys are on the front lawn, tripping out hard. We see what they see: a moonflower blossoming before their eyes, Billy's jeans melting into the ground, and other whacked-out images. There are also more of these scenes later in the screenplay, where we see things from Ryan's drugged-out perspective. These all need to be removed, and instead, the writer needs to just show things from an outsider's perspective. Showing these images is pointless, cliche, and uninteresting.

Story flunks out of high school, and gets a job at Walmart. One night she confronts Billy, saying that she knows what him and his friend were doing, and she's not happy. Then, the next day, her ex (Will) stops by her house. Story reluctantly agrees to see Will (because she is mad at Billy) and they end up spending the night together. The next morning Billy brings his parents by, unaware of Will's visit. Billy promises Story he will be better to her.

Three years later, we're in Austin, Texas. Billy (in college) and Story get their own place, and we find out that they're engaged. The script details their time in Austin; mostly Billy's drug addiction getting out of control, and Story's struggle to break free from the man she loves. The story has a lot of detail, and the dynamics between the many characters are intricate, and believable.

A lot happens in the "All The Good Ones", but especially for a script with so much detail... but nothing ever really happens.  Yes, we see the deterioration of Billy and Story's complex relationship. And the story surrounding this is woven with many intriguing threads; characters; relationships, secrets. But there is nothing special, or compelling, about Story and Billy's love for each other. (Which, I don't even believe they love each other. Billy is trying to love himself through Story. And Story-she doesn't love herself, as she puts Billy before herself and allows him to hold her back. So if she doesn't love herself, she couldn't love Billy!)

"All The Good Ones" is about an extremely average couple's problems, and the dull, unromantic reality of them. Story and Billy are poison to each other,and would be better apart than together. But as their partnership implies, they only live with what feels easy, safe, and comfortable. Everything in the script is genuine. But these two lovers, and their friends and family... are just plain, ordinary people.

Like the characters, the script is wandering and aimless. The piece could be shortened significantly by cutting out small, unnecessary things. But this needs more than just shortening. Even though I read the script with laser-like focus... it really was boring. And usually, I like boring. So if I think it's boring... it must be pretty uninteresting.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Film Review: Happy People: A Year in the Taiga (2010)

"It's the last day of December, and it's unusually mild at 33 degrees below zero."

Premise: This German documentary explores the life of people living along the River Yenisei in Russia.

Directed by: Dmitry Vasyukov, Werner Herzog.

Written by: Rudolph Herzog, Werner Herzog, Dmitry Vasyukov.

Technical: 94 minutes

The documentary starts in the village of Bakhtia at the river Yenisei, in the Siberian Taiga. (The Taiga is the surrounding wilderness.) There are no roads; the only way to reach Bakhtia is by helicopter, or by boat. And even boats can only get to Bakhtia during the few ice-free months; otherwise the river is frozen over.

Bakhtia has approximately 300 inhabitants, and the majority of them make their living as trappers. Most of the film focuses on these hunters. And, say the trappers spoken to, they are happy. Out of all the opportunities available to them, trapping is the best way to make a living, they explain. One gets to work and live in the beauty of the Taiga, and the only person they must answer to is themselves.

The nature and landscape seen in the film is of course stunning. The documentary was filmed over the course of a year, and across the four seasons, and that is the way the film is divided (starting with spring, ending with winter).

The trappers we follow are seldom in Bakhtia. There is only a small window of time in which they can hunt, but most of their work is done preparing for the hunting. And they stick to the old ways, being almost entirely self sufficient. The only two modern technologies they use are chainsaws and snowmobiles. Other than this, the men make everything themselves; their own shelter, their own traps, and they catch and prepare the majority of their own food.

The men trap alone, and only have their dogs for company. "You are no hunter without a dog," one trapper says. But the companionship the men share with their canines is just a bonus, because the dogs are used practically. Actually, the dogs' presence is discussed extensively in the film. One of the most interesting things, as one man discusses, is the relationship these trappers share with the animals. He explains that some men nearly share a plate with their dog, and let the dog sleep on their cot. Himself? He makes his dog sleep outside, even when it's very cold, and he does not feed it too much. Though, he still says, there is definitely love shared between him and his dog.

The film also tackles a major problem in Bakhtia: alcoholism. As one labour worker explains, most of the old ways (such as the critical role of elders) have been lost and forgotten. So now drinking is rampant, perhaps because most men only have their work (monotonous, lonesome, and tough) and nothing else.

One aspect in which the documentary is lacking, is that it fails to suggest any solutions (either from the filmmakers, those filmed, or anyone else) of how to heal the problems these humane and modest people face. Seeing into Bakhtia, I was both grateful for and saddened (mostly saddened) by my Westernized life. The trappers in the film claim to be happy, but how pleasant, truly, can such a severely isolated life, killing and constantly working to survive, bring happiness? I think what is meant, is that out of the opportunities available to them, trapping is indeed the best. Happy or not, without having to answer to any government, or anyone else, these hunters really are their own makers, in the good and the bad.

"Happy People" is a rare, thought-provoking look into a type of life many would otherwise never be able to see. It's a solid, responsible, and progressive use of the film medium. But when it comes to deeper political issues, and discussion around them, "Happy People" misses the mark.

Friday, November 15, 2013

(Unproduced) Screenplay Review: Jurassic Park 4

"Whenever a new organism, especially a predator with no natural enemies, is introduced into an ecosystem, the result is disastrous."

Premise: A former Navy Seal is recruited for a top secret project, that involves turning John Hammond's revived dinosaurs into trained soldiers.

Written by: John Sayles

Technical: 116 pages. Early draft.

Keep in mind that this is a first draft.

Nick Harris (ex-Navy Seal) is approached by Jeb Overton (his old captain) about a job. The client is John Hammond. He wants to create highly aggressive, reproductively-neutered dinosaurs, and mix them into the current dino population, to cut down the birth rate. The only way to do this is to go back to Isla Nublar (supposedly clear of dinosaurs), where some important embryos have been left behind. The bottom line is, if Hammond can retrieve the material, he can put his plan into action. Grendel International, who took over the island, is looking for the genetic material for themselves. But the only one who knows where it is is Hammond. He wants Nick to go to the island and get it. Nick takes the job, because he's offered a boatload of cash, and in his words, he's done worse for less.

Nick goes to the island and finds the canister with the genetic material. It's all typical Jurassic Park; there's plenty of thrills and chills on his way out of Isla Nublar. There's killer dinosaurs leaping out of bushes, skeletal remains that pop out of nowhere, Nick stumbles across giant eggshells, and shadowed creatures follow him in underground tunnels. He eventually makes it back to the beach, but his escape plan falls apart. A kronosaurus (a gigantic sea-monster dinosaur) smashes up the plane that comes to get him. Nick then is rescued... but by some of the island's inhabitants.

After a long game of cat and mouse (in which Nick hides the canister, in a small island resort, after he escapes the Grendel helicopter).... Nick wakes up in a medieval castle, on a mountainside in the Swiss alps. Nick is met by Adrien Joyce, a man from his past. Adrien explains that his current employer (Baron von Drax) is the principal stockholder and CEO of the Grendel International Corporation. Joyce says that they want the embryo canister, and that they will match Hammond's offer. And also, they want Nick to work for them. Joyce gives Nick a tour of the dungeons under the castle, where there's a confined dinosaur, covered in armour. We meet Sherman and Maya, who are also part of the project.

Joyce emphasizes that they are training the dinosaurs they have (correcting the notion that the dinos are in captivity). According to Joyce, they've placed implants strategically within the dinos, to control the hormones by radio signal. So they can induce specific emotions in the dinosaurs. During the tour, Sherman is despicably cold, only fascinated with the control aspect. Maya is more sensitive, repeatedly showing care for the dinosaurs' well-being. At the end of the tour, Maya slips Nick a piece of paper, warning him not to give these guys the embryos.

Until this point in the screenplay (opening scene aside) none of the script is cheesy. But past here, the script is bland. Then, it quickly turns into Jurassic Park ridiculousness, and beyond. The Grendel Corporation has raptors that can blend into their environment with chameleon-like accuracy. All the dinosaurs are rewarded with serotonin (at one point, a character voices their concern that they're turning the dinosaurs into drug addicts.)

At one point, to show Nick that they do have control of the raptors, Joyce deliberately sets the raptors to maximum kill mode, and he sends them at their own mercenaries, in a cage. The mercenaries are almost killed and everyone there (except Joyce) is terrified that they are losing control of the dinosaurs. Then, Joyce's plan is revealed: he wants to use the dinosaurs as soldiers.

To test the dinos out, they go on a mission to rescue the kidnapped daughter of a wealthy Frenchman. They're going to send the dinosaurs in to the waterfront quarter where she is being held. And it's here that the script goes from ridiculous to outrageously bad. Like, Super Baby Geniuses 2 bad. Let's see. The dinosaurs have names, reminiscent of Ninja Turtles (the leader is Sparticus). They wear flak vests. They go through an obstacle course to prepare for the mission; moving across a log bridge, hurdling through trenches of fire...

The raptors are trained to rescue the little girl alive, and to kill anyone or anything else that gets in their way. During the mission, the dinos are pimped out with night-vision video cameras, mounted on their shoulders. They climb fire escapes. Nick talks to them ("All together, boys.") Afterwards, the dinosaurs literally exchange war stories, through chirping and clicking noises. I could go on.

I did get a good laugh out of some parts. Whether this was the author's intention or not.. who knows. But preposterous doesn't even begin to describe the last two thirds of the script. I'm surprised that the dinosaurs didn't start talking. I don't understand what the writer was thinking. The first third was not bad for a first draft, but then the quality deteriorated rapidly, and it just kept getting worse.

For anyone curious, or interested in reading this, save your time; unless you don't mind slogging through it for a few good laughs.

About: This is the infamous, scrapped, "dinosaurs with guns" Jurassic Park 4 script. This was also how I knew it before I read it. But let me make a correction: the dinosaurs do not have guns in this script. They do not shoot guns, and they do not have guns attached to them. So describing this script as "dinosaurs with guns" is incorrect, and misleading.

This project is now scrapped. The next Jurassic Park film is titled "Jurassic World" and is scheduled for release in 2015.

Monday, November 11, 2013

(Unproduced) Screenplay Review: The F-Word

"Funny dialogue’s great, obviously, but it usually doesn’t work in another language." "But someone falling and hitting their head... that’s magical in every country."

Premise: Wallace and Chantry meet at a party and secretly develop feelings for each other. But neither will act on their lust... because Chantry has a boyfriend.

Written by: Elan Mastai (Based on the Play "Toothpase and Cigars" by T.J. Dawe and Michael Rinaldi)

Technical: 107 pages. November 28, 2007 draft.

There isn't much to "The F-Word" (as the title implies). Wallace and Chantry (both mid-20s) meet at a party. They get along well and eventually become good friends. The two obviously develop feelings for each other, but refuse to admit it to themselves, or anyone else, because Chantry has a boyfriend. The rest of the script is just Wallace and Chantry trying to repress their feelings for the other, with the intensity of Michelle Duggar being given a naked lap dance by Chris Hemsworth.

The script is cliche and unoriginal. Some especially baseless and dull parts are the animated scenes of Wallace and Chantry; usually exploring the characters' deepest thoughts about the other. The author's idea of "humour" makes toilet/slapstick jokes seem classy by comparison. (Every pore of this script, the humorous and non-humorous, oozes with immaturity.) Wallace, Chantry, and pretty much every character in the script is a hipster (in the worst possible way), and the two mains especially, love to speak in outlandish, juvenile riddle-banter ("So, I just did something disgusting." "Did it involve doing things to donkeys you should only do to people?")

"The F-Word" is utterly shallow, and nothing more than a stunning example of human shame and repression toward sexuality.

 I absolutely hated this. There is no reason for anyone to read this script.

Saturday, November 09, 2013

(Produced) Screenplay Review: The Bling Ring

"We were acting insane, but it all felt so glamorous and wonderful."

Premise: A group of California teens burglarize celebrity homes. 

Written by: Sofia Coppola

Technical: 93 pages. Shooting script.

California teenager Nicki lives with her mother, as well as her younger sister (Emily) and her adopted sister (Sam). The three kids are homeschooled, surrounded by Buddha statues and doing flower essence work (whatever that is).

We also have Marc, who's starting at a new school (he was kicked out of his last one). He's initially nervous, but becomes fast friends with Rebecca; a celebrity obsessed, aspiring fashion designer. Rebecca teaches Marc how to break into fancy cars and houses, stealing the valuables inside. Soon they're stealing cars, cash, and going on Starbucks-fueled shopping sprees. One evening at a night club Marc and Rebecca meet up with one of Becca's friends, Chloe, as well as Nicki and Sam (who went to school with Chloe).

The four girls plus Marc start breaking into celebrity houses, including the homes of Megan Fox, Orlando Bloom, Lindsay Lohan, and some D-listers no one's heard of. It's all fun and glamorous when they're picking through Lindsay Lohan's underwear drawer... and things get better once most of the kids are arrested and convicted. The Blingers are caught in a media blitzkrieg, and they adore the attention (but of course tell the cameras otherwise).

Whatever Sofia Coppola was going for in this script... she didn't achieve it. Or maybe she did. Either way, the script is pointless. It frustrates me that such a competent writer would choose such an empty, futile project.

I do not care if people call "The Bling Ring" satire. Because it is worse than empty... it is downright counterproductive. "The Bling Ring" is not a criticism of the awful behaviour it displays; rather, it is promoting it. And anyone who says otherwise is dead wrong. Coppola is feeding life into the real-life Blingers (this project was based off of a true story), feeding life into the estates of these dummy celebrities, and probably doing a whole lot of other damage to the world.

About: "The Bling Ring" was made into a film, released in 2013. Directed, written, and produced by Sofia Coppola. The script is based on actual events that took place (the real-life seven teenagers involved committed the theft of about $3 million in cash and possessions.)

Friday, November 08, 2013

(Rookie) Screenplay Review: Sequoia

"I’m thinking about Dad. Remember how disappointed he was when I told him I was working at a factory?" "He just wanted something better for you."

Premise: Teague, a high school dropout (now factory worker), sacrifices everything to provide for his little sister. One night she tells Teague that she was raped at a party, and instead of alerting the authorities, Teague sets out to deal with it on his own.

Written by: Christopher Marsh (Story by Kevin Patrick Murray & Christopher Marsh & Josh Brown)

Technical: 87 pages

"Sequoia" script link here

"Sequoia" contains some pretty bad dialogue ("Ariel, I can’t sweep this under the rug. I can’t erase this. I’d sell my left arm if I thought I could undo it, but I can’t.") Some of it reads like an overripe soap opera ("You should have stayed home, Dillon." "Ariel, there’s a right way and a wrong way to do this." "Too late now.") But as poor as some of the dialogue is, other parts are pretty authentic (like Teague and Dan's conversation starting on page 37.) The interaction between the guys (Teague, Dan, Wes) is a fair, accurate portrayal of young men, buddies, who are scared and just want the best for themselves and each other. The writer knows what he's talking about (it shows) when it comes to the young adult culture. He knows high school kids, the slang, their behaviour, their psyche. The writing is clean, nicely short and sweet. But too much was left to the reader's imagination. I think that more detail (about the people, the settings, the town) would improve the script.

Ariel has zero personality (other than being a selfish insane brat, and a burden to Teague) whereas Teague is fraught with personality. Still, they both need major definition. I think the writer should do the following: scrape Ariel's current character. Make her really likable. Then, instead of her lying about the rape, make it less black and white, and more blurred. Maybe Ariel was extremely intoxicated, and she doesn't know whether she wanted it or not. Put things in the gray area, and not made so clear cut. Also, don't make Will such an aggressive jerk, referring to Ariel as a bitch all the time, etc. Maybe make him as confused as she is. Maybe the reason that he acts so unrepentant, is because he is just really scared?

It was quickly evident that Ariel was lying about the rape. Or at the very least, I was immediately suspicious of her story. Also, Teague putting his gold watch in the locker is too obviously a set-up. This needs to be way more subtle (why not just describe him as wearing it, when first introducing him; then, later, he can find the watch missing?) And the flashback that reveals what happened to Teague's parents is hammy as hell. I would tell the writer to cut it, and leave their fate to the imagination. (Overall, there are way too many unnecessary flashbacks.) The scene when Stacy is at Teague's house, and they sleep together... it's just bad. Everything with Stacy is bad. I don't know if it needs to be cut, or reworked. But right now Stacy is crap. And the ending is terrible.

"Sequoia" has potential, but needs heavy reworking. I wanted to like this one, but the script is half-baked.

Thursday, November 07, 2013

(Rookie) Short Script Review: All About Janet

Premise: (from writer): A woman is driven to end her terminally ill husband's life.

Written by: Dustin Bowcott

Technical: 10 pages

"All About Janet" short script link here

I picked this script at random and didn't read through it first. A writer can learn as much from terrible scripts as they can from great scripts (if not more). And short scripts... they're tough to write!

"All About Janet" is overwritten. It's awkward, clunky, and unnatural. I mean yes, Janet's initial interaction with Martin is shocking and stirring. But other than that, Janet's f-bombs (and other foul language) are the most stimulating part of the script. Janet, as a character, comes off as very phony. Just because she has a rude attitude, and says some appalling things, that doesn't automatically give her personality. Des' dialogue (and entire being) is equally painful ("You know why I'm here." "You don't have to you know." "You already know what I mean.") As for the ending, I don't know what to make of it. My vague guess is that Des is actually Janet, and Janet is actually demented, or something along those lines? Even that doesn't sound right at all.

When I read a work that's terrible, I usually find myself thinking something along the lines of, "Just because you write it, that doesn't make it so!" For example, just because a writer writes a baffling ending (like in "All About Janet") that does not automatically make it thoughtful, or ripe for discussion. The sign of a horrid writer is someone who has the worst taste. Because the best writers have an exquisite pallet for good drama. Good writers don't give in to hype, or pressure. Good writers know where their instincts are strongest, and when they need to bring in an outside opinion.

So as a good writer one should know what is universal, and timeless, and good, but at the same time they must block out the world, ignore what everyone says, and only listen to themselves. Sound like a contradiction? Figure it out, and you'll be the next Stephen King.

Trying to critique a script like "All About Janet" is impossible. It's like trying to appraise the singing voice of a mute. A contradiction, to be sure.

Film Review: Diana (2013)

Premise: The film explores the last two years of Princess Diana's life, after her divorce from Prince Charles.

Director: Oliver Hirschbiegel

Written by: Stephen Jeffreys (Based on the book "Diana: Her Last Love" by Kate Snell)

Featuring: Naomi Watts, Naveen Andrews

Technical: 113 minutes

I know nothing of Princess Diana’s life, or the politics surrounding it. The extent of my Diana knowledge comes from one of her interviews. I forget what it was about, but I just remember the exhaustion in Diana's eyes; like she had the weight of the world pressing on her. Going in to see "Diana" I found myself in the rare position of not having seen any footage from the movie. The only thing I went in aware of was the scathing critical response, and I couldn't imagine why the film's reception was so impugning. How could "Diana" hold a 9% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes? A 9% approval rating is lower than some truly dreadful films: "Dumb and Dumberer", "After Earth", "The Love Guru", "Valentine's Day", "Batman & Robin", "Freddy Got Fingered". "Diana" was on my radar before its release, but after I became aware of the tremendously negative reaction, my excitement to see it was intensified.

Watching "Diana", was I bored for a single minute? No. Even though I didn't like certain aspects of it, it was engrossing. Was it melodramatic? So melodramatic. But to work, in its current state, the film needed to be histrionic on some level. Some parts of the film are just plain inspiring (Diana walking across the land mine field comes to mind.) The cinematography, gorgeous. The press' apalling treatment of Diana is a particular highlight (they treated her worse than an animal.) Until the last twenty minutes or so the narrative was clear, but near the end, "Diana" did lose me.

The film's biggest weakness is the relationship between Diana and Hasnat Khan, played by Naveen Andrews. (Hasnat is a heart surgeon who saves lives, but he's a dead character with no heart. Ironic.) There is no chemistry, no attraction, between Hasnat and Diana, and their relationship is utterly hollow. Diana is infatuated by Hasnat from the start, for no reason. Their interaction becomes more contrived and absurd as the film progresses. Worsening it all, Naveen Andrews' efforts are pathetic, and he is godawful in the film.

The portrayal of Diana is another issue. I'm not talking about Naomi Watts, who I enjoyed (her performance was very entertaining.) But rather, the head-scratching portrait put together by the writer and director. Diana is most often shown as neurotic, selfish, immature, and media-obsessed. But then she randomly switches gears, becoming a humanitarian martyr, flying across the world to visit children with blown off limbs, trying to rid the world of landmines. The way Diana is portrayed, fiction or not, is baffling. Very contradictory and confusing.

The thing that audience members need to look past is the historical accuracy of Diana (there is none). But that does not automatically make it a bad film. If anyone watches this film and mistakes it for literal history, the fault lays not with the filmmakers; it lays with the ignorant, obtuse person.

Looking past the repugnant Hasnat components, I really enjoyed the film. For anyone going into it, have an open mind. "Diana" is a fun one, if you have the patience to decipher it.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

(Unproduced) Screenplay Review: Shangri-La Suite

Premise: In 1974 two young lovers break out of a mental institution so they can kill Elvis Presley.

Written by: Eddie O'Keefe & Chris Hutton

Technical: Draft VII. May 3, 2012. 105 pages

"Don’t worry, Teijo. In California it’ll all be different. There’s lots of people like you there. Like us. Sun is always shining. People don’t age there. People don’t die."

It's 1974.

Karen Bird is eighteen. She grew up in a nice family, but developed severe anxiety in childhood. As a teenager she self-medicated with narcotics, alcohol, and sex. Karen eventually drops out of high school and begins dating a black boy. For these offences, her parents forcibly send her to Second Chances Rehabilitation Center.

Half-Chippewa Jack Blueblood is twenty five. Jack's mother died giving birth, and his father always blamed him for it. For this, Jack was constantly beaten as a child by his resentful, drunken father. Eventually Jack developes a barbituate addiction, as well as an obsession with Elvis, so the state sends him to Second Chances.

Jack and Karen meet at the hospital and quickly start a relationship. Jack eventually reveals that his dead mother is communicating with him, her message audible when a specific Elvis record is played backwards. Jack is utterly convinced that his mother wants him to kill Elvis Presley.

After a doctor at Second Chances sexually abuses Karen, Jack murders him, and the two escape the hospital. Jack finds out that Elvis is playing a concert in L.A. soon, and so he picks that day to murder his idol. After Jack kills his father and picks up his best friend, Teijo, the two lovers and Teij hit the road, outrunning the law, racing towards L.A...

The opening of the script (approximately the first ten pages) is very mediocre. But deeper in, especially after the halfway point, there is some fantastic writing. Shangri-La, thankfully, doesn't take itself too seriously.

What drives the film is Jack wanting to murder his idol, Elvis Presley. Dr. Nash's brief words are as deep as the screenplay goes into the psychology behind this, but even just the concept of a person wanting to kill their idol is really interesting. Jack obviously has some challenges psychologically (seeing delusions, hearing voices) and it is accurately portrayed, not just a thin plot device.

Shangri-La Suite does a fantastic job of remaining objective. The writers do not condone or condemn the characters' actions. O'Keefe and Hutton simply tell the story, and let the reader come to their own conclusions. The script almost has a tone of casualness, indifference. This is not to say that there is no emotion; there is plenty of it. But the fact that the script is written from an objective point of view allows the reader to better see things from Jack and Karen's perspective. We understand how they can murder, and do the things they do.

Since reading Shangri-La for the first time (this is my second time reading it) Teijo has been exceptionally memorable. Because not only is Teijo an absolute joy to read, but he is unique and unconventional. Teijo is not the best written character, but he is the stand out, lighting up every page he is on. His relationship with Jack is especially touching; these two opposites, who love each other unconditionally. Teijo brings out the best in Jack and Karen (whereas Jack and Karen bring out the worst in each other), and he is the glue that holds the trio together.

After the halfway point, Jack and Karen's personalities truly blossom. And Jack, as delusional as he is, is way, way, way beyond his years. Perhaps the ultimate cause of his tragic end is that he's just too smart for his own good (I do believe that, to some degree.) I wrestled with whether Jack truly cares for Karen and Teijo, or whether he is just loving himself through them. It's hard to say, but he is definitely more selfish in his relationship with Karen. A prime example: In a very despondent emotional moment for Karen, she reads her mother's words in a newspaper, begging her daughter to come home. Jack recognizes Karen's sadness, and asks what's wrong. Karen says nothing and Jack instantly drops the subject. As she looks out the window in sadness... Jack just tries to dry swallow another handful of pills, oblivious to Karen.

A major concept in Shangri-La Suite is the idea of freedom. Are Jack and Karen really free, once they get on the road, or have they inadvertently doomed themselves by running away? In the end, I saw Jack as finding some sort of peace, some sort of freedom; but I saw Karen as immutably imprisoning herself.

My biggest problem with the script were the scenes with Elvis (excluding the penultimate confrontation). They are poorly written; meaningless and uninteresting. Also, showing the intimate details of Elvis' life destroys his esoteric intrigue. And though I know nothing about Elvis, his scenes in Shangri-La don't seem terribly authentic; there is no unique diction, or body language, or personality. The Elvis parts are crummy.

The last third is the strongest section of the screenplay, and I really enjoyed Karen's uncertain fate. But re-reading Shangri-La, I am not as impressed with it as I was the first time. The bottom line is  it left me hungry for something more substantial. The script mostly wastes the opportunity for any sort of criticism, or conversation, or exploration of character psychology. Despite the exceptional characters... dialogue... scenes... there is still something sorely missing.

Writing a screenplay is arduous, delicate work. The writers of Shangri-La have obviously put a lot of time and effort into this script, and it shows. Eddie O'Keefe and Chris Hutton have done a lot of fantastic things with Shangri-La Suite. I have read many screenplays, and for more than one reason, this is one of the few that has always stuck with me long after I read it. Both men should both be very proud of their work. They have written a solid script that is light years better than ninety nine percent of the other scripts out there. I do not want to discourage them in any way, in case they ever see this. I hope this review didn't come off as too hard; these were just my thoughts on reading the script, and I am one person, one voice in an ocean of them. And at the end of the day, the only opinion that matters is theirs. If this script is ever produced, I will be seeing it in theatres and supporting it, because these two at least tried to do something different. For that, I give them enourmous credit. Shangri-La just wasn't my favorite... and that's ok.

About: Eddie O'Keefe & Chris Hutton are best known for their Blacklist-ranking screenplay "When the Street Lights Go On," which is currently in development.

On June 27, 2013, it was reported that Emily Browning and Luke Grimes were set to star in Shangri-La Suite. The filmmakers (as of then) were still trying to secure financing for the film. That article can be found here.

On October 22, 2013, Eddie O'Keefe posted the following on his blog:

Shangri-La Suite is the name of a feature film I will (hopefully) be directing in the (very near) future. If all goes according to plan, it could shoot as soon as this winter (or, you know, in like eight years)*. Things are looking good, but you never know. The film industry is a fickle place and it’s tuff stuff to get dudes to donate millions of bones to a movie co-written and directed by a freckle-faced, 25-year-old hipster. Who knew?

O'Keefe also posted some cool teaser stills he took for Shangri-La, to build up interest in the film. The photos (a few are posted below) and the rest of O'Keefe's post can be found here.


Saturday, November 02, 2013

(Produced) Screenplay Review: Blue Valentine


Premise: A couple in a strained marriage try to get away for a night at a dingy themed motel.

Written by: Derek Cianfrance & Cami Delavigne and Joey Curtis

Technical: 96 pages

The film begins six years after Dean and Cindy Periersa marry, and they are now raising their six year old daughter Frankie. Dean paints houses for a living, and Cindy is an ultrasound technician. After their family dog is run over by a car, and the strain in their marriage becomes eminent, Dean pushes his wife into spending the night at a seedy themed motel for some time alone. During and after a night of heavy drinking, the fissures in their relationship finally begin to crack.

You know what makes this script so great to me? I could never write anything like this. The subject matter is foreign, and it's like a breath of fresh air. This isn't the first terrific screenplay I have read recently, but it is the first recently screenplay hat has challenged me.

Blue Valentine is a brief read, but not a word is wasted; with few words, the writers convey enourmous depth. The personality of the characters bleeds across the page with their every gesture. Like when Cindy (in a flashback) is sitting on the bus; all the other seats are taken, but her bag sits on the seat beside her. When Dean asks to sit beside her, she reluctantly moves it. This is a small detail, but really does reveal a part of who she is. And then there's Dean at the motel, the morning after his drunken brouhaha. He wakes up on the floor, very hungover, to the sound of the phone ringing endlessly. After yelling angrily, he finally picks it up, and the other voice a prerecorded wake-up message. Dean, calm, merely says thank you, and hangs up. 

Even Cindy's parents, who are seen more than once but don't ever do anything, have dialogue that is rich with personality; history, thoughts, worries, hopes. The best part about all of this is that it's not something one can be taught in school. It doesn't matter how wealthy you are; you couldn't pay Shakespeare to teach you to write like this. Because this-the best material-comes from the depths of one's heart. Sure, anyone can go to school, make a name for for themselves, write an acclaimed film, win an Oscar. But works by people who have always had it easy, who have never struggled, will always be lacking something. And they will never be as good as the genuine works. Screenplays like Blue Valentine cannot be manufactured; they come out in an unrelenting torrent of emotion. Luckily, the writers of Blue Valentine also have the minds to articulate the heart. They show true discipline, focus, and intelligence. This all makes up for an unbeatable combination. This is what the work of masters looks like. 

Near the end of the film, Dean shows up intoxicated at Cindy's work, and causes a violent scene. (This puts the final nail in the coffin of their marriage.) At one point during this scene, Cindy perfectly summarizes her feelings to Dean: "I’m so out of love with you. I’ve got nothing left for you, nothing, nothing. Nothing. There is nothing here for you. I don’t love you..." Dean responds with: "I couldn’t drive you crazy unless you loved me..." And they're probably both right. The fact that it's a paradox supports the logic; real people are contradictions. This is the genius of Blue Valentine. No matter how hysterical anyone acts, no matter how angry, or hateful, or broken, or spiteful they are... to themselves, their feelings are valid. And to the reader, everyone's rationale is clear. 

After the scene in the office, out in the parking lot, Dean (fuming) pulls off his wedding ring and throws it into a field. Moments later, he goes into the field, frantically looking for it. Dean thinks, then acts. He gets angry, then gets angry at himself, for getting angry. He's terribly sensitive, and terribly terrified. In the next scene, he summaries himself exquisitely: "Baby I’m just fighting you know, fighting for my family. I don’t know what to do, I don’t know what else to do. Tell me what to do, tell me what to do [...] Tell me how I should be." Every man faces the same struggles as Dean; but Dean is so sensitive, he cannot help but externalize his internal emotion.

Melancholic and genuine, Blue Valentine is a gem.

About: Made into a film, released in 2010. Directed by Derek Cianfrance, featuring Ryan Gosling and Michelle Williams.

Friday, November 01, 2013

(Rookie) Screenplay Review: Thief

Premise: A successful actor holds a reunion at his mansion for some old friends. But trouble ensues when there turns out to be a thief in the group, and unresolved feelings start to resurface...

Written by: Michael Cornetto, Sandra E. Watson, Thomas Pascal, Gary Rademan

Technical: Undated draft. 115 pages.

Gabriel's Place de Ra-Zon (above): an episcopalian-worshipping, sexually unrestrained house of drug-induced hormone horrors.

The plot eventually becomes a mystery, but does start out clear enough: Gabriel is a successful actor,  hosting a reunion at his L.A. mansion for some old friends. Among the cast of characters we have Fransesca (who was, until recently, a man named Frances; as well as an old lover of Gabriel's). Darnell loves cocaine, cock, and drugs. Roddy (formerly known to the group as Burner) is a recovering addict, currently sober. I'm making these characters sound way, way more interesting than they actually are. The other characters include Johnny, Cherry, Jimmy, and Jeana. Do any of them ever say anything intelligible or do anything sensical? Nope.

Ghastly. Horrendous. Murderous. These words don't even begin to describe how bad Thief actually is. Thief is disturbingly bad in every way, and truly bottom-of-the-barrel writing. It is written with English words, but might as well read in martian, as it contains serious language mistakes. Most of the descriptions are cliche (written by a person with English as a second language?) The vast majority of the language choices are bizarre ("The name hits Cherry like a hot wind.") ("Jimmy (28), still looks like a boy scout,") ("The kitchen is big enough and stainless steel enough to feed an army.")

The big thing that puzzles me is that the formatting isn't that off. Thief has the basics down: scene location, description, and dialogue. The content is atrocious, but the formatting looks like it was corrected by someone with an iota of intelligence. The formatting is clean and easy to follow. 

I read this script in its entirety. But asking for a coherent summary of Thief, is like asking your dumb buddy for a coherent summary of his last acid trip. So would it be too much to say that Thief is the worst screenplay ever written, in the history of the galaxy? Well, it's certainly not out of the question.

I am still scratching my head, wondering who or what could possibly write something of this calibre.

About: I got this script from an amateur screenwriting message board. I have tried to contact the writers of Thief (I don't know if they're still around--this script is not too new), asking for background information on it. If I recieve a response, I will post it here.

(Produced) Screenplay Review: Inception

Premise: A man must infiltrate someone else's dream, and plant an idea, in order to get his life back.

Written by: Christopher Nolan

Technical: Shooting script. 146 pages.

Trying to portray something as infinitely creative and mysterious as dreams in such a linear, clean cut way, as is done in Inception, is inane; especially considering the fact that Nolan has no imagination (his idea of an interesting dream is movie stars in suits, getting into shootouts, racing to complete a heist? Please.) To supplement this, Nolan uses melodrama, as Inception is all falling buildings, life-or-death scenarios, and dreams within dreams within dreams. But genuine emotion, true moments of humanity, Nolan seems to know little about, as his dramatic range seems incapable of extending past mindless action sequences. There are no humans in Inception; only tools. The dialogue is one long round of endless, on-the-nose exposition. Most of it, especially during the heist, reads like it came from a six year old playing with action figures ("We have to try!" "What do we do?" "We're going as fast as we can." "Look out!" "What was that?") only a six year old has infinitely more creativity and cleverness than Inception does. And of course the screenplay follows the usual Hollywood plot arc; complete with a happy, bow-tied ending. The rules of Nolan's dream world, he seems to make up as he goes along. As a result of all this the script comes off as extremely constructed and artificial (which dreams are not). Inception tries so hard to be clever, that it becomes nauseatingly silly.

This screenplay is abominally, abysmally bad. Sheer stupidity.

About: Inception was released in 2010. Written, co-produced, and directed by Christopher Nolan.

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