Lot’s been going on this past week. The deadline for the Scriptshadow Logline/Screenplay Contest was nearing but I decided to extend it until Friday. So if you still want to enter, get those loglines in to Carsonreeves3@gmail.com. Some good news came up with #1 reader fave Source Code so make sure to chime in if you’re a fan of who’s now attached to the project. If you haven’t yet looked at the Top 25 List and its companion piece the Top 10 List Not Yet Reviewed on Scriptshadow, please do so now. And don’t forget to learn a little more about me and the site in this post. This week is going to be a little busy as I mull over which loglines will make the Top 100, so expect at least one extra Guest Review. Today, Roger tackles some material he’s quite familiar with, the #9 script on the list of scripts not yet reviewed on the site, the once David Fincher attached project, Torso. I’d anticipate one more review from that list later this week. Here’s Roger…
Genre: Crime, Mystery, Thriller
Premise: In 1935, Elliot Ness and two police detectives (known as “The Unknowns”) struggle to capture the notorious Cleveland serial killer, “The Torso Murderer”.
About: A true crime trade-paperback of a 6 part-limited series published by Image Comics. It won the 1999 Eisner Award for “Comic Book Excellence, Talent Deserving of Wider Recognition”. This is a 1st draft from 2000. David Fincher was set to direct the film version for Paramount Pictures with Ehren Kruger as screenwriter. On September 7th, 2009, in an unedited episode of Fanboy Radio, Bendis confirmed that this version of the film had been cancelled and that the rights had reverted back to him.
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis & Marc Andreyko
I was a wee lad when someone handed me a graphic novel called “Torso”.
And then, a few days ago, Carson asked me to review a script adaptation to a tome that introduced me to the world of crime noir before I ever read Chandler or saw “Chinatown”.
“Torso” is one of those formative books that shaped me as a person.
A close friend told me I’m the perfect guy for the job, but man, I feel like I’m unable to accurately review and rate this script. But I’ll try.
Who are these Bendis & Andreyko cats?
Brian Michael Bendis possibly writes faster than I can read.
There was a period in my life where I would walk into the comic-book store and it was like Bendis was writing every goddamn title under Marvel’s banner. Say what you will about his storytelling, but orchestrating and writing the Marvel “event” storylines (which affect every title), “House of M”, “Secret War”, and “Secret Invasion”, takes some serious energy and, quite possibly, years of plotting.
Over at DC, Marc Andreyko created Kate Spencer, the first female character to carry the helm in the “Manhunter” series. Spencer somehow jumped ship and ended up as Gotham’s D.A. in “Birds of Prey”, but that’s another story.
Andreyko and Bendis are known for combining forces back in the late 90’s to write a 6-part limited series for Image Comics called “Torso”.
That’s such an evocative, grit-infused title. Where does it come from?
From the Mad Butcher of Kingsbury Run.
A serial killer that killed thirteen people between 1935 and 1938 in Cleveland, Ohio.
Modus operandi: Beheaded and dismembered victims. Most of the male victims were castrated. The torsos were treated with chemicals and cut in half, and many of the torsos were discovered, preserved with a faint orange tint, usually a considerable time after their owner’s deaths.
The Torso Killer.
Enter Eliot Ness, leader of the recently disbanded and incorruptible Untouchables.
Part of the brilliance of “Torso” is that it could be the dark sequel to Brian De Palma’s “The Untouchables”. What’s even more mind boggling is that a human-being lived this.
This is Eliot Ness’ life.
Sure it may take dramatic license. It may embellish, dramatize and theorize, but when you get right down to it, these are pages torn out of a human being’s life. How amazing is that?
The situation is simple. Elliot Ness and his wife Edna have moved to Cleveland with the hopes of a more peaceful life in which Eliot can devote more time to their marriage and spend less time grooming his public persona as a crime-buster.
But Ness tries to live in two worlds.
In his position as the city’s new Safety Director, Ness is tasked with “turning the police department into a respectable law enforcement operation”.
Translation: Ness is going to bump heads with Cleveland’s criminal kingpins and fire all of the corrupt cops.
Complication: The Torso Killer is leaving a wake of unidentified bodies, taking over the newspaper headlines and casting a shadow of fear over the populace.
Ticking clock: The Mayor is freaking out because Cleveland is hosting the Republican National Convention, and well, it kinda looks bad when a serial killer is on the loose terrorizing the host city’s citizens.
Stakes: Ness must find and apprehend the killer lest his legendary reputation be tarnished. Even if it means throwing his marriage under the bus of this hellish manhunt.
And with Al Capone behind bars, the Torso Killer becomes Ness’ next “great white whale”.
Who are “The Unknowns”?
Detective Walter Myrlo and Detective Sam Simon lead the Torso Killer investigation. They’re a pair of incorruptible policemen that don’t receive pink slips when Ness cleans house.
Sam is a young and handsome bachelor, while Myrlo is married and grizzled. Myrlo is the more experienced of the two, and Sam is usually the one stuck doing all of their paperwork.
I like Eliot Ness, but Sam might be my favorite character. In a way, there’s a character detail about him (which I won’t give away here) that creates a sense of pathos for the whole story.
What happens to Sam in the third act is something that made me throw the graphic novel down and just think about the story for a while and simply, breathe. I’m pleased to report that the moment is preserved in the script, and it’s powerful.
Of course, the comparisons to Detective Mills and Somerset in “Se7en” are unavoidable, but the part where Myrlo utters, “No shit. We get to be ‘Untouchables?’” gave me fucking goosebumps.
I think the shining moment of the script is how Eliot Ness reacts to Edna leaving him. First off, Edna’s confrontation with an obsessed and stretched-thin and desperate Ness is preserved almost verbatim from the graphic novel.
And it’s such a perfect, knock-down moment that, if you’ve ever had someone break up with you, will take your breath away. Edna’s line is just classic.
But it’s just the set-up.
Ness, in a temptestuous manifestation of pain, decides to take away the Torso Killer’s victims. He gathers his troops and takes them to Cleveland’s Shantytown, where squatters displaced by the Great Depression are struggling to survive.
And in a moment that tells us we’re at the end game, Ness says, “Burn this eyesore to the ground.”
Do we ever find out the identity of The Torso Killer?
Yes and no. It’s kinda like asking, “Hey, did we ever figure out who Jack the Ripper was?” And in a lot of ways, we’re tilling some of the same soil in Alan Moore’s “From Hell”.
Bendis and Andreyko shed some light on the subject and it seems to parallel the identity of the killer in real life.
They add a coda to the ending that’s not found in the graphic novel, that slightly spins it from a tragic dead-end into a Pyrrhic victory, and admittedly, I do like this ending better than the original one.
Do you think the script holds up to the graphic novel, Rog?
In an autobiographical comic worth hunting down, “Fortune & Glory”, Bendis documents his experience adapting his and Andreyko’s graphic novel for Hollywood.
He initially turned in a draft that was two-hundred pages plus, and his agent thought it was great but he amusingly mentioned that, usually, screenplays are like…one-hundred-and-twenty pages?
So Bendis shaves and shaves it down, and in this reviewer’s opinion, sacrifices some of the substance that makes “Torso” a rich, dark chocolate when you digest it. There’s something about it that won’t quite dissolve completely.
The experience sticks to you, leaves a bitter taste in your mouth.
Unfortunately, this script left something out of the recipe.
Bendis and Andreyko manage to distill the essence of the plot, but in doing so they cut away too much flesh of the story. It’s not that they bled the story to death, but there’s definitely an emotional weight that’s lost in the translation. And it’s not like our creators-turned-screenwriters are incapable, but it’s almost like someone guided them into shoehorning a story that needs space into a claustrophobic spec script mold.
I kept thinking of David Fincher’s “Zodiac”, and how much it seems like the cinematic moral twin to “Torso”. I believe someone like David Fincher (or a director of his caliber) could breathe some life into the bones of this script and resurrect the graphic novel experience Bendis & Andreyko fans know so well.
Part of me wants to give it an [x] impressive rating, and maybe that’s deservedly so (for its excellent dialogue, clean command of action/direction passages, and a story that’s at least on par with “Se7en”, if not “Zodiac), but I already knew all the twists and turns beforehand, and thus the mesmerizing sense of discovery and emotional attachment, as a whole, was missing.
It’s sort of like re-watching an abridged version of a movie you love. You still love it, but it’s not as engrossing in its abridged form. Sadly, it’s missing something, and no matter how hard you try, you keep comparing it to its unabridged form.
Or it’s the difference between walking from room-to-room in a mansion, and then being shown the blue-prints to its remodeled version as a four-bedroom house.
Hence I rate “Torso” as:
[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
But I rest assured, knowing many of you first-time “Torso” readers will consider it [x] impressive. And that’s okay by me, because in terms of the spec script mold, it certainly is.
What I learned: Ask Brian Michael Bendis for writing advice, and he might say, “Always put your characters in the place they would least like to be.” The last place Eliot Ness wants to be is chasing a serial killer. He just came from Chicago, where he chased bootleggers and gangsters, his efforts leading to the arrest of his “great white whale”, Al Capone. But during this journey, one of his best friends was killed and he almost lost his wife. Does he really want to chase the great white whale again and endanger his marriage? One might argue that Ness’ flaw is his obsession to solve “one more case”, and the events that unfold are more tragic for it. Try it. Put your character where they least want to be, and you might find you’ve placed them at the cross-roads where the storms of conflict intersect.
Hip hip hooray! You guys did it. By putting Source Code at the top of the Reader List, you convinced Hollywood to take the project seriously and put it into production. All jokes aside (or am I joking) this is really exciting. In one month, my two favorite scripts both got green lights! Today, Source Code nabbed Gyllenhall for the lead, which is a great choice. I think he’s perfect for the role. Also “Moon” helmer, Duncan Jones, will be directing! Now we just need to get Brigands of Rattleborge made and all will be good with the world. Here’s the story in Variety.
So, there have been some new people to jump on the site recently (probably due to the Top 25 List) and it’s been awhile since I’ve really talked about Scriptshadow, so I figured it was a good time to recap how you can get the most out of the site.
Facebook and Twitter - I have both a Facebook Fan Page and a Twitter account. It’s a good idea to become a fan for a key reason. I announce new blog posts the second they go up, and since occasionally writers and producers will ask me to take a script link down, you may be able to get to that link before it’s removed. So stop messing around and join my Facebook and Twitter pages!
Comments - My original vision was to have Scriptshadow become the de facto site for discussing screenplays. Although I believe I’ve achieved that, not enough of you know about or visit the comments section. I know it may be annoying initially, but go sign up for a “Disqus” account so you can start commenting! Since your e-mail is then shown to me, if you leave a comment or ask a question (“I’m looking for this script. Where do I find it?”), I can e-mail you directly with an answer. It’s an alternative way to get in direct contact with me.
I know for some of you, you’ve had trouble with the commenting system. I’ve tried four major commenting programs now, and this is the one with the least amount of hassle. If it’s not working for you, try another browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Google Chrome, or Safari). My experience has been that Mozilla Firefox on a PC works best. Macs have had the most trouble in the commenting department, but trying alternative browsers seems to solve most of the problems. I apologize that the comments are such a disaster for some people, but I’ve spent many hours on it and this is the best I’ve been able to come up with.
Scripts I’m Looking For - This site cannot exist without the generosity of its contributors. Over to the top right there is a list of scripts I’m looking for. If you have anything on the list, help out and send it along so I can review it. If it makes you nervous, send from a fake e-mail.
More About Me - I don’t talk about myself much on the site, but I did do an interview with Kristy at Matriarchal Script Paradigm awhile back. Looking back at it now, I come off as a sex-addict for some reason. So if you can get past that, you might learn a thing or two about me.
These ten scripts, while not in the Top 25, may have fared better had they been reviewed on the site. So in the spirit of equal opportunity, I present the top 10 ranked scripts not (yet) reviewed on Scriptshadow. If you’d like to see the original Top 25, head on over to this post.
10. (21 pts) Suspension by Joss Whedon – Action – Back in the days when every action pitch had to have “Die Hard” in it, Joss Whedon wrote Die Hard on the George Washington Bridge.
9. (32 pts) Torso – In 1935, Elliot Ness and his gang (known as “The Unknowns”) chase a notorious serial killer who would famously leave a number of headless torsos in his wake.
8. (49 pts) Devil In The White City – Drama/Thriller – An architect works to build up the 1893 Worlds Fair, while a serial killer uses the fair to attract and kill women.
7. (54 pts) Edward Ford by Lem Dobbs – Dark Comedy – Edward Ford, considered by some to be the greatest unproduced screenplay ever, is about a wannabe actor whose life goal is to snag a SAG card. We follow him through three decades as he experiences a world of disappointment.
6. (58 pts) The Grackle - Comedy – A New Orleans barroom brawler starts his own business settling disputes for people who can’t afford a lawyer.
5. (88 pts) Roundtable - Comedy – A twist on the King Arthur legend in which the wizard Merlin assembles a ragtag group of modern-day knights to battle an ancient evil foe.
4. (94 pts) At The Mountains Of Madness by Guillermo Del Toro – Horror – A group of explorers journey to the Arctic where they uncover an ancient race of beasts.
3. (97 pts) Farragut North by Beau Willimon – A young, idealistic communications director for a fast-rising politician falls prey to backstabbing and trickery while working on a presidential campaign.
2. (115 pts) Solo by David Coggeshall – Horror/Thriller – A “Misery”-style thriller for the teen set, with elements of “Lord of the Flies” and “Blue Lagoon.”
1. (138 pts) Stanford Prison Experiment by Chris McQuarrie & Tim Talbott – Drama – Based on an experiment conducted in the summer of 1971 at Stanford University, where undergraduate students assumed the roles of prison guards and inmates. Within a single day, the psychological profiles of the students had changed, and the interaction between prisoners and guards grew violent.
My good friend and professional reader, Ralphy, has reviewed the #6 script on your reader faves list, The Brigands Of Rattleborge. I’ve been meaning to get a review up for this for awhile but because I knew I couldn’t half-ass it, that it would take a considerable amount of time, I’ve opted for avoidance instead. Ralphy to the rescue. Here’s an excerpt…
This is a simple story. In fact, despite some requisite—and fully set up—twists and turns, it’s so simple that it allows Zahler to explore complex characters and themes in the way a complicated plot would not. We’re thrust immediately into the open plains of the Wild West, where the dapper BILLY LEE and his sidekick, uncouth RODNEY, are about to make their way down to a Native American encampment, despite the obvious danger. Billy Lee has all the answers, knows all the moves, his tone meant to be reassuring as Rodney sits atop his steed, one nervous spasm away from shitting his pants. They ride into the village, where they’re met by the welcoming committee, armed with spears and arrows. With an air of calm authority, Billy Lee asks to speak to the chief. His request falls on uncomprehending ears, however, so he shows the distrustful men a scarf belonging to the chief’s daughter. Apparently, she’s been kidnapped, and Billy Lee makes it known to the tribe’s half-caste, who speaks English, that he knows her whereabouts and the men who took her.
For the rest of the review, head on over to Matriarchal Script Paradigm…