Synopsis: An upper-class New York family of five bratty sisters must fight for their father’s inheritence.
About: Taxonomy of Barnacles is an adaption from the novel of the same name.
Writer: Amy Lippman adapting Galt Neiderhoffer’s novel.
Now I’m going to go on a little rant here so hang with me. I hate book adaptations. When you adapt a book, you’re writing a screenplay to adapt a book. When you write a screenplay, you’re writing a screenplay to write the screenplay. It’s natural, organic, and the only thing you have to worry about is telling a story. Adapting books, your first priority is to find a way to tell the same story but in screenplay form. So you’re fighting a battle even before you place a word on paper. This is very evident in screenplays like Taxonomy of Barnacles, where 6 characters are being jammed down your throat in the first 3 pages and FIVE of these characters have names that start with the letter “B”. A screenplay rule for as long as there have been screenplays is to give your characters distinct sounding names to make it easy for the reader to differentiate between them. Five characters all having names that start with “B” is absurd. Especially when you meet them all at once. I had to keep going back and checking who was who. It was incredibly annoying. And this is just a minor problem with adaptations. The big one is that old problem of having to tell 100% of the story in 10% of the space. But I digress.
The movie begins with four rich bratty sisters, Benita (10), Beth (20), Bridget (24), and Belinda (15), (we’ll meet Bell – 27 – later) complaining about everything from school to life to boyfriends. We’ve got a roomful of complete brats and it’s hard to like a single one of them. After 10 pages I wanted to nail these girls to my door and throw darts at them til they bled to death. So far so good.
But then Barry Barnacle (God does this author like the letter B), their father with a hard-on for Charles Darwin , comes home to inform the girls that he’s decided to use their inheritance money to have a room at the Museum of Natural History and Art dedicated in his name. He’s giving the girls one last chance to convince him that they’re “worthy” of the inheritance. If they somehow achieve this feat, one of them will get it all. That’s right: only ONE of them. And thus Barry infuses their lives with his own little Charles Darwin experiment. Survival of the fittest indeed.
Can I just say? THANK GOD! I was so worried this was going to be some novelized version of Privileged about a bunch of snobby rich girls bitching about how difficult it is to be rich (I’ve never actually seen Privileged but this is what I assume it’s about). Now we actually have a story. Bravo. I’m on board. But dammit. This means I’m going to have to learn these girls’ names!
It’s actually a nice setup, as each of these girls must now face their deepest flaws and see if they can overcome them. Bridget never finishes anything she starts (her boyfriend Trot wants to set a date to get married but she’s reluctant). Beth won’t even interact with a man. Belinda can’t think for herself. And there’s something wrong with the other one too. Is Bartha her name?
But Barry is a peculiar character. He cheated on his wife. He resents having all girls. He’s disappointed in Bell for leaving her husband, even if the man was a compulsive cheater. So this “prove you’re a good person” bit doesn’t hold much water when you think about it. It’s kind of like gutters in Los Angeles. They’re not really equipped to handle a lot of rainfall. When Bell claims she doesn’t want the half of the money she’s entitled to through her divorce, Barry is the first to tell her to take it. So the man who’s trying to teach her a lesson about being entitled tells her she’s entitled to half her husband’s fortune? Uhhh, what?
The most compelling storyline is Bridget, who left her previous fiance, Billy, unannounced. Then Trot, her current boyfriend, the only person in the story with any actual working blood in him, finds out that Bridget’s gone back and slept with Billy. He confronts them both and tells her he can never be with her again. Billy lies and tells Trot that Bridget won the inheritance, in order to prove to Bridget (in an effort to win her back) that Trot’s been in this for the money all along. Trot changes his tune once he finds out that Bridget won the money, and ole Billy’s point is proven. The problem with this is – TROT’S THE ONLY PERSON WE LIKE IN THE WHOLE GODDAMN SCREENPLAY. Now you just made him an asshole like everyone else.
The rest of the story is fun. Beth finds out she’s a lesbian. Belinda tries to marry a punk rocker to rattle her father (who she dumps because he ends up being jewish – which wouldn’t have rattled her father at all). All Benita wants is her father’s appreciation. And what we find out, in a rather touching finale, is that their mother committed suicide because of depression. Barry needed a way to rationalize it, and used Darwin’s theory of Survival Of The Fittest to explain it away – hence his peculiar obsession with the theory.
There’s a humorous subplot about a nest of rare eagles living out on the ledge that Barry’s been trying to get rid of for years (but Animal Activists groups have prevented him from doing so). Again, there’s some Darwanism going on here – will the birds make it? But I think the biggest strength of the script is watching these little bitches battle each other for the gold. Making us dislike them from the get-go was a calculated move, and now we revel in their misery. And it’s so wonderfully written (save for the noted problems) that even without a character to root for, you’re desperate to find out how it’s all going to end. I see Taxonomy of Barnacles as the movie I had hoped The Royal Tenenbaums would be. As it is, it’s probably too obscure to be made into a film. But that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be.
What I learned from Taxonomy of Barnacles: The power of a strong theme can really unify your script. Everything in Taxonomy stems from Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, and it works superbly.
Synopsis: A woman gets lost in the Everglades.
About: A Nicholl’s quarterfinalist.
Writer: Leif Lindhjem
Give. Me. A. Break.
Look, I hate to bash a writer who’s just starting his career. But this wasn’t enjoyable. It wandered. It meandered. It had no idea what it was.
Can I just make a statement? Can I make a plea to all the young writers out there, especially the writers who write horror? Please…for the love of all that is holy…DO NOT. UNDER ANY CIRCUMSTANCES. WRITE THE MOVIE WHERE THE PERSON WAKES UP IN THE END IN A PSYCHE WARD AND FINDS OUT THAT THEY’RE CRAZY.
Not only is it the least original ending that you can possibly think of. But it allows the writer to write 10,000 “spooky” crazy nonsensical things into the story that go nowhere, all in the name of being “clever” cause in the end, the character we’ve been following is CRAZY! So you see! Remember when she saw that tree made out of human flesh?? Well that’s explained because she’s crazy! Remember when she ate a human baby? Well that makes sense now because she’s crazy! (sigh)
Claire, 30s, pretty, heads into the forest with her son, Levi, and sometimes-boyfriend David, and the three get split up. When Claire goes looking for them, she gets lost. As dusk turns to night, and she’s frantically searching, she slams into a branch, knocking herself out. She wakes up the next day with no idea where she is or how to get home.
We sense something is off. There’s a strange savage seminole woman who follows Claire around wherever she goes, always staying at a distance, always in the background. The first thing I thought (at this point I still held out hope) was “Please don’t let that be herself. Please don’t let that be herself.”
Claire almost gets eaten by an alligator. She gets stuck in a sinkhole (and watches the Seminole woman toss a baby into the sinkhole, killing it). She keeps falling and passing out every three minutes. At some point she’s picked up by Russel and J.R., two hicks who live out in the everglades. They take her to their house and they speak cryptically of knowing the Seminole woman. They tell her the woman has her son. When she asks if they can go get her, J.R. replies. “You don’t go to her. She comes to you.”
Everything is cryptic and weird. Nothing makes sense. Nobody talks in any sort of reality, which makes every conversation and moment extremely absurd(cause like, she’s MAKING THIS ALL UP IN HER HEAD, REMEMBER??).
She finally wakes up in the psyche ward. Her real world boyfriend turns out to be a doctor – proving that she just *believed* he was her boyfriend. They have no relationship. The real Russell and J.R. work there as assistants. She still thinks this is all real of course and tries to escape. She sneaks out through the window, climbs the fence, only to get caught up in the barbed wire. She’s too wrapped up in it for them to remove her. Blood gushes everywhere. She passes out….and wakes up in the forest again…to start the nightmare all over again! And oh yeah, if you haven’t figured it out already, she IS the seminole woman.
I wish she would’ve died. And I wish she would’ve taken me with her.
This is when I don’t like reading. When I hit a stretch of scripts so bad I start wondering if anything will surprise and excite me again.
What I learned from Everglade: You can only lead your audience on for so long before you have to start giving them answers. “Intriguing” can become “annoying” faster than you know.
Synopsis: A down-on-his-luck scientist finds a way to travel into an alternate universe.
About: Brad Silbering is directing. The guy who, I believe, did Lemony Snicket.
Writers: Chris Henchey & Dennis McNicholas
Can I just say how much I hate the 70s? Can I just say how much I hate when people try to make fun of the 70s? I never understood why people enjoyed making fun of this decade. It’s inherently ridiculous and funny all by itself. The mustaches. The feathery hair. It’s like trying to make fun of George Bush. He’s already a moron. So you trying to exaggerate how much of a moron he is isn’t funny. Which makes any TV show or movie centered around the 70s a TV show or movie I won’t watch. Which brings me to Anchorman. When my friends talk about how hilarious this movie is, I want to jam their heads into my mini-stove and set the digital temperature to 1000 degrees. I hate that movie with a passion. And it almost made me hate Will Ferrel forever.
But Will Ferrel is an interesting guy. He’s funny. And while each SNL member has an expiration date on their shtick, Ferrel’s has legs. He possesses that rare quality of being funny even when he’s doing nothing. He’s got a shot at becoming the most successful SNL alum of all time. Sure, he ‘s got Sandler, Myers, Murphy, and Martin ahead of him but he’s closing in.
I bring up Anchorman because in Land of The Lost, Ferrel seems to be channeling that same grating character. He plays a controversial yet cocky scientist looking for fossil fuels in alternate dimensions. In the opening scene, Anderson Cooper has invited four scientists to discuss what will happen when the world runs out of oil. Ferrel gives his opinions on quantum paleantology to the amusement of the other scientists, and within five minutes he’s on the floor beating the shit out of Stephen Hawking. Okay, points for that one. That’s funny.
But sadly, this is one of those SNL inspired scripts where the funniest scene comes in the first ten pages, and everything after that is varying degrees of awful (and I mean really really awful). It’s sad, really, that studios think they can throw any hot comedian into a funny concept and let him goof off for 2 hours and the audience will consider it “entertainment.” But that’s what we get with Land Of The Lost.
I’ll try to explain the plot but it’s so thin, I don’t even know if it could be considered a plot under the traditional definition of the term. Flash-forward 5 years and Ferrel is a has-been scientist marred by that CNN interview. He works at the La Brea Tar Pits, giving tours to school children. Luckily a new employee, Holly (I just imagined her as what’s her name from Married With Children) is a fan of Ferrel’s old work, and says she knows a place out in the desert that contains high “tachyon” readings (the essence of his research).
So they head on out there, meet Will, a paintball freak, and together accidentally jump into an alternate universe. And when I say accidental, I mean like, they stumble into a cave and “Hey! We’re in another universe! Cool!” Any time a manager or producer tells you the inciting incident of your time travel story has to be believable, just point to this script and say “No it doesn’t.” I know this is a comedy, but take more than 5 minutes to think of a way to make the “time jump”. Jeez.
So now Will, Holly, and Ferrel run around, randomly searching for a way to get home. Along the way they encounter lizard people, dinosaurs, and ice cream trucks. There is no point to this story. Ferrel, who’s spent his entire life trying to find these tachyons because of their time-traveling potential, finally finds them, gets transferred “back in time”, and spends the entire movie trying to get back to the “present”, away from the very thing he was looking for. Some people might call this ironic. I call it stupid and boring.
I’m sure everyone thought using an alternate universe gave them an edge over the traditional time-traveling story. Allowing them to use things like lizard people and ice cream trucks and whatever the hell else popped into their head. But with no boundaries, where do your characters go? Imagine playing football without yard markers. Heck, imagine playing football without end zones. Or any lines period. Where do you throw? What do you do? There needs to be something to ground the story. If the audience can expect literally anything to happen, there’s no danger. Nobody can die. Nothing’s a threat. It’s all just nonsense. Why not have everybody turn into bubble gum, blow bubbles of themselves, and fly off to Candyland where they’ll be safe? I never once sensed that the characters were in trouble here and that’s the single essential element to making a movie like this work.
Look, I’ll be the first to admit that Will Ferrel running from a T-Rex is funny. But you have to understand, how long is that scene? Two minutes? Three? And after that, what’s left? Why do we care? What’s pushing the story forward? What are these characters’ problems? What are their goals? The filmmakers don’t care about the answers to these questions and so neither do we. It’s why ultimately this movie is as lost as its title.
I’ll finish this by saying even the big budget films HAVE TO HAVE A STORY. You can’t neglect it. It’s the heart of your film. I find it ironic that producers and studios and execs hold spec scripts to such high standards while holding their own projects to an “anything goes” mentality.
What I learned from Land Of The Lost: Nothing.
Synopsis: Super soldiers fight a secret war against each other. I think.
About: They actually made a G.I. Joe movie. The Mummy’s Steven Sommers has been allowed out of movie jail to direct it. And I was so hoping he would do Van Helsing 2.
Writers: Stuart Beattie, Revisions by John Lee Hancock and Brian Koppleman & David Levien
For a long time I was baffled by the fact that so many people, even people over 14, liked the Transformers movie. Like, it hurt my brain. Because I fully thought it was understood that to like that movie you had to be at least a little bit retarded. From the liquid transforming (keeping us from actually seeing the coolest thing about the transformers – how they transformed) to the 360 degree swirling extreme close-ups whenever robots fought, to a robot “peeing” on someone, I never felt this was aimed at my demo. People tell me it was “fun” and I obviously didn’t want to have fun. How is something fun when I can’t tell what the fuck is going on? All I wanted was clarity. On any front.
So how did it make so much money? Well, cause I (and others like me) went to see it. Cause despite the fact that I knew all this would happen, I still paid 10 bucks. Cause I wanted to see big fucking robots fight each other on the big screen. Big robots aren’t meant to be seen in your house. They’re meant to be seen on a screen the size of your house! And I hoped – prayed – that I would be wrong. That Bay would somehow pull it off. And even with my low expectations, the movie is easily one of the most incoherent pieces of film I’ve seen in a long time.
So this leads us to G.I. Joe. The logical extension of Transformers’ success. The problem with adapting a toy franchise though is that…well…it’s a TOY FRANCHISE. It’s not a story. It’s a bunch of toys. The mythology and backstory is thin to non-existent. Which is ultimately why, no matter how hard you try, Transformers and G.I. Joe can’t be made into good movies. They’re toys man! Plastic and metal. Lifeless. Not real.
I have to admit that the Super Bowl trailer looked pretty cool though. And afterwards I thought, “Hmmm, maybe they actually pull this off.” But then I remembered that if you spend 170 million dollars and can’t come up with 20 seconds worth of awesome footage, you should never be allowed to make a movie again. So that brought me to my senses a bit.
Let’s get to the “story” shall we? I’m going to do my best to explain this and if I get anything wrong, well, I don’t apologize because I don’t believe the filmmakers gave a shit if *they* got it wrong either. A couple of guys named Duke and Ripcord (Ripcord is played by a Wayans Brother – just sayin) are out there – I believe – working for the army when out of nowhere…THEY’RE RECRUITED BY A SUPER SECRET ORGANIZATION. An organization that lives out by the Egyptian pyramids. This new organization consists of an advanced breed of super soldier which works outside the jurisdiction of any government (why Egypt lets them hang out by their pyramids though I don’t know). This organization is G.I. Joe.
G.I. Joe is rocked when ANOTHER mysterious super secret organization called COBRA gets its hands on four super secret technologically advanced warheads! Why are they technologically advanced? Cause they don’t just blow up. They send out “nano-machines” (yes, you heard that right) that eat up all the metal but – get this – don’t eat humans!! Therefore they’re the perfect weapons.
Okay. Hold up. Stop for a second.
The bad guys contain a weapon that will destroy a city but won’t kill a single person? And that’s supposed to be…scary? First of all, what bad guy doesn’t kill people? And second…
Back to the story. Apparently the American government isn’t equipped to handle this kind of problem. So our boys over at G.I. Joe decide to take on Cobra by themselves. They discover that Cobra plans to blow up one of these bombs in Paris so they hurry on over there. Unfortunately the bomb blows up and (like you saw in the trailer) it starts taking down the Eifel Tower! Non! Half of the Joes try to save the people on the tower. The other half go chasing after Cobra.
Is it really that important that I’m explaining this? I mean, couldn’t we have asked a group of 8 year olds to make something up and it would be relatively close to what we have so far?
Anyway, Cobra gets away and G.I. Joe learns that Cobra plans to detonate the other three bombs (or maybe two) in Washington and Moscow (you know, so they can make sure a whole bunch of people don’t have a place to live! God these terrorists and their plans!). The Joes race against time to stop them. Do they save all those people from having to file really big insurance claims? I think it’s pretty safe to say “yes”. They do!
Okay, here’s the thing. This is the reason you make G.I. Joe. It’s one reason and one reason only. Snake Eyes vs. Storm Shadow. When I was a kid and used to play with G.I. Joe, we would set up these massive wars that spanned many many rooms. But the only thing that mattered was Snake Eyes vs. Storm Shadow. Cause Snake Eyes (a ninja in all black) was the coolest toy ever. And Storm Shadow (a ninja in all white) wasn’t far behind. So, does their battle live up to the hype? Well…it’s impossible to tell in the script. Obviously, fighting is very visual. But they make a choice to flashback to when Storm Shadow and Snake Eyes were being taught by the same master DURING THE FIGHT. And it threw everything off-kilter. You don’t want flashbacks during the most important battle in a script. You want these two to get it on. So I’m hoping the editor chops that part out while the producers aren’t looking.
Anyway, after they deactivate the bombs (taking a cue from the George Lucas school of filmmaking and having Ripcord accidentally destroy one of them all by himself), Cobra sneaks off and the obvious sequel is set up. And I’m pretty sure the president of the United States is revealed to be the leader of Cobra.
I will give it to the producers of this movie that the production of this film looks top-notch. It honestly looks like they’re doing things here that haven’t been done before. But where were these guys when the script was being written? How is it that in a group of people who have been dominating this industry for years, no one knows how to craft a story?? I think there’s a bigger problem here though. If you held a gun to any single person on this production team and asked them to tell you the truth, from the producer to the director to the actors all the way down to the p.a. – if you asked them if they gave a rat’s ass about G.I. Joe – heck, if they even knew what the fuck G.I. Joe was five years ago - If you asked them if they were doing this for anything outside of a paycheck, we all know what the answer would be. And that’s the problem. Is that it’s clear nobody gives a shit. And no heart equals no soul. Your 100 million dollar marketing campaign will buy you your 75 million dollar opening weekend. But there isn’t a single person over 11 that will recommend this to their friends. Which goes back to my initial point. They’re toys. You don’t make a movie out of them because there’s no emotional core to base them off of. And that’s why G.I. Joe, the movie, is looking bad folks.
Synopsis: The most important people in the world are dying mysterious deaths. Someone is predicting them each and every time.
About: Karma Coalition is the kind of spec that sparks outrage. A lot of people thought this was a sloppily executed high concept story. I say…they’re wrong! (well sorta)
Writer: Shawn Christensen
I am a sucker for these kinds of movies. Anything where a character learns that something mysterious is going on, looks into it, and finds that the rabbit hole goes much deeper. Bonus points if it’s sci-fi. The Matrix has been the bar for these types of films. So how does Karma Coalition – an equally cool title – hold up? Well read on to find out.
Karma Coalition is about a recent spat of deaths of very “important” people around the world. Archdioses, scientists, celebrities. Oh but that’s not all my friends. Someone is betting on when these people are going to die. And they’re right *every time*. Too bad the bettor is killed on page 6. I guess we’ll never find out how he did this. Or will we………..?????
The movie centers around William Craft, a young college professor who’s been laid off (for sleeping with one of his students — wait a minute, don’t all college professors do this?) who we learn is a widow. His wife (and love of his life) died in a car crash six years ago. Without her, he seems to have lost his direction in life. Well, except for the direction of sleeping with his students that is.
Directionless and jobless, where does William turn? Although it would be fun to speculate, we never find out because William is rounded up by the police for being the aforementioned bettor’s only close friend (“close” is relative – they had a falling out years ago) and thrown into an interrogation room where he’s informed he will be arrested for murder. But first, the cop wants him to open a mysterious box – the one thing the bettor left to anyone. And he left it to William.
William obliges. Inside are five things. One, a note that tells him the cop opposite him is one of the dirtiest cops in the city. Two, a gun. Three, smoke bombs. Four, a DVD. And five, a note. A note that says simply: “She’s still alive.” Have I got your attention yet? Yeah, up to this point, the script really sings and your curiosity is piqued. Then again, in these “something bigger going on here” types of scripts, the set up is the easiest part. Does the rest of the movie deliver? Keep reading to find out.
I’m not going to tell you how William gets out of there because it’s pretty obvious. Smoke bombs and a gun will get you out of anywhere people. Anyway, William gets the hell out of Dodge and to a friends house so he can check out this DVD. When he pops it in, he realizes that the DVD is actually a movie that *he is in right now*. He learns that he’s just a character. And that somehow he has to get out into the real world. Okay, I’m kidding. The DVD is of the Bettor, who informs him that in 2013 some huge catastrophic event happens where 90% of the earth’s population is wiped out. Because of this, a secret organization called the Karma Coalition is faking the deaths of very important people, in order to get all of them onto a secret island called “Parista” where the smartest of the smart can continue the human race. Oh, and guess what? His wife is there too!
I have to admit that I was pretty damn into this. All of it felt very cool to me. And this alone would be enough to get this puppy sold. But the big question was – once again – would the rest of the script deliver?
The answer, for the most part, is yes. Without getting too in-depth, William realizes that he is on the list of people going to Parista. The powers that be summon him, and this is the biggest weakness of the script. The writer tries to have it both ways. William desperately wants to get to Parista because his wife is there. But once you go to Parista, for obvious reasons, you can never come back. And William wants to come back. The problem with that is, why? He doesn’t have any friends here. The love of his life, who we’re reminded he loves every other page, is on this island. So why is he so keen on getting back home?
I believe the only reason for this was to set up a final sub-plot whereby William tips off the police (with a secretly encoded message – okay, we’re getting just a little cheesy here) so that they can come after him, and possibly help him get off Parista.
MAJOR MAJOR SPOILERS
Well William is knocked out cold and sent to Parista with about 25 pages to go. Parista is pretty much what you’d expect it to be (a semi-futuristic utopia island). Probably the only vanilla choice of the script.
And because there’s so little time, his reunion with his wife feels both forced and way too fast. And after that is when we get the big reveal. William is told he has mail. Mail that was sent for him 10 months ago (even though he just got to the island yesterday). He goes to pick up the mail, opens it, and we intercut this with our old friend the cop (who originally busted him) who has since been on his own journey to find “Parista”. The cop and his cop friends follow some clues to a suspicious ice cream shop in the middle of Wyoming. What?? Parista is in Wyoming?? They invade it, knowing it’s a front. Find an elevator. Take the elevator down 94 floors deep into the earth. They come out. And find themselves in a huge not-so-futuristic “Matrix” styled cavern, where as far as the eyes can see, bodies are kept in suspended animation. The cops are caught by the Coalition, who allow the cop his last wish of “writing a letter”. This of course is the letter William is now holding.
We cut back to William to learn – through the letter – that the year is not 2009, but 2059, and that he was in suspended animation all those years, then brought to Parista. What this means – and this is where the script really loses the uumph that it needed – is that he can never go back home. So he’s super depressed.
…hold up, WHAT! Now despite the “coolness” factor of finding all these people in suspended animation deep under the earth (I really did think that was cool), it simply doesn’t fly. First of all, he’s on a utopia island WITH THE LOVE OF HIS LIFE who “five” days ago he thought was dead. What’s to complain about? Second, why would he want to go back? So he could die in four years during the catastrophic event?? That doesn’t make any sense. And third, why does it matter that it’s 2059? Who cares if it’s 2009, 2059, or 3009? Once you’re on Parista you have no contact with the outside world and can’t go back anyway. So who cares what year it is?
Despite these problems, I have to say that I enjoyed this script quite a bit. And although I respect the other voices that have called this “riddled with plot holes” I just thought the whole thing was so imaginative. And like I said, I love these types of scripts. They need to clean up those last 40 minutes or so. But once they do, they have themselves a movie. And I’ll be there opening day.
What I learned from Karma Coalition: Keep your story moving. Karma Coalition sold because the story moved so fast nobody had time to think about the script’s holes.