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.
About: FUCK THIS SCRIPT
Writer: Christopher Nolan – Revisions by Michael Stokes (novel by Ruth Rendell)
I really hated this script. Like hated it. For the record, I’m one of the few people who thought The Dark Knight wasn’t very good. My problems with it were at the script stage. I felt there were way too many characters, way too many storylines, and the structure was clumsily executed. Although I don’t love Batman Begins, I think it’s superior to The Dark Knight (for the record, comic book movies are my least favorite genre – so take my opinion with a grain of salt).
The reason I bring this up is because I, like I often do, pulled “The Keys To The Street” out of the pile blindly. Imagine my surprise after I read it to discover that noneother than Christopher Nolan wrote it! Part of me said, “Okay, this was the same man who wrote The Dark Knight. So it makes sense.” But the more forgiving part of me saw that he adapted this from a book all the way back in 2000. Therefore it was probably a job. So for all I know he didn’t even like the material. But that’s the last time I’m excusing him in this review cause this script was a big waste of fucking time.
The story centers around Mary, a woman who runs a Sherlock Holmes “museum” that contains bookshelves and furniture from throughout Holmes’ life. Of course Sherlock Holmes isn’t real so the fact that there’s a museum with any of his things in it is complete nonsense. At this point I was intrigued. Having no idea where the story would go I thought maybe this would be about a bridge between the real and made-up world. I’m no Sherlock Holmes freak but I thought that would’ve been cool.
Unfortunately it doesn’t play into the story at all, except maybe to warn the reader that nothing is as it seems. This would be a recurring theme throughout the script. Opportunities to find interesting storylines passed up in favor of more mundane uninteresting ones. Frown.
Mary has recently donated her bone marrow to a man with leukemia. The donation has stirred up some anger in her possessive boyfriend, Allistaire, and convinced her that it’s time to end the relationship. She decides to meet the mysterious man and the two begin a relationship. Yawn. So far, so boring. For the record, I’m not a big fan of this whole putting something in you of mine – making us “connected” in a way that nothing else can – kind of thing. The “intimacy” of it feels forced and stale these days. Wasn’t there a David Duchovny movie about this like 20 years ago? And we’re still mining this lame idea? Even in 2000?
So Mary quickly learns that the man she’s helped, Leo, has a little bit of a shady past. His brother, Carl, apparently sold drugs and prostituted himself in order to pay for Leo’s treatment (one of the weaknesses of the script is the lack of clarity in key details such as this. It’s just as possible that he did this for himself – to pay for his expensive drug habit). Not only that, but Carl may *still* being doing it. In the meantime, Mary’s grandmother has just passed away and left her a huge amount of money. Like 10 million dollars or something. Mary’s clingy ex-boyfriend Allistaire is convinced that Leo is after the money and warns her as much. Although there’s an implication that Allistaire (who knew a big will was coming Mary’s way) may be doing the same. All this sounds interesting but I promise you it’s told in such a clumsy uninvolving way that we really don’t care.
So then the big “twist” comes and boy is it a doozy. Leo is actually DEAD. Carl has been impersonating Leo! Oh my gosh! What does that mean? No, I’m serious. What does that mean? I have no idea. Does that mean Carl targeted Mary for her money and this is strictly a con? See apparently Carl has fallen ill with the same disease his brother Leo did (the other Leo – I mean the original Leo). So wouldn’t that make his targeting of Mary’s money worthless? If he’s at death’s doorstep, what is he going to do with the money? Unless of course he’s faking his illness. But we don’t know that because the true nature of his intentions are kept from us. Also, what does Leo being dead mean? Does it mean that Leo was actually the one doing all the dealing and prostituting? Or is it Carl, the one Mary’s with now, the one who’s been pretending to be Leo? Can I get a what-what for shitty storytelling??
But wait. It gets better! If by better I mean worse. In some random nonsensical storyline, Allistaire is killed by a bum. The killing was apparently planned. Why? Good question. Don’t ask me. And Leo (now Carl) finds out that he actually doesn’t have the same disease as his brother. But that Mary’s been POISONING him with a drug that gives him the same symptoms as the kind his brother had. Hold on. Give me a second. —Did I just read that right? — How fucking ridiculous and stupid do I have to be to buy that? Seriously. At least this solves the question of whether Leo (now Carl) was faking his illness. Of course, since we never knew if he was faking or not, this big “twist” has no impact.
The Keys to the Street is apparently a reference to the block’s dogwalker, who may or may not be the puppeteer behind all of this. But if he was, I was so far checked out by the time they made it clear that it didn’t matter.
I think the biggest problem with The Keys To The Street goes back to one of the first things you learn in screenwriting class. Give us a main character we want to root for. I never liked Mary. I didn’t know her. I thought she was weak. I thought she was stupid. I thought she was spineless. I could care less if she was taken advantage of because I thought she deserved it. I wanted people to fuck her over. If that’s how I feel about your main character, you could write Citizen Fucking Kane and it wouldn’t matter.
What I learned from Keys To The City: Take care of your main character. Make the audience want to root for her.
Synopsis: An anti-love story.
About: This played at Sundance ’08 and stars Zooey Deschenal and Joseph Gordon Levitt.
Writer: Scott Neustadter & Michael H. Weber
500 Days Of Summer (Summer is the female character by the way) is a film that, dare I say, a young Woody Allen might have written. It took me awhile to understand that, but once I did, I really started to enjoy it. The movie starts off with a Narrator (presumably the author) declaring, “This is NOT a love story.” Oh wait, I should back up. Before any of the script is written, the writer states, “The following is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.” One page later. “Especially you Jenny Beckmen.” One page later. “Bitch.”
Every scene in 500 Days of Summer is preceded by the day number in the relationship. Usually we’ll go from Day 33 to Day 401 to Day 55 to Day 350 – with the ends of the relationship getting closer and closer. So it’s kinda cool. Cause we’ll go from a scene where Tom and Summer are laughing their asses off having the best time of their lives. To a scene where they’re at a restaurant wanting to rip each others’ heads off. It’s a neat way of showing how much relationships change over time.
If indeed this is based on the writer’s life, as he implies, I feel really sorry for him, because Summer, by all accounts, is a complete and utter bitch. Playing with gender-reversal here, Summer is pretty much the guy in the relationship and Tom the girl. She refuses to be labeled as boyfriend-girlfriend. And Tom – well – that’s the only thing he wants. And he believes that Summer, who we’re told right off the bat is way out of his league, is his soul-mate. This forces us to endure this completely one-sided relationship with poor Tom. We’re hoping and praying that Summer will finally come around and love him the way he loves her. But sadly, as we were warned in the beginning…this is not a love story.
The unique structure keeps you on your toes. You never quite know what’s going to happen next. In fact, the only clichés in the film are that Tom works at a Greeting Card company (ugh, please no one use this anymore) and he secretly wants to be an architect (doesn’t every guy in every movie?).
I guess in the end the whole 500 days thing and jumping back and forth can be looked at as a gimmick. Because on the whole, it really doesn’t add *that* much to the story. But it’s different. And in a world where a lot of these romantic comedies are the same, it’s a welcome change. If you can’t wait for those cash-hungry indie houses to scrape up enough money to get this thing distributed, I’d highly recommend checking out the script. It’s a good read. Just make sure you’re a bit of a masochist. If you’ve ever been in a relationship where you liked your partner a lot more than they liked you (come on, haven’t we all?) this one’s going to hit close to home.
Oh and the very last line is a classic. I don’t want to hype it up. It’s not like the first time you saw The Sixth Sense or anything. But it’s a great great line.
[ ] trash
[ ] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius
What I learned from 500 Days Of Summer: I think the thing that struck me right off the bat was how unlikable Summer was. And how that was the first time in romantic comedy history I had ever seen an unlikable female lead. Again, do something different with one of your main characters. Do something different with how you tell a story that’s been told a million times before (going back and forth randomly in time). 500 Days is a unique take on a tried-and-true genre. How will you make your story different?
Synopsis: Guy with amnesia wakes up on a train. The train may or may not be a target in a terrorist attack. Sci-fi.
About: Source Code is very much like the Denzel Washington vehicle “Deja-Vu”. But, you know, actually good.
Writer: Ben Ripley
Wow. Wow wow wow wow wow. I absolutely freaking LOVED this script. Loved it x a million. I’m a sucker for sci-fi. But sci-fi that makes you *feel*? I’m so down.
Source Code is about a guy who wakes up on a train, having no memory or idea how he got there. He stumbles around, observes the other passengers, trying to find something, anything, to remind him why he’s here. And then…the train BLOWS UP. Our main character is dead. Boom. Welcome to Source Code.
Moments later we wake up in a strange lab only to realize that, a la Deja Vu (a way inferior movie), our main character is actually being sent back in time digitally 3 hours prior to find out who blew up the train. Before he can process this, he’s sent back again, to the exact same moment where the movie started. He has 17 minutes to find out who’s responsible before the train blows up again. Confused and disoriented he starts to study the passengers one more time. Which ones look suspicious, which ones look innocent, all the while trying to figure out what the hell he’s doing on this train. 17 minutes later – BOOM! The train blows up. Time to start over again.
Obviously, we’ve seen this structure before in movies like Vantage Point and Run Lola Run. You know, where you keep going back to the beginning of the same experience. I’ve come to dislike this structure and here’s why: The story’s never moving forward. You’re stuck in neutral. I tolerated it with Run Lola Run because it was a visual experience. And even though Vantage Point introduces you to a new character every time we back up, it still feels like we’re going nowhere. I remember the groans from the audience the third, fourth, and fifth time we went backwards in that movie.
But Source Code never gets old. There are a couple of key devices the writer uses to keep us interested. First, he creates an extremely likable female character. She sits across from the seat our hero is always warped into. And so amidst all this terrorism chaos, you’re intrigued by their relationship. Each time, he learns a little bit more about her. And the more we learn about her, the more we like her. It gets to the point where he actually reveals to her what’s going on. She, of course, thinks he’s crazy (wouldn’t you?). But because of the incremental information he gains each time through, he’s eventually able to convince her. And yet each time, she dies, so when he goes back in again, he has to start all over again. A “serious” take on the Groundhog Day premise. And because you know that this moment doesn’t exist anymore, that she’s already dead no matter what he does, it becomes this tragic love story. How can he save someone who’s already dead? His orders are to look for evidence so they can stop the terrorists. But all he wants to do is save this girl. To save everyone on this doomed train. He simply refuses to accept that he can’t do anything.
The second thing the writer does that Deja Vu did NOT do (a great screenwriting tip to keep in mind), is create a story outside the virtual train ride whereby the terrorists who struck the train (that morning) promised to strike 3 more times throughout New York that day. Which puts an amazing amount of pressure on our protag to find out who did this so they can prevent the subsequent terrorist attacks from happening. This works great. I thought about the movie had this device not been used and realized it wouldn’t have been nearly as exciting (if at all).
I can’t stress how perfectly executed this script was. No scene was wasted. Everything was go go go. I have no doubt that the similarities to Deja Vu have thrown the chances of this thing ever getting into production into jeopardy. But let me make a plea to whoever owns this property: MAKE THIS MOVIE. Cast an up and coming actor. There are only a few locations. Very cheap to make. Then spend a ton on marketing. It will open with 10 mil but word of mouth will carry it. This can be a sci-fi classic.
[ ] trash
[ ] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
What I learned from Source Code: Increase the tension and stakes of your action script by adding an impending “time bomb” (in this case three potentially devastating terrorist attacks). The critical difference between what made Deja Vu stupid, and Source Code awesome.
About: Tis an artsy film with a nod towards The Squid And The Whale. Totally out of left field and a unique read.
Writer: Ann Cherkis
Man Under is a rather odd story about a family from Yonkers that’s all sorts of fucked up. Stephen, the father, lives in the basement and refuses to talk to his family. Miriam, the mother, is a beautiful librarian who dreams of collecting first edition books she can’t afford. Wally, their geeky teenage son, is so used to getting bullied that he’s actually bored of it. And Joy, the fellow-geek daughter, is so obsessed with “cock” that she sneaks a peek at male porn whenever she gets a chance. The family has basically given up on being a family.
I’m not really a “wacky family movie” kind of guy. But this script had so much depth to the characters that it made up for a lot of the things in the genre that I usually hate (don’t get me started on Little Miss Sunshine!). The film that most comes to mind when reading Man Under is The Squid And The Whale. However whereas that movie forces its depression down your throat for the sole purpose of wanting to depress you , the depression here stems from an actual event – a subway train the father was driving hitting and killing a suicide jumper – what is known as a “Man Under”. The event destroys the father and sends him into a deep depression, ultimately taking the rest of the family along with him. One death, five lives lost .
But then the family receives a mysterious trunk in the mail that contains dozens of old but fashionable (in a quirky retro way) clothes. On a whim, everyone (sans the father) decides to throw on an outfit and head into Manhattan. Once there, they’re spotted by a strange but beautiful photographer, who asks to take their picture. When the photographer dies three months later, the picture becomes semi-famous, and the family finds themselves becoming mini-celebrities.
Each family member uses their mini-celebrity to pursue things they were previously too afraid to, and each storyline that results is quietly interesting. Wally asks out the hot girl. Joy starts dating a man twice her age. Miriam develops a relationship with a fellow book lover – a woman – that teeters on romance. And Stephen? Well, he’s still haunted by that horrible day. But even he finds redemption. That’s one of the unique aspects I liked about the script. Usually the “coming-of-age” story centers around a single person. Here, it tackles an entire family.
Man Under does what any good story should. It introduces you to a cast of characters you’d never find in your day-to-day life, and makes you want to follow them. I don’t think the narrative here is mainstream enough to propel the script to the big screen. But it’s a wonderful character study, and something you might enjoy reading if you have a couple of hours.
WHAT I LEARNED FROM MAN UNDER
The power of a unique character holds a lot of weight. Coco is a 14 year old girl obsessed with ballet so as to help forget the memory of her sister. Joy is a geek obsessed with sex. Wally isn’t scared of bullies. He’s bored with them. Sherman has given up on his family. Miriam is a beautiful librarian who hasn’t thought about accentuating her beauty until now. I haven’t read a single character like any of these people in any screenplay I’ve ever read. Remember that when writing your characters.