Genre: Indy Dramedy
Synopsis: A lovestruck nerd learns you have 500,000 chances to live a fulfilled life or you go to hell. He’s only got 2 chances left.
About: Blacklist 08.
Writer: Sam Esmail
“Sequels” wants you to know that it’s different. No, I mean it really wants you to know that it’s different. The writer/main character (as it’s implied they’re one and the same) tells you right off the bat that he plans to be different. He is about to write something the likes of which you have never experienced before. And I think he succeeds. But Sequels is not as daring and different as it tries to be. As it happens, it’s just different enough.
I have a certain admiration for Sam Esmail. He starts off with these huge chunks of narration and while I’ve seen that before, Esmail never lets up. He just keeps on going. And going and going. The writer of Amelie is disgusted by how much voice over is in this script. In fact, I’d venture that over 65% of his script is narration. As most people pursuing screenwriting know, voice over is considered the butchered technique of a hack and is to be avoided at all costs. For Esmail to so blantlantly use the technique is a big fuck you to the industry, and a big fuck you to writing itself. Anybody writing an anti-love letter to the industry is fine by my standards. I couldn’t help but be immediately intrigued.
The script starts off showing us what a miserable life JR has. He’s desperately in love with Robyn, a girl who will never love him back. She entertains his company more out of pity than interest, gets high with him, and somehow the effects of the weed never die off on JR. He is high for the rest of his life (weird, I know. And no, he doesn’t play this up for cheap pot humor either. In fact, it has little to no effect on the rest of the story) So after 30 years of a miserable life (and always being high), he steps in front of a truck and kills himself. He is then transported to heaven – or at least what he thinks is heaven. It’s actually just a holding point. The 13th president of the United States (now an angel/agent) informs him that you have 500,000 chances to live a complete and fulfilled life (known as “vim”) and that JR has killed himself 499,998 times. He’s got two chances left to achieve vim. Therefore (in his mind), if he doesn’t find a way to get Robyn, he’ll never be happy, kill himself 2 more times, and be sent to hell. (as a side note, I would highly suggest Mr. Esmail watch the Albert Brooks film “Defending Your Life” as this whole portion of the story is an almost beat for beat remake of that film.)
The script doesn’t cop out. It doesn’t spin around and give you a big happy smiley ending. He does get Robyn and they do get married. But just like JR will always be JR, Robyn will always be Robyn. She doesn’t love him. And when she starts banging every cable guy, pool cleaner, tennis pro in sight, JR realizes he’s more miserable now than when he never got Robyn at all. Man, I’m getting depressed just typing this stuff.
What I couldn’t get over is that Sequels doesn’t just wear its desire to be different on its sleeve. It wears it on its whole damn wardrobe. It wants so bad to be unique, defy convention, poke fun at itself, create something that’s never been seen before, that you’re focusing more on these attempts than the actual story itself. Esmail seems to want to create a modern day Citizen Kane here (a film that also notoriously defied convention). But let’s be honest. This ain’t no Citizen Kane.
I give credit to Sequels for trying though. It stands out in a sea of scripts that don’t have an inkling of originality to them and that was enough to put it ahead of the pack (and on the 2008 Black List). I think Sam Esmail is an interesting writer and could potentially create something great. But for that, we may have to wait for the sequel. :)
[ ] trash
[ ] barely readable
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned from Sequels, Remakes and Adaptations: This one reminds me of 500 Days Of Summer. Be original. Find a new way to tell the same story. Sequels is essentially a tragic love story. But Esmail approaches it from a completely different angle.
Genre: Sci-fi Dramedy
Synopsis: A secret supercollider underneath Sparkle Creek, Wisconsin starts wreaking havoc on the town.
About: This sold back in 2001. Koepp alone made $2.5 million dollars off the deal that also included future script commitments. He was supposed to direct it as well, but it never (or has not yet) came to be.
Writers: David Koepp and John Kamps
As you know, when I see a title like Supercollider, I have to read it. “Sparkle Creek” is an older script, written back in 2001, before 9/11, before the ultra information boom, before anyone cared about the Large Hadron Collider potentially stirring up mini-black holes that could swallow up our entire planet. I’d imagine reading this script back then would’ve been quite a trip. Now, I feel like I know this world a little too well, therefore a lot of the wonder was lost on me.
Still, it’s a cool ride. The script starts out with our hero, Karen, a Sparkle Creek cop who’s about to marry the same man for the third time, experiencing a moment of deja vu so intense, she has an emotional breakdown. There are little Matrix-like blips on the screen to clue us in that something is not quite right. Karen meets Howard, a scientist who works up at the mysterious Cyntek offices at the edge of town. Nobody knows what happens up there – and up to this point, nobody has had any reason to care.
But then, in a sacred 3 hour Sunday block known in Wisconsin as a Packers game (if you’ve never been to Wisconsin, when the Packers play, the entire state shuts down for 3 hours – I am NOT exaggerating this) a strange glitch occurs in the air, and Karen and her family watch incredulously as horses run straight through their home! Everyone freaks out, running outside, trying to figure out what’s going on. Everywhere they look are strange waves floating through the air. Images that look like television shows and commercials – but they’re right there in front of you!
Luckily the madness ends and everybody, true to their roots, hurries back inside to catch the end of the Packers game. Karen, though, isn’t satisfied and decides to investigate. She finds a mysterious group of men that she follows up to the Cytek offices and then demands to be let in. She’s given permission to meet the head scientist who turns out to be…Howard (the geeky guy she met earlier).
Howard informs her that beneath Sparkle Creek, Wisconsin is a 28 mile long Supercollider (a large atom-smasher) that is conducting experiments for “the good of mankind.” Supercolliders have a sort of mythical status because they perform experiments that have never been performed before. Like trying to recreate the Big Bang. Unfortunately, nobody knows exactly what will happen if these experiments go wrong. That is until now.
Harold attempts to show Karen how this bad boy works and in doing so, accidentally creates a 3 second instantaenous time loop! Oh my God! What the hell is that??? Well, whatever it is, it inadvertantly rewrites the laws of physics. Up above them the town loses gravity, loses time, loses people (who vanish into thin air), and lose a dimension (momentarily existing in a 2-D world). Before you know it, Sparkle Creek is in some deep shit. The government is brought in and an order is given to immediately destroy the Collider. Howard has hours to re-rig the Collider to go back in time and save the people that were lost. Will he do so before the government shuts him down? That’s the story of “Superconducting Supercollider of Sparkle Creek, Wisconsin.”
Although we do find out what happens to the poor people of Sparkle Creek, Koepp decides to shift gears in the finale and focus on Karen and Howard’s relationship. Sort of a “love conquers all” thing. Was this a good idea? Well, to use a Packers analogy, in the end of movies (4th quarter) you can go with your main story (your quarterback) or your love story (your running back). “Sparkle Creek” decides to go with its running back and unfortunately, the running back isn’t very good. I’m sorry but I just didn’t care enough about Karen and Howard getting together. And sadly, I can’t pinpoint why. They both seem like nice people. And maybe that’s it. Maybe that’s all they are is nice. And I never really saw anything in the characters beyond that.
I would say I enjoyed “Sparkle Creek”, but not as much as I wanted to. I’m always looking for things that bend my brain, that make me see the world in a different light. “Sparkle Creek” merely switched out a 60 watt bulb and replaced it with a 100.
[ ] trash
[ ] barely readable
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learnd from Sparkle Creek: The screenwriting books drill into our heads how important it is to make our characters “likable” or “relatable.” We can get so caught up in this, that having them then save a cat, or help a woman across the street feels adequate enough. You still have to let us into their minds, show us their complexities, their faults, their struggles. You have to give us real people so that when you rest the entire story on them in your film’s finale, the audience actually cares. Sparkle Creek didn’t acheive this, and I think this has something to do with the project languishing in development hell.
Genre: Comedy…sort of
Synopsis: A bachelor party goes awry when a hot tub transfers its occupants back to 1987.
About: I guess this is a project that’s been lingering in Hollywood for awhile. John Cusack’s recent involvement has apparently turned it into a Go picture.
Writer: Josh Heald
This one’s been getting a lot of airplay since John Cusack announced his attachment to the project and AintitCool ran an article about it. I have to say, from the title alone I was very excited. It sounded like an updated version of Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. But unfortunately, it doesn’t take full advantage of its time traveling premise, and focuses more on the goof-off antics of its four main characters. I smiled the whole way through “Hot Tub” but I never laughed (actually that’s not true – I laughed at the very last line). For that reason, I can’t whole-heartedly endorse the script.
Hot Tub follows Adam, our “soon to be married” bachelor, as he journeys up to a ski resort with four friends for his bachelor party. With him are his best friend Nick, his newly homeless friend Lou, and his estranged younger brother Jacob. The four find themselves drinking and partying in a hot tub, when they are inexplicably transported back to the year 1987. See this is where I had a bit of an issue with Hot Tub. The script stays in 1987 for the duration of the story. When I saw the title, “The Hot Tub Time Machine”, I assumed we’d be traveling all over the place. The fact that we’d be staying exclusively in 1987 was a little disappointing.
Anyway, the characters kind of stumble around for 60 pages, getting into trouble, meeting new people, and getting used to the year. Some enjoy being in the year 1987 (Lou), some don’t (Adam). There’s no real story to speak of – except for Adam’s vague desire to get back to his fiance. Which leaves the script completely dependent on its comedic situations. It then becomes a taste thing (do you think it’s funny or not), and if you don’t, well then there’s no real reason to keep reading. Had the story and Adam’s determination to return been stronger, the reader would’ve easily stayed along for the ride, laughs or not.
What I really liked about the script, however, had everything to do with Cusack’s involvement. If you don’t know, Better Off Dead is one of my favorite movies ever and holds a very strong place in my teenage heart. In that movie Cusack famously squares off against the ski team’s captain who stole his girlfriend. In Hot Tub, Cusack’s character encounters none other than an asshole ski instructor who happens to be dating his childhood crush. If I were in charge of this movie, I would be all over this. Echoing as many scenes from Better Off Dead as possible. These moments were when I was the most into Hot Tub Time Machine (I have a feeling it’s why Cusack got involved in the first place). Is Ricky still acting?
I think the script is good. No better, no worse. Just an enjoyable read. If this indeed goes into production, there are some opportunities to make it great. But the first thing I would do is improve Adam’s connection with his fiance early on and make his desire to get back to her more obvious. If we don’t feel their incomparable love, then Hot Tub Time Machine doesn’t work.
[ ] trash
[ ] barely readable
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned from Hot Tub Time Machine: I’m telling you. Don’t underestimate the need to sell your main character’s motivation in a comedy. In order for comedy to work, there must be truth in your characters’ desire. Taking an extra scene or two early on to solidify that dramatic element, makes every bit of comedy that follows that much funnier.
note: If you want to read a much better script about bachelor parties, read “The Hangover,” which is coming out this summer.
Genre: Slasher-Scary movie
Synopsis: 5 friends head to a cabin in the woods. A group of zombies starts stalking them. That turns out to be the least of their worries.
About: This is one of those “top secret” projects Hollywood’s trying to keep under wraps. Because the story is apparently “that good” that it needs to be kept secret.
Writers: Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard
(note: “Layover” is being pushed back to tomorrow)
You have to give me a fucking break. Did I actually just read what I think I just read? If so, there’s a very simple reason why this project is “top secret.” It’s because if anyone laid their eyes on this piece of crap, they’d throw it into the fires of Hell before allowing it to get made. Let me give you a sneak peek, a glimpse, of what you’re in for. In this script there are monsters, zombies, robots, vampires, aliens, and giant Gods. All in one story! For your reading pleasure! Yes, someone thought this was a good idea.
The only reason I kept reading was because of this script’s “top secret” status. I kept waiting for some super-cool thing to happen that I’ve never seen before. Well I got that. And man do I wish I could trade it back for the time I lost waiting for it.
Okay look, this is a slasher/monster flick. Carson usually no like these flicks. So I freely admit I have no idea how this will play to the crowd that does. They very well may love it. But I’m betting a lot of people are going to be stumbling out of the theaters after seeing this going, “….what the HELL???”
For me? I like a good scary film. And I like films that take chances: The Ring, The Sixth Sense, The Others, The Orphanage. Scary movies that make you think a little bit. Cabin In The Woods would like to *think* that it’s making you think, but all they’re doing is trying to create the next Scream. A movie that makes fun of the genre, albeit updated to satisfy the information-overloaded text/IM/Facebook generation that’s sprung up heavily since the death of that franchise. It thinks it’s being clever. But it bites off way more than it can chew.
So I guess at this point you’re wondering what this script is about. Well, it’s about 5 college friends who go to a cabin in the woods. All the cliches are played up – on purpose mind you – (right down to the redneck gas station attendant who warns them not to keep going). But something happens as they cross through the mountain tunnel into the old abandoned field. We watch a bird flying carelessly in that direction, only to BAM! Hit an invisible forcefield and die. If this is the kind of thing that gets you excited, I have no problems with that. For me, it raised a big red flag. The “uh oh, this has the potential to be really stupid” flag. And that flag did not let me down.
The five start hanging out, drinking, playing truth or dare. They find the entrance to the basement. Go down, start looking around. A lot of old cluttery junk. The lead girl finds a diary written at the turn of the century. She starts reading it out loud, and accidentally summons a family of ZOMBIES.
We then cut to a CONTROL ROOM (which we’ve actually seen before this) where a bunch of men in lab coats exchange money. See, they’ve been betting on which group of “monsters” the 5 kids would summon. This clues us in, of course, that we’re in some sort of controlled environment. That this place was built. And that secret cameras are recording all of this as some sort of “reality show” for a mysterious audience.
We cut back and forth between the killing and the control room until it’s finally down to just the girl and “the funny guy.” The control room people are concerned because apparently their secret audience will be very angry if the guy is killed before the girl. Lead Girl and Funny Guy find their way down into the secret underground storage area where all these monsters and aliens and robots are kept. They get to the control room, where a final standoff occurs. The control room guys beg the guy to kill himself because…and this is where I honestly said “fuck you” to my computer…the secret audience is a group of gods that have lived here on earth billions of years ago and who are now living underneath it. We have to make sacrifices to them in order to keep them from coming back and destroying our planet. Because these Gods get bored, we have to come up with new unique ways to sacrifice people (give me a fucking break), which is why they’ve created this whole ritual.
They have 8 minutes (before the sun rises) to sacrifice themselves or else the Gods will come back and take over – I am not making this up – the planet. This is actually IN the script – Girl and Funny guy tell them to fuck off. 8 minutes later, the ground rumbles, tears, and we pull back out of this field to see a hand bigger than the house rise out of the ground. The End.
About the only good thing I can come up with for Cabin is the dialogue, which is particularly funny and surprisingly realistic. “Funny Guy” especially has some laugh out loud moments. Alas…it is lost in this disaster of a screenplay. Oh well.
[ ] barely readable
[ ] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius
What I learned from Cabin In The Woods: I’m honestly 50% sure this script is a joke.
I will be awarding a script of the month every month. I know you guys don’t have nearly as much time as I do. So I’ll single out my favorite script of the previous 30 days and give it my stamp of approval. Because 500 Days of Summer and Source Code don’t count (I originally reviewed those on another site) this month I’m giving the award to “Extract,” Mike Judge’s severed balls comedy. It narrowly beats out Bumped, She’s Out Of My League, and The Sitter. Whereas all three of those scripts ended stronger, the first half of Judge’s story is so funny, it ultimately steals the prize. For anyone trying to create better comedic characters, use Mike Judge’s scripts as your bible. Nobody creates more vivid more hilarious people than this master of comedy.
Sadly, nobody was good enough to break into the Top 10. Maybe in March. :)