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.
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?