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.
About: I know nothing about “Kept” other than that it showed up at my door with a note. “Read this or die.” I decided I wanted to live so I read it.
Writer: Jayson Rothwell
Have you ever gone out with a girl who’s physically out of your league? And you two are moseying along. You can’t believe how lucky you are. And then somewhere in the fourth or fifth week that moment comes. And I think you know what moment I’m talking about. The moment where you realize SHE’S CRAZY! Yeah. Man does that moment suck. My dad taught me an important lesson when I was a kid. If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.
“Kept” starts out with CHARLIE, a mysterious businessman, sidling into a club, and noticing the jaw-droppingly hot MAXINE all by herself. He discreetly slips off his wedding ring and makes his move. They eventually end up back at her place, drink a little wine, and the next thing he knows Charlie’s woken up with a headache, a mouth full of duct tape, and his arms and feet chained to a bed. It looks like Charlie found out his chick was crazy just a little earlier than the rest of us.
“Kept” keeps this old sub-genre fresh by introducing some unfamiliar elements. Such as everyone else in the apartment complex (all women who have in some way been harmed by men) is just as crazy as Maxine is. Which means Charlie must helplessly endure a barrage of psychos hell-bent on making him suffer as much as possible before his death. There’s an older Asian woman who was a sex slave who keeps jars full of severed penises on her bookshelf. There’s a religious woman who was the victim of family-related sexual abuse. There’s a 92 year old freakshow named Bea who’s killed so many husbands she’s lost count. And these are the normal ones.
But Maxine’s the most fucked up of all. She truly possesses an inner rage and not a lick of mercy. She’s been doing this for years, videotaping all of the men she’s killed and the horrible ways in which she’s killed them, apparently for a movie she’s making (Sundance ’11?) She revels in showing Charlie the moment when all the previous men broke down. So she becomes increasingly agitated when Charlie is able to handle whatever is thrown at him. There’s something different about him and she wants to get to the bottom of it.
She snags his suitcase and goes through it in front of him. What she finds is that Charlie is actually a killer too! A hitman to be precise. And Maxine takes delight in the irony of seeing him on the other side of the hit. The problem is that Maxine underestimates Charlie, and it ends up being her undoing. Or does it?
Besides the cartoonish nature of the script, it’s a fun-as-hell read. The thing flies by. And you’re genuinely interested in whether Charlie will escape or not. There are, however, three fairly big problems I had with the script. If this movie is made, I’d prefer to have one or two of them taken care of.
The first is when Maxine finds out Charlie is a killer. She doesn’t even react. I mean the odds of two killers finding each other accidentally is astronomical. So when she sees Charlie has killed people, just like her, her passee reaction really hurts the credibility of her character.
Secondly, one of the things Maxine can’t shut up about is men who cheat. Men who have it all. The perfect wife. The perfect house. Two children. And they’re willing to risk it all by fucking some random woman – which she claims is why she’s punishing him. She saw him remove his ring that night. However, midway through the script, we learn that Charlie is actually a widower, that his wife is dead. So the way the writer deals with Maxine receiving this information is to have her not understand at first. And barely acknowledge it when it becomes obvious. This conveniently allows her to continue torturing Charlie, when in actuality, if she’s staying true to her character, she would’ve realized that she made a mistake.
The last problem I had was when Chalie escapes and decides to, a la William Wallace, get even with these bitches one by one. The way Maxine reacts to this is completely ridiculous. She turns into Hans Gruber and vows to “take this motherfucker down.” Lets be real here. Maxine may be a professional torturer. But Charlie is a trained killer. That’s like Kobe taking on Urkle. Give me a break.
But because the script embraces its cartoonish tone, I’m ultimately willing to forgive these things. It is a fun ride. And I’ll be honest, this script gave me fucking nightmares. I haven’t had nightmares about a film since I was ten and I thought that skeleton from Tales of Crypt was going to sneak into my room and kill me. I will certainly be thinking twice before going home with any super hot girls from now on. The lesson to learn from all this? If it’s too good to be true…you’re probably dead.
What I learned from Kept: Look for ways to create new twists on an old genre. We’ve seen the person who wakes up and is being held captive before. But Kept throws a few wrinkles into the equation. It’s a woman holding a man captive. She lives in a complex where everyone helps her. All of this made the script unique and unexpected, essential if you want to stand out from the crowd.
[ ] trash
[ ] barely kept my interest
[ ] worth the read
[ ] genius