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: 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?