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
Info: Every once in awhile I like to close my eyes, reach into my pile of scripts, and pull something out. I don’t look at the title. I don’t look at the writer. I want to go in completely ignorant and judge the writing for the writing. Sometimes you get lucky. Other times, you get Black Box.
Writer: Brad Holloway
I don’t like trashing scripts. I really don’t. I know how long it takes to write something. And I know how much heart and soul goes into it. But one of my biggest pet peeves is lack of effort. If your script doesn’t give me a single thing that I’ve never seen before, then why the fuck did you write the thing in the first place? If you were just going to cobble together scenes and lines and characters from all the other scripts and movies and TV shows that you’ve seen, then don’t be a writer. And on top of that, if your story is going to go nowhere for 119 pages just so you can have your big “twist” at the end, you better make sure that twist is the mother of all fucking twists. Not something that’s on every third episode of 24.
A better title for this script might have been “Nothing Happens.” Black Box is about the “investigation” of a crashed plane. The main character is some guy named Stu who apparently is addicted to pain killers. This is the extent of depth given to all the characters btw. One guy is having family problems. Another guy’s a drunk. It’s all so surface level and indicative of the level of thought put into this script.
Stu is convinced that the government is covering up the plane crash. As a cop (or an ex-cop – I’m still not sure) he jumps in and takes it upon himself to find the truth. His main adversary is Fairchild, a Homeland Security official, whose big thing is that he’s really pissed off all the time. I suppose that’s his character “flaw.” Stu’s all over Fairchild’s ass to let him hear the contents of the downed plane’s black box. Fairchild – being pissed off – says no. Uh oh, whatever will Stu do?
In the meantime, there’s a secondary story going on in Pakistan with random characters who we’re given no information on as far as how they’re connected to the story. We take part in their obviously shady dealings but we don’t care because we don’t know who the fuck they are or why we’re watching them.
In order to understand how bad this script is, you have to know that 67 pages into the story I still didn’t know any more than I did at the beginning of the story. A plane had crashed. There’s something fishy about it. The government is probably covering it up. I mean…what the fuck is the point of all this if we’re not going to get any new information? Or if we’re not going to get any new information, why aren’t we at least learning something about the characters? Tack onto that that we DON’T CARE ABOUT THE PLANE CRASH – the main thing that’s driving the film – because we don’t know who the fuck was on the plane, where they were coming from, or where they were going. We don’t know ANYTHING about them or any of the people who lost them. So why do we care if this mystery is figured out or not???
I just can’t tell you how boring this all was. I’d rather watch Joaquin Phoenix’s next rap set than read another page of “Nothing Happens.” (disclaimer: I actually thought his first song was pretty good) So Stu goes around conducting his own investigation with a bunch of scenes that basically amounted to, “Do you know anything about this crash?” “Yes, I heard two explosions.” “Two explosions?? Not one?” “No. Two.” – Goes to next location. Has extremely similar conversation with next guy – What we eventually learn is that the terrorists tricked the U.S. into blowing up their own plane! Which is why they needed to cover it up! Ooh. Wow. What a clever ending. 119 pages of dicking around for a 4th rate twist. Awesome.
I think what frustrates me the most about this script is that the idea of a black box is just so ripe for mystery. There are so many places you can go with it. And here we’re given one of the least interesting ways. This was a big waste of time. I have nothing else to say.
What I learned from Black Box: A simple rule is, if a major catastrophe is the centerpiece of your film, make sure that at least one of the characters has a personal connection to the catastrophe. For instance, make Stu or Fairchild have known someone on the plane that crashed. The entire movie instantly gains a level of depth with that very simple addition.