Thursday, December 23, 2010

True Grit

To no one's surprise, True Grit is a great movie.

The Coen Brothers deliver a story in their typical fashion: confused and entertaining.

The only things we know for sure is that Rooster Cogburn is an old, fat drunk who's still good at what he does. Maddie Ross is an insatiable little girl who knows her way around money. LeBoeuf is a Texas Ranger who starts uptight but, through Rooster's unconventional yet loveable ways, comes around in the end. Already that's a plethora of information compared to the Coen Brother's resume.

Nevertheless, True Grit is a rambling movie with long scenes of hilarious dialogue and a thin story line. But the characters presented--a Coen Brother specialty--are so well crafted and orchestrated within this "thin" narrative that we can't help but take a liking to them. Their dialogue entertaining enough and the acting good enough that we divulge ourselves almost completely into their stories.

If anything The Coen Brothers' films are a tribute to how story is only 1/100th of the total picture. The score, editing, costume, acting, set design, and photography are all incredible feats of cinema. The story, basic enough to follow Screenwriting 101, gives us know tricks or twists--it just does.

And True Grit does well.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Love and Other Drugs

Jake Gylenhaal and Anne Hathaway light up the screen.

Technically speaking, Love and Other Drugs shouldn't work. The script meanders and rambles--not seeming to have any point or purpose. Jamie and Maggie argue and bicker, letting their insecurities get the best of them. The story isn't really about the relationship but about the two characters getting over their shortcomings and faults. The relationship just happens to be there.

But, surprisingly, it does work. The reasoning for this is the electric chemistry between Jake Gylenhaal and Anne Hathaway. Even in a petty romantic-comedy, Hathaway is incredible on screen. She completely fulfills Maggie Murdock to the point where we believe she is real. Everything about her is as tortured and beautiful as her character. Gylenhaal. does a great job playing the breezy Viagara sales rep. The way he carries himself--his posture and mannerisms, the way he sits and the way he stares--fill the tiny little details that make him loveable. The two of them on the screen are something that makes you laugh, smile, and gives you an excellent break from reality for two hours.

The other way Love and Other Drugs somehow works is that it is never boring. It's a movie that constantly entertains and stimulates. The characters it presents are so real and well-groomed (as far as development is concerned--though they are all very good looking people) that we are willing to sit and pay attention. This either shows the filmmakers' talents as entertainers or our willingness to suspend our disbelief. Either way, it's worth a view.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Horrible Bosses Coverage

Horrible Bosses is currently in production by New Line Studios. It's starring Jason Bateman and Jennifer Anniston. It's gone through major revisions and has garnered the credits of two new writers. We'll see how this one turns out.

Title: Horrible Bosses

Writer: Michael Markowitz

Draft Date: 7/5/2005 Pages: 111 Genre: Comedy

Time Period: Present Location: City

Logline: Three friends, working menial day jobs, plot to kill their bosses who continually find ways to ruin their lives.

Act I: We are presented with three very likeable, very normal characters in NICK, DALE, and KURT. Nick and Kurt work boring office jobs and Dale works at the local Best Buy. All of them have “horrible” bosses, although the bosses are presented more as annoying than horrible. Kurt complains of his boss, PELLIT’s, repetitive speaking, which comes off the page as annoying and easily skipped. Nick complains of his boss, HARKEN’s, creepiness and strictness, he comes across as a threatening and competitive person but that does not, by any means, make him horrible. Dale’s boss, JULIA, is apparently a beautiful Best Buy manager who sexually confronts him in her office. Dale is not in a relationship but is pathetically in love with the Starbucks girl, NINA, as displayed by his inability to create a conversation with her. Ultimately, Dale has no reason to not take the bait from his hot boss—which is something that seems impossible at a Best Buy.

The only character development we receive is of the aforementioned crush belonging to Dale and that Kurt, on the other hand, actually knows how to talk and sleep with women. Nick is attracted to the cute girl down the hall from his apartment, LISA, who immediately comes off as a difficult person during the firs interaction we see from them.

The instigating event comes when Kurt proposes the idea of actually killing the bosses as they, for no concrete reason, let them ruin their lives. Dale lets this gestate until Julia walks in on Dale and Nina talking at the Starbucks and claims Dale for her. Nick is vehemently against it until he attempts to hook up with Lisa only to end up talking about Harken and ruins the moment. Once again, Dale is the only one who has an actual crazy boss—but not a horrible one. We don’t even see how Pellit affects Kurt’s life outside of the office besides giving him something to complain about.

The first act is thirty pages of comedic situations through too many flashbacks of how the bosses are, supposedly, ruining the characters’ lives. Their reasons for plotting to kill are weak and unrealistic. They come across more as bored than vengeful.

Act II: To start off, the three watch C.S.I. attempting to figure out how to not get caught killing people which only leads to dismay. They come up with the idea of hiring a hit man, Kurt thinks he knows where to find one. Kurt brings them to a dive bar where they meet COCKSUCKER JONES. Cocksucker is the baddest guy in town. After humiliating themselves and Cockscuker in their business meeting they finally leave agreeing that he charges way too much at $10,000 a head. Nick comes up with the idea of killing each other’s bosses, which gives themselves an alibi. Dale reminds us of how they borrowed this plot from the Hitchcock classic Strangers on a Train.

The first person they stake out is Pellit. They learn that Pellit likes comic books and contemporary European furniture. Kurt gains a new light on his boss. They move to Harken’s, where Nick learns of Harken’s worldliness. He too gains a new perspective on his boss. But, Harken shows up while Kurt and Nick are in his house. In a moment of panic Nick, who stole Pellit’s Blackberry, drops it in Harken’s room. The rest of the “stalking” is done in a montage where it becomes more and more clear that Kurt is attracted to Dale’s boss, Julia.

Nick dropping the Blackberry, though, functions as the turning point in the second act and where the script finally starts to get interesting and not just comedic.

Harken, already suspecting his younger and attractive wife of cheating on him, discovers Pellit’s Blackberry then goes forth and shoots him. In trying to flee the scene Kurt gets caught looking at Pellit’s body and the three are brought in and questioned by bad cop-bad cop SAMSON and HAGAN.

All the action is wasted in the first and last ten pages of the act. We don’t see Julia at all in this act. This act it is just sitting in cars and watching, with the only source of entertainment coming from dialogue. This script needs more action. Also, Harken, who in the first act is depicted as being a little off his rocker, does not seem like someone who would just kill somebody. He’s presented more of a character that would take his time and figure out the situation without jumping to conclusions. This act shows that Markowitz’s doesn’t fully understand all of his characters. Its lack of action is also a display of the dreaded second act drag.

Act III: Things finally get juicy. Trying to prove their innocence, the three go to Harken’s seeking a taped confession. They end up stumbling into a surprise party planned by his wife. Using work as a cover-up, the three stay. Kurt is wearing the wire under his shirt. Nick spots Harken going up to his room during the party, alone. He follows him upstairs thinking Kurt is behind him the whole time. Kurt has actually gone to seduce Harken’s younger and beautiful wife aptly named, Mrs. Harken. Nick gets the confession and ticks off Harken even more. Kurt gets laid and misses the entire confession. This plot point functions as a great source of conflict but makes no sense: If Harken is Nick’s boss, why was Kurt wearing the wire? Why wouldn’t Nick wear the wire? So far the three have proved themselves loveably stupid but not to this level.

Panicked and upset, the three leave the party. Kurt confesses to another sexual mishap where he ended up being seduced by Dale’s nymphomaniac boss. While they’re hooking up, Julia puts herself in a masochistic contraption that ends up choking her to death. The vast majority of conflict and comedy in this script come from flashbacks—much like this important revelation that should have been done in present time. This script falls to another common mistake of overusing flashbacks.

As they’re fleeing the scene they start to notice Harken following them. They try to pick up the speed to Dale’s house only to see Samson and Hagan entering the house with a warrant. They speed through the neighborhood. The high-speed chase ends when Nick’s On-Star representative chimes in about his blown taillight. Dale spills the beans to PAUL, the representative, and tells him the police after them as well. This causes Paul to stop the engine due to company policy. A Deus ex Machina for Harken. As the three try to flee their dysfunctional car, Harken ends up shooting them all but not killing them. The three stumble into the Dive Bar where Cocksucker Jones resides. Harken shoots at them and nearly hits Cocksucker. The bar lights up Harken and the three escape without repercussion. The act ends with the allusion of a sequel as Dale finally gets a date with Nina, the Starbucks lady, and the three sit their nursing their wounds ala Pineapple Express.

All in all, this script has very few things going for it but they are important things: it’s never boring, it’s funny, and it has a great idea. The structure may be poorly executed and the character development is definitely lacking, but these things can be fixed. My suggestions would be:

A. Make the bosses more “horrible” and less “annoying”. Right now their murders aren’t justified—just so happens they were all killed by accident—because they aren’t actually ruining the protagonists lives, they’re just letting them be ruined.
B. Tell the story in a more linear structure. Flashbacks work for comedies but only sparingly. Very rarely should a story be told with as many flashbacks as Horrible Bosses has.
C. More from the characters. What do they have to lose? It’s not like they have the greatest careers in the world. Even then they seem pretty content with their menial jobs. What happens if they don’t kill their bosses? Right now it looks like nothing. Put more at stake for each individual character and give them all legitimate reasons for trying to accomplish what they want to accomplish. These “horrible” bosses should be standing in the way of them and something that’s going to give them pure happiness.
a. Nick should have somebody important to him needing him to get the job that Harken got. Thus giving him a reason to get rid of him. Whether it is for money or status—there needs to be mass pressure between him and a character close to him for that promotion.
b. Dale should be dating Nina but Nina should also work in Best Buy. When Julia finds out about his and Nina’s relationship she goes crazy and sets up Dale, framing him to look like he’s cheating on Nina with her. Dale should be on the cusp of proposing to Nina, or on the cusp of marrying her. This framing should cause Nina to break up with him. This should cause Dale to seek revenge and to prove Julia wrong.
c. Kurt should not be working an office job as Nick already is. Kurt should be a teacher who works under the worst principal ever. It should be his goal to not only stage his killing as an accident but to expose the teacher’s flaws—whether it be pedophilia or budget cuts, he should be subversively ruining the school which Kurt cares so passionately about. His role as the ladies man is completely fine.

Horrible Bosses has the potential to be a great action/comedy but right now its lack of development and structured story line are severely prohibiting this.

Script: Needs Work/Weak Consider
Writer: Pass

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Crazy, Stupid Love Coverage

Steve Carell is set to star as Cal with Marissa Tomei, Ryan Gosling, and Emma Watson.

Title: Crazy, Stupid Love

Writer: Dan Fogelman

Draft Date: 2/19/2010 Pages: 121 Genre: Comedy/Drama

Time Period: Present Location: Suburbia

Logline: A newly divorced middle-aged man seeks to get his wife back and retain order in his life and family as he rediscovers himself.

Act I: Page one starts with TRACY WEAVER expressing her desire to divorce her husband, CAL WEAVER. We meet ROBBIE, 13, and MOLLY, 9, their children as well as JESSICA, 17, their babysitter. Jessica has a secret crush on Cal. We inexplicably meet a woman named HANNAH, 24, whose role in this story doesn’t come until much too late. We also meet a suave, deviant womanizer named JACOB PALMER. Cal mentions a person named NANNA, who we assume is his mother. Tracy cheated on Cal due to a sinking feeling of a failing marriage. She needed life and now needs a divorce. Cal subsequently moves into a bachelor pad. This is followed by extensive trips to a bar where Cal becomes a regular. Another regular is Jacob Palmer.

Jacob is Cal’s catalyst character. Jacob proposes to change Cal from a broken, battered soul into a proud and confident man’s man; much like Jacob himself. Cal pathetically accepts.

Fogelman does an excellent job setting up dynamics between this family instantly. He is able to communicate very complicated characters and textures very clearly. Although some may criticize him for his abundant use of dialogue, its subtle realism justifies its existence. Fogelman is great at using the idiosyncrasies that glue us together as a way to reveal character. The amount of dialogue does make the page count rack up but it’s fast paced, hilarious, and superbly human.

Act II: The first half of the second act is a build up of change. The characters all have their desires. Jacob—a man needing relevance—seeks to reinvent Cal. Cal seeks to reinvent himself, hoping to prove to Tracy he’s worthy. Through his incredibly introspective son Robbie, Cal learns to never stop fighting for your soul mate, no matter what. Robbie fights, rather hilariously and embarrassingly, for Jessica. Jessica does the same for Cal. We learn that the mysterious Hannah is about to start studying for the bar and is very disappointed with her very serious boyfriend.

Tracy, on the other hand, seems stagnant, trying to balance regret for cheating on Cal and a desire to be able to live without Cal—something she hasn’t been able to do since they married right out of high school. This leads to a Parent-Teacher conference with one of Cal’s new “conquests”—a bad habit he picked up from Jacob—who turns out to be Robbie’s English teacher, KATE. All Hell breaks loose and everything Cal has worked for falls apart. Tracy hates Cal, Cal hates Jacob, Hannah passes the bar and leaves her boyfriend.

But, It turns out Hannah is perfect for Jacob. Jacob has actually fallen in love. The two form a romance as Cal backlashes against Jacob’s lifestyle, refusing to be friends. Cal partners up with Robbie and Molly to create the ultimate rehashing of a lost romance. Robbie steps up his game to woo Jessica and Jessica the same to seduce Cal. Once again, Nanna is mentioned in passing.

The second act is where the film starts to journey into an ensemble piece. Although still indelibly Cal’s story, Fogelman hops back and forth between all the characters. It can be confusing and tough to follow but it's also something very important: Not boring. We are so endeared with these characters—including the mysterious Hannah—that we care enough to sit and follow the montages and quick scenes. If anything, this shows Fogelman’s storytelling ability—he is able to clearly communicate the complex changes and emotions of the characters in very short scenes; a hard feat, indeed.

Act III: As far as climaxes are concerned, Fogelman’s is brilliant. We are lead to believe that as Cal, Robbie, and Molly attempt to create the perfect romantic experience in their backyard that we’ll get a nice, easy going, denouement. But, this is torn to bits when Jessica’s father, BERNIE (one of Cal’s old friends) discovers the promiscuous photographs Jessica was saving for Cal. On top of this, it turns out Hannah is actually the Nanna we’ve been assuming is Cal’s mother. Hannah is the reason why Cal and Tracy got married so early—she is their “senior year hiccup”. Nanna is a term of endearment for Hannah. Hannah and Cal’s relationship should have been cleared up much earlier. It could have been more dramatic if we, the audience, knew of their relationship while Jacob did not causing an overbearing tension through the story. All of the characters show up in the back yard and duke it out. Bernie against Cal, Cal against Jacob, Robbie against Cal. Even David Jacobwitz shows up—the man Tracy cheated on Cal with. It ends with Cal back to square one: alone and depressed in a bar.

Jacob shows up, once again, to rearrange Cal’s life, guilt tripping Cal into going to Robbie’s eighth grade graduation. While at the ceremony Cal realizes through Robbie’s salutatorian speech what’s been wrong: A lack of priority. When life breaks you down one day at a time, forcing your dreams and desires to shrink, it’s hard to keep our eye on what’s important. Robbie’s incredibly eloquent, funny, and introspective speech brings Cal to this epiphany where he stops Robbie and makes a speech of his own. It’s embarrassing and touching: motifs that have been expertly used throughout the film.

Overall, Crazy, Stupid Love is an excellent portrayal of how to get by in a world with no guide book, with no directions that to Google. Dan Fogelman is able to weave a story that is embarrassing, vulnerable, real, touching, and hilarious. Although his style may be egotistical as he overuses editorials and camera angles, almost constantly asserting his presence in the story, it’s easy to overlook as the story is so damn good.

Script: Strong Consider
Writer: Strong Consider