Comprehensive, line-by-line screenplay consultancy.
Fast, personal attention.
→ What Do We Offer?
This will be the first in a series of rule breakers. I love a good hell raiser and I’ll attempt to highlight a few here. By doing so I’ll likely be contradicting a ton of rules that I’ve thrown at you before. Not to try to be an asshole, but the only absolute in screenwriting is that there are no absolutes.
You need to learn the rules so you can forget the rules. That’s why, ultimately, I’m not a hater of film schools. There’s a place for this knowledge. It’s a no-brainer that doing a thing beats talking about doing a thing. So, while it’s all well and good for me to peel off 15 or 20 posts about Format or Structure, it’s far better to watch a master break most, if not all the traditional rules of screenwriting, and not just get away with it, but have an entire style associated with his writing.
Shane Black worship. I admit, just looking at the dude’s movies, I never quite understood it: Lethal Weapon, Last Action Hero, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang…any of them Top 100 for you? Not even in sniffing range here. But–and I’m still not sure by what magic this happens–when you read Shane Black’s scripts, you can help but love the guy. There is truly nobody who writes like him.
Let’s look at a few passages from his work to try to figure it out. I tried to cut and paste an action sequence from Last Action Hero, but it’s not taking, so I’ll just link it here. Read pages 3-6, here:
Do you think Producers would bust Shane Black’s balls about that obscure reference to Bugsy Siegel? How about his endless use of (beat) and (pause) parentheticals or his CAPPING DIALOGUE, thus giving the actors line readings? That’s not the screenwriters job, as about a thousand screenplay consultants with zero screen credits will tell you. How about the WE SEE’S, and the freakin’ CAMERA DIRECTION! Even a freshman film student knows you never do that. Guess Shane Black missed the memo…
More like he took it to the smallest room in the house, and flushed ‘em right down the toilet.
If you’re good enough, you can break the rules and get away with it. That’s a terrific action sequence that screams of style–defined as writer’s voice.
Let’s look at how a million dollar script opens, from Lethal Weapon:
CITY OF ANGELS
lies spread out beneath us in all its splendor, like a
bargain basement Promised Land.
CAMERA SOARS, DIPS, WINDS its way SLOWLY DOWN, DOWN,
bringing us IN OVER the city as we:
SUPER MAIN TITLES.
TITLES END, as we --
SPIRAL DOWN TOWARD a lush, high-rise apartment complex.
The moon reflected in glass.
CAMERA CONTINUES TO MOVE IN THROUGH billowing curtains,
INTO the inner sanctum of a penthouse apartment, and
here, boys and girls, is where we lose our breath,
spread-eagled on a sumptuous designer sofa lies the
single most beautiful GIRL in the city.
Blonde hair. A satin nightgown that positively glows.
Sam Cooke MUSIC, crooning from five hundred dollar
PASTEL colors. Window walls. New wave furniture tor-
tured into weird shapes. It looks like robots live here.
On the table next to the sleeping Venus lies an open
bottle of pills ... next to that, a mirror dusted with
She rouses herself to smear some powder on her gums.
As she does, we see from her eyes that she is thoroughly,
completely whacked out of her mind...
She stands, stumbles across the room, pausing to glance
at a photograph on the wall:
Two men. Soldiers. Young, rough-hewn, arms around each
The Girl throws open the glass doors ... steps out onto a
balcony, and there, beneath her, lies all of nighttime
L.A. Panoramic splendor. Her hair flies, her expression.
rapt, as she stands against this sea of technology. She
On the balcony railing beside her stand three potted
The Girl sees them, picks one up. Looks over the balcony
railing ... It is ten stories down to the parking lot.
she squints, holds the plant over the edge.
Drops the plant. Down it goes, spiralling end over end
-- until, finally ... BAM -- ! SHATTERS. Dirt flies. A
red Chevy is now minus a WINDSHIELD. The Girl takes
She drops it. Green Dodge. Ten stories below, BAM
Impact city. Scratch one paint job. Grabs the final
plant and holds it out, saying:
POW. GLASS SHATTERS. Dirt sprays. A blue BMW this
time. The Girl loves this game ... her expression is
slightly crazed. She reaches for another plant --
There aren't any. Her smile fades -- And for a moment,
just a moment, the dullness leaves her eyes and she is
suddenly, incredibly sober. And tears fill her eyes as
she looks over the edge --
And jumps the railing. Plummets, head over heels like a
rag doll. Hits the yellow car spot on. She lies, dead,
like an extinguished dream. Still beautiful.
Love his use of -- within the descriptive paragraph. His style is jagged, zero fat, in your face.
Again, I'm more a fan of the script than the movie, but it shows that you've got to come out guns
blazing on page 1. Grab the reader by the throat and never let go.
One more from LETHAL WEAPON…notice how fast you read this, how your eye is forced down the page:
86 MURTAUGH'S POV 86
reveals a crowd of people, milling back and forth, he
has no idea where the sniper is, and suddenly BAM -- !
The wood blows out not two inches from his head and he
ducks, and meanwhile -- back outside ...
87 MARTIN RIGGS 87
He's on the move. He jogs ... trots ... runs ... Noticing a
lone man in black, striding quickly across the lawn,
striding into the crowd ... toward the edge of the bluff ...
Things happen fast now, pay attention, as -- The man
turns, sees Riggs ... Riggs sees him... and the man is
none other than Mr. Joshua. Crew cut. Sunglasses.
88 MURTAUGH 88
diving out the window. Hits. Rolls, comes up. Scream-
ing, waving at Riggs ...
89 RIGGS 89
Gun out ... moving fast, shoving through the crowd, people
screaming now, "Jesus, he's got a gun -- !" Running
across the lawn, Murtaugh thirty yards behind, moving,
hard and fast, both guns drawn, pushing/shoving, knock-
ing people ass over teacups and meanwhile let us not
90 JOSHUA 90
moving at a dead run, now, gun out ... at the edge of the
cliff. People all around him, confused, I mean Jesus,
what the hell is all this shooting about, and Riggs can't
get a clear shot ... He's sweeping the gun, back and forth,
bodies crossing in front of him... all the wrong bodies,
Goddammit...! Moving forward, shouting:
Lie down!!! Down!!!
Murtaugh, springing hell bent for leather -- and folks,
grab your hats ... because just then, a BELL COBPA HELI-
COPTER crests the edge of the bluff.
An explosion of sound...
As it rises like an avenging angel ...
Hovers, shattering the air with turbo-throb, sandblasting
the hillside with a roto-wash of loose dirt, tables,
chairs, everything that's not nailed down ...
Screaming, chaos, frenzy.
Three words that apply to this scene.
And in the midst of all this -- Joshua steps onto the
chopper and is hauled inside.
The total professional.
And then, my friends, it's bye-bye time. The CHOPPER
ROARS like a behemoth, tilts --
slips over the side and plummets away ...
Slick. Very slick.
Except Martin Riggs it not impressed.
He's still running, you see ...
Dives flat at the edge of the cliff, nearly flings
himself over the damn edge ...
GUN extended like it's part of his arm...
Finger flat on the trigger ...
Blowing SHOT after SHOT at the retreating chopper ...
BAM-BAM-BAM His face contorted in a rictus of
And he wings the chopper, even. POP
spray of fiberglass, but nossir, no cigar...
cause the damn chopper flies away.
And Riggs dumps his magazine, stuffs in a new one ...
and Jesus Christ he keeps FIRING.
As Murtaugh walks up beside him. Stares down.
Gun held loose at his side.
Riggs still FIRES, BAM-BAM-BAM
doesn't know it yet ...
Until his MAGAZINE CLICKS empty.
He lies flat.
People screaming, running away.
Murtaugh standing over him, staring down at this animal
with a gun, who even now refuses to look away from the
retreating chopper, whose gun even now continues to
follow its course out over the sea.
Hands, clutching tlie barrel.
Finally, they relax.
Riggs shuts his eyes.
“It rises like an avenging angel …Hovers, shattering the air with turbo-throb,
sandblasting the hillside with a roto-wash of loose dirt, tables, chairs,
everything that’s not nailed down …”
Your action sequences can be functional, they can be who is in the shot and what’s happening, what is the camera seeing now
like all the screenwriting books tell you–or they can be edgy, risky, pure poetry like this.
Nobody like him.
Here’s Part Two of famous movies with serious character arcs. I point these out not to say that the characters in each of your scripts HAVE to make such journeys, only that you should define the journey. Where does the character arc begin (Point A/ORDER), where does it change (Point P/CHAOS), and where does it end (Point Z-REORDER)?
Richard Gere plays a wheeler-dealer multimillionaire who tires of Vogue models and decides to pick up a streetwalker(I buy that, no problem!) who happens to be Julia Roberts(I buy that too, Julia selling it on a street corner, sure…) What follows has followed since the time of Pompeii and Herculaneum. They go back to his place for martinis, a romp in the mud bath, the cash left on the bed, etcetera. Only…
There’s a complication. Julia Roberts being Julia Roberts, she’s just so damn quirky, charming, and smoking hot…multimillionaire Gere falls for her! The mixture of bourgeois and proletariat is a strict no-no in Gere’s social circle and Roberts causes quite the commotion at the Polo Club. Her identity is revealed, causing even greater ripples of scandal among the bon-vivant crowd. The idea of Gere actually cavorting with a common prostitute is an outrage. Gere’s lawyer does everything he can to break them apart and appears to succeed. But…
Love triumphs in the end! Julia Roberts being Julia Roberts, no way Gere lets her walk away. The multimillionaire and the prostitute will marry! The chances at the top of the movie(Point A) that Richard Gere ends up with a hooker are not great, yet here we are at the end of the movie(Point Z) and it feels right–to the tune of a 460+ million box office take.
Jack Nicholson plays Jack Torrance, a writer and family man. He takes a job as caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, hoping the solitude of the gig will help in his attempt to finish his novel. With him are wife Shelley Duvall and their freckle-faced boy Danny. The family is awed and inspired when they get to the hotel. Staff is leaving, winter is upon them, the snows soon to come.
Flash forward a month: Jack’s writing is going nowhere. Shelly and son entertain themselves in the shrub maze around the vast grounds. Snow knocks out access to the hotel and the phone lines are down. Also, with the solitude, some flat-out weird shit starts happening at the Overlook Hotel: Jack walks into the somehow populated Gold Room to be told by Grady, the ghost of a previous caretaker, that the joint is located on an old Indian burial site. Danny sees a pair of twin girls who lead him to Room 237 and a crazy woman. Danny’s bruises lead to Shelley thinking Jack has smacked freckled-face Danny around and they argue. Grady tells Jack he’s going to have to discipline his family. Shelley, freaked out, comes down to discover the novel Jack’s been working on for months is page after page of gibberish. Jack, in all-work-and-no-play-makes-Jack-a-dull-boy mode swings his baseball bat at her, she races back to the room to find Danny drawing RED RUM backward in lipstick and…well, life could be better.
Jack’s on the loose with his axe, killing psychic Scatman Crothers, truly becoming the Honey, I’m Home bloody caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, stalking Shelley and Danny, ending up a frozen meatsicle in the maze, a quick glance at an old photo showing he was, truly, always the caretaker at the Overlook.
Walter Paisley is a busboy at a beatnik cafe. He digs the scene and is a likeable enough fellow. He doesn’t have the artistic pretensions of seemingly everyone around him, and is sometimes the butt of their intellectual jokes. Walter would love to be touched by the muse, but as he goes home for the night, no one would ever confuse him for an artist.
Walter accidentally kills the landlady’s cat. Trying to cover up his mistake, he finds a leftover supply of plaster and mortar kit, sealing the cat in plaster. He brings his “sculpture” back to cafe, calling it Dead Cat, his first sculpture and artistic statement. It received by the bohemian artists as a powerful first artistic achievement. They hail Walter and welcome into the realm of artists. Walter is trailed back to his apartment by an undercover cop and accidentally kills him too, making him into sculpture two. The bohemians at the cafe are blown away, calling Water a genius, pressing him for now sculptures. Walter has a problem–in order to further his artistic career, he’s got to keep killing people. Walter dispatches a worker in a lumber yard, then kills a blonde model and he makes her sculpture #4. A show of Walter’s art is planned, a celebration of Walter’s transformation into artistic wunderkind.
The showing of Walter’s sculptures is going wonderfully, until a piece of plaster chips away, showing a human finger. Screams and commotion among the bohemians. Walter has walked home with the girl of his dreams with the bohemians and police in full pursuit. They chase him back to his apartment to find Walter in the place where all serial killers and bad sculptors eventually go. The journey from busboy to wannabe Jackson Pollack, complete.
The Wikipedia synopsis is quite good here:
“Dr. Lawrence Angelo (Pierce Brosnan) works for Virtual Space Industries. His part in “Project 5″ involves increasing the intelligence of chimpanzees using drugs and virtual reality. One of the experiment’s chimps escapes using the warfare technology that he was being trained to use. Dr. Angelo is revealed as generally a pacifist, who would much rather explore the intelligence-enhancing potential of his research without having to apply it for military purposes.
Jobe Smith (Jeff Fahey) is a local greenskeeper (the “lawnmower man” of the title) who has an unspecified learning disability. He lives in the garden shed owned by the local priest, Father Francis McKeen (Jeremy Slate). McKeen’s brother, Terry (Geoffrey Lewis), is a local landscape gardener and employs Jobe to help him with odd jobs. Father McKeen, who is apparently Jobe’s guardian, takes to punishing the challenged Jobe with a belt when he apparently fails to complete his chores. Their interaction suggests that the abuse is habitual as Jobe requires little prompting from McKeen to remove his shirt to receive lashings on his back.
While Dr. Angelo records audio notes about needing a human subject, Jobe is mowing his lawn. Peter Parkette, the young son of Dr. Angelo’s neighbors, is friends with Jobe. Dr. Angelo invites both Peter and Jobe to play some virtual reality games. Learning more about Jobe, Angelo persuades Jobe to participate in his experiments, telling him that it will make him smarter. Jobe agrees and begins a program of accelerated learning, using neotropic drugs, virtual reality input, and cerebral cortex stimulation. Dr. Angelo makes it a special point to redesign all the intelligence-boosting treatments without the “aggression factors” used in the chimpanzee experiments.”
“Jobe soon becomes smarter, for example, learning Latin in two hours at the lab one night. Dr. Angelo also starts taking Jobe to his lab at work to use the technology there. Jobe begins to change in other ways as well; he engages in sexual activity with a young rich widow, Marnie (Jenny Wright). However, Jobe starts to have telepathic and hallucinatory experiences as well. He continues with the experiments at the lab, until an accident makes Dr. Angelo call a halt. The project director, Sebastian Timms, employed by a mysterious agency known as The Shop, keeps a secret watch on the progress of the experiment, and soon swaps the scientist’s new medications for the old Project 5 “aggression factors”.
Jobe acquires telekinetic and pyrokinetic powers and takes Marnie to the lab to have sexual intercourse with her in virtual reality; but something goes wrong in the simulation, and Marnie is so traumatized that she is driven insane, laughing endlessly at nothing.
Jobe’s powers and abilities continue to grow, although the treatments also affect his mental stability, and soon he takes revenge on those who abused him when he was “dumb”: Father McKeen is engulfed in flames, a bully named Jake is put into a catatonic state by a mental “lawnmower man” continually mowing his brain, and Jobe directs a lawnmower invention of his to run down Harold, Peter’s abusive father. Jobe uses his telepathic abilities to make the investigating police attribute it all to “bizarre accidents” in front of Dr. Angelo.”
“Jobe believes his final stage of evolution is to become “pure energy” in the VSI computer mainframe. He plans to enter the VSI computer and from there reach into all the systems of the world, and he promises his “birth” will be signaled by every telephone on the planet ringing simultaneously. The Shop sends a team to capture Jobe, but they are ineffective against his abilities as he scatters their molecules. Jobe uses the lab equipment to enter the mainframe computer. Inside the mainframe Jobe abandons his body to become a wholly virtual being. In the process his body becomes a wizened husk.
Meanwhile, Dr. Angelo remotely infects the VSI computer with a virus that encrypts all of the links to the outside world, trapping Jobe in the mainframe. As Jobe frantically searches for an unencrypted network connection, Dr. Angelo primes bombs to destroy the building. Feeling responsible for what has happened to Jobe, Angelo then joins him in virtual reality to try to reason with him. Jobe easily overpowers him and proceeds to crucify him, then continues to search for a network connection. Peter runs into the building; Jobe still cares for him and allows Dr. Angelo to go free in order to rescue Peter. Jobe, in a final act of showing his desire to cause no more death, forces a computer-connected lock to open. This frees Peter and allows him and Dr. Angelo to escape. Jobe finally escapes through a Backdoor as the building is destroyed in multiple explosions.
Back at home with Peter, Dr. Angelo and Peter’s mother Carla (who has implicitly become a romantic interest) are about to leave when their telephone rings, followed by the noise of a second, and then hundreds, all around the globe.”
Stephen King hated this movie and sued to get his name taken off it. I admit it’s a guilty pleasure for me, the look of it kinda reminding me of the first TRON movie. As far as character arc goes, going from 60 IQ to being a God definitely qualifies.
Again, from Wikipedia:
“Four Atlanta businessmen, named Lewis (Reynolds), Ed (Voight), Bobby (Beatty) and Drew (Cox), decide to canoe down the Cahulawassee River in the remote Georgia wilderness, expecting to have fun and see the glory of nature before the river valley is flooded by the construction of a dam. Lewis, an experienced outdoorsman, is the leader. Ed is also a veteran of several trips but lacks Lewis’ machismo. Bobby and Drew are novices.
The four are clearly the outsiders in this rural location. The crude locals are unimpressed by the “city boys;” it is also implied that some of the locals are inbred. While attempting to secure drivers for their vehicles (to be delivered to the takeout point), Drew briefly connects with a local banjo-playing boy by joining him in an impromptu bluegrass jam. When they finish, however, the boy turns away without saying anything, refusing the effusive Drew’s handshake. The four men exhibit a slightly condescending attitude toward the locals; Bobby, in particular, is very patronizing and even derides the locals to his companions for seeming to display genetic defects.
The men spend the day canoeing down the river in pairs before camping by the riverside at night. Shortly before they retire for bed, Lewis tells the others to be quiet and disappears into the dark woods to investigate a sound he heard. He returns shortly and says that he did not find anything. When asked whether he heard something or someone, he tells them he does not know. While traveling the next day, the group’s two canoes are separated. Pulling ashore to get their bearings, Bobby and Ed encounter a pair of unkempt hillbillies emerging from the woods, one toothless and carrying a shotgun. After some tense conversation in which the hillbillies appear to be goading the others, Ed speculates that the two locals have a moonshine still hidden in the woods and Bobby amicably offers to buy some. The hillbillies are not moved and Bobby is forced at gunpoint to strip naked. Bobby is next chased, humiliated, ordered to “squeal like a pig” and is then violently sodomized. Ed is unable to help because he has been tied to a tree and is held by the toothless hillbilly.
Meanwhile, Lewis and Drew dock their canoe. Hearing the commotion, Lewis secretly sneaks up and kills the rapist with an arrow from his hunting bow; Ed grabs the shotgun as the other captor quickly vanishes into the woods. Lewis and Drew argue about whether to inform the authorities. Lewis insists that they would not receive a fair trial and that the jury would be composed of the dead man’s friends and relatives. Bobby agrees and does not want the incident of his rape to become public. Lewis tells them that since the entire area would be flooded by a lake soon, the body will never be found and the escaped hillbilly could not inform the authorities since he had participated in the incident. The men vote 3-to-1 to side with Lewis’ recommendation to bury the dead hillbilly’s body and continue as though nothing had happened. During the digging, Drew, the lone dissenting voter, is clearly upset and having trouble coming to terms with the decision.
The four make a run for it downriver, cutting their trip short, but soon disaster strikes as the canoes reach a dangerous stretch of rapids. In the lead canoe, Ed repeatedly implores Drew to don his life jacket, but Drew ignores him without a word of explanation. As Drew and Ed reach the rapids, Drew’s head appears to shake and he falls forward into the river.
After Drew disappears into the river, Ed loses control of his canoe and both canoes collide with the rocks, spilling Lewis, Bobby and Ed into the river. Lewis breaks his leg and the others are washed ashore alongside him. The badly-injured Lewis believes the toothless hillbilly shot Drew and is now stalking them. Later that night, under cover of darkness, Ed climbs a nearby rock face in order to dispatch the suspected shooter using his bow, while Bobby stays behind to look after Lewis. Ed reaches the top and hides out until the next morning, when he sees the man for whom he was looking standing on the cliff holding a rifle, looking down into the gorge where Lewis and Bobby are hiding. The man appears to be the hillbilly that escaped through the woods.
Ed, a champion archer who earlier lost his nerve while aiming at a deer, again freezes in spite of his clear shot. The man notices him and fires as the former champion clumsily releases his arrow. Ed falls to the ground in a panic and accidentally stabs himself with another of his arrows. The man reaches the wounded Ed and is about to kill him when he collapses, revealing Ed’s arrow sticking through him. Ed remembers that the hillbilly who tried to assault him had no front teeth, and upon initial examination, the dead man seems to have all his teeth. Ed examines his victim’s dentition more closely and discovers he has a partial, movable plate for his front two missing teeth. Ed lowers the body down the cliff with a rope and climbs down after it. His rope breaks and he falls in the river, but swims to shore and meets with Bobby and Lewis. Bobby asks more than once if Ed is certain the dead man is the same as the one they confronted earlier. Ed, clearly irritated and not completely sure himself, snaps at Bobby and asks him to confirm the man’s identity.
Ed and Bobby weigh the dead hillbilly down with stones and drop him into the river. Later, they come upon Drew’s grotesquely-contorted corpse and after being unable to find any definite gunshot wound, they also weigh it down into the river. Ed points out that they don’t want the authorities examining Drew’s body and possibly discovering a gunshot wound. Ed gives a short eulogy and sinks it in the river to ensure that it will never be found. With Lewis injured and Drew dead, Ed now becomes the leader, trying to ensure their story is consistent, knowing the local authorities will investigate.
When they finally reach their destination, the town of Aintry, which will soon be submerged by the river and is being evacuated, they take the injured Lewis to the local hospital while the sheriff comes to investigate the incident. One of the Deputies, named Arthur Queen, has a missing brother-in-law (ostensibly one of the hillbillies Lewis and Ed killed) and is highly suspicious. Ed and Bobby visit Lewis’ hospital room to make sure Lewis’ version of events is consistent with theirs. They are unsure if the apparently unconscious Lewis understands them, however as the doctors enter, Lewis appears to awaken, gives Ed and Bobby a knowing wink and says he remembers nothing.
Later, as the men prepare to drive home, the sheriff suddenly asks Ed why there were four life jackets when only Lewis, Ed and Bobby came out of the river. Stammering, Bobby suggests there may have been an extra one, then realizes his mistake. But Ed says no, that Drew was not wearing his life jacket and he does not know why. The sheriff remains suspicious, but having no evidence simply tells Ed, “Don’t ever do nothin’ like this again. Don’t come back up here. I’d kinda like to see this town die peaceful,” to which Ed readily agrees. The men vow to keep their story a secret for the rest of their lives, which proves to be psychologically burdensome for Ed; in the final scene, he awakes screaming from a nightmare in which a dead man’s hand rises from the lake.
The four businessmen, at Point A, could never have even imagined this journey, could never have imagined how they would react or how they would conspire at Point Z. The character change is complete.
The generic term character arc is something you might hear coming from your agent, at a story development meeting, or from your damn Columbia College part-time instructor. They can’t figure out what’s not clicking so out comes the cure-all: Your lead character hasn’t explored the full range of character arc. But what the hell does that mean?
It means the story isn’t working. Your critics might not have a precise answer for you, so you’ll have to interpret for yourself what’s wrong. Remember what Pinter said: “I listen to 10 people critique my work, then I do the 11th thing.” Unless it’s specific critique, hearing someone say your story is terrific but the characters are lacking can leave you scratching your head. Where do you take the rewrite if nobody can agree on direction?
Here’s my advice: Don’t over-complicate this. I’ve told you before there are no absolutes in screenwriting, but if there ever was one, it would be this: Characters gotta change. Most movies are journeys of self-discovery. The distance from A to Z, the beginning of the movie to the end.
Examine your lead characters. Examine their journeys, their arcs. How has the protagonist changed? What’s been learned? Was the journey plausible? Essential? Inevitable? The Mamet model for 3-Act structure always works for me: ORDER- CHAOS- REORDER.
Let’s look at some great character arcs in this 3-Act model. See how completely they change during the course of a 90-minute movie. Maybe it will help you in your own struggle to find a complete journey for your character.
Toby McGuire is a high-school loser who loves the TV show Pleasantville. Reese Witherspoon is his slutty sister, a lot more popular at school for obvious reasons. Mom is all messed up with a divorce. Their home life doesn’t feel like a home life–it’s cynical, complicated, modern. Enter Don Knotts…
Through a remote control, he sends Toby and Reese into the television world of Pleasantville. It’s a 50′s world, black and white, and NOT complicated. Toby and Reese are stranded. When Reese sleeps with the captain of the basketball team, the first blanch of color emerges. The black and white world is destined when the natives start questioning what’s outside of Pleasantville. Oh, and start turning “colored”. This leads to a sort of racist persecution of the “coloreds”. Toby’s TV family is ripped apart.
Through a trial, Toby triumphs. Even the Mayor pops out in colors. The Pleasantville black and white world is gone. Reese is no longer the slutty sister, deciding to stay in Pleasantville to attend college. Toby leaves his TV mom behind to help salvage his real-world mom and his life back home. The characters, the Pleasantville world, and the real world, are fundamentally changed in 124 minutes.
Kate Winslet plays Rose, a kinda-sorta snobby daughter of a really snobby mom whose lifestyle is in jeopardy. She marrying Kate off to a rich Wall Street asshole. Kate’s not happy about but what’s she gonna do, it’s 1912. They’re crossing the Atlantic on the Titanic where Kate will undoubtedly have well-off but miserable life. Leo De Caprio plays Jack, who wins his Titanic passage through a gambling bet, hanging with the other immigrant trash heading for Ellis Island, hoping for a slice of the American Dream.
Rose meets Jack. He’s a painter, hung out in Paris, and he looks like Leo DC–what’s not to like? Rose prefers Jack’s company to her Wall Street asshole. She makes a decision to leave with Jack when the ship docks. Only…the ship hits an iceberg. Turns out the Titanic is going down and there’s nothing to stop it. Lots of folks are about to die.
The Wall Street asshole leaves Rose to Jack and jumps into a rowboat. Rose’s mom stays in her rowboat even when Rose jumps out to stay with Jack. Left to drown, they race to the back of the boat and attempt to survive. A giant door just happens to be passing by and Jack lifts Rose on it, basically sealing his own fate. Jack saves her, “in every way one person can save another”. Through photos we see Rose’s life revealed, her path and the world’s, forever changed by the sinking of the Titanic.
Humphrey Bogart is Rick, an American ex-patriot in WWII Nazi-occupied Casablanca. He runs “Rick’s Café Américain”, a nightclub and gambling joint, bribes the local officials, minds his own business and makes a buck or two or three. He is NOT political, wisely keeping away from such foolishness, bad for business. He is hard-boiled, all about #1. Life’s been better but it could be a heckava lot worse. Then, “of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world…”
Ingrid Bergman, Elsa, enters. She and Rick had a thing in Paris back in the day but that’s all over now. Least it was… With her is her husband, Victor Lazlo, a charismatic Resistance leader. Lazlo is a dangerous man and the local Nazis are not amused by his appearance. Neither is Rick, whose joint gets closed down after Lazlo leads the crowd in a stirring version of La Marseillaise. Lazlo is everything Rick isn’t–selfless, sacrificing, fighting the good fight for other people in opposition of the Nazis. Rick just wants life to go back to normal, but then again there’s Ingrid Bergman, stirring up long lost feelings inside him. He and Elsa had a thing in Paris, you see…
Rick does something he would never have done at the top of the movie: Self-sacrifice. Putting Elsa and the Resistance ahead of his own pettiness, he gets the letters of transport for Elsa and Lazlo, killing the Nazi bad guy as he tries to stop him. When Louie tells the cops to “round up the usual suspects” it’s “the beginning of a beautiful relationship”. Rick walks away from his gambling joint and selfishness, now a part of the fight against the Nazis, changed for keeps.
Clint Eastwood is Walt Kowalski. He’s an ex-factory worker, recent widower, who just wants to live out his days in peace in his suburban Detroit house. When his estranged son recommends he move into a retirement community, he’s shown the door. Walt’s hates his own people, but he REALLY hates the Asians who have moved into his community and, he feels, destroyed it. Gang violence is everywhere. Walt is not a happy camper.
When a Vietnamese family moves in next door, Walt saves the son from a gang with his M1 rifle. The gang swears revenge and the family, in gratitude, has the son do odd jobs for Walt. Gradually, respect grows between Walt and the kid. When his sister is kidnapped and raped by the gang, he goes to Walt asking for the gun to revenge his sister and his family’s honor.
Walt locks the kid in his basement, dresses in his military best, and heads to the gang house, armed with only a cigarette and lighter. Walt dies, but not before taking every gang member out with him. Blaze of glory. Giving his life up for this Vietnamese boy is something that would never, ever have happened at Point A of Walt’s story. At Point Z of the character arc, it feels not only believable, but inevitable.
Andy Sachs (Anne Hathaway) is a recent Northwestern grad looking to pay off her $40,000 student debt. She interviews for Runway magazine and the notorious Amanda Priestly (Meryl Streep). More journalist than fashion-conscious diva, overweight as a size 8, she’s not so much laughed out of the interview as ignored. Leaving, she somehow gets chosen by Miranda despite her fashion ignorance.
Andy is welcomed into the chaos of Miranda’s world. She learns about Jimmy Choo shoes, loses weight and looks great. She begins to neglect her friends and boyfriend. All that she mocked about Miranda’s world is synthesized by Andy–what she once mocked, she now becomes. There’s some industrial espionage, a trip to Paris, betrayal and twists. Andy loses her boyfriend and friends. At a crises of conscious, she loses touch with who she really is.
The industrial espionage works itself out. Miranda is still on top, ever powerful. Andy, now the trusted assistant, decides to throw it all away. She quits Miranda and Runway magazine. She makes amends with her ex-boyfriend, her ex-co worker, and, finds a new job outside of the fashion world. Pure journey of self-discovery, the “to hell and back” character arc couldn’t be clearer.
Lincoln Six Echo (Ewan McGregor) and Jordan Two Delta (Scarlett Johansson) are meatsicles. They are genetically cultivated “insurance policies” born into the controlled environment of Overseers somewhere in the Arizona desert. They appear, feel, and yes, dream, but they aren’t human. They have never known the world outside of the Overseers, nor of any world outside of their own existence. They only dream of one thing: Being chosen to go to The Island.
Lincoln Six Echo comes to consciousness. He is a curious cat and discovers through a disgruntled worker that there is a world outside of their little bubble. The Island doesn’t exist. Lincoln Six and Jordan Two crash out in the world at large. The overseers are not amused and take no prisoners. The worker who helped them is killed. A mercenary tracks them to the big city where they go to seek out their doubles. Here they learn that the Overseers are planning to kill all the contaminated insurance policies back at the bubble. Their escape, essentially, is a death sentence for all their friends.
Lincoln Six and Jordan Two head back to the bubble to save their friends. Two against an army? No matter. (It’s Michael Bay, after all). They waste the Overseers, liberating their fellow insurance policies into a brave new world. Meatsicle to consciousness, now that’s character arc!
Another meatsicle story is the classic 1931 Boris Karlov movie based on the famous Mary Shelly tale. Henry Frankenstein is an obsessed scientist running up the electric bills. His fiance worries and wonders what he does with his late nights down in the dungeon. Turns out he’s attempting to create life, hauling a dead body (with a criminal brain, alas!) upon the slab, running it through with current. One stormy night the experiment is a success. The Creature is alive, alive!
The Creature goes through some growing pains. He strangles Fritz. Frankenstein barely escapes, locking his monster in the dungeon. Preparing a powerful drug to inject into the Creature, he knocks his associate down, almost killing Frankenstein before going unconscious. The Creature must be destroyed but it’s too late, he’s escaped. The Creature wanders the countryside, coming upon a farmer’s daughter. They playfully toss flowers into the pond and watch them float. The Creature playfully tosses the girl into the water but she can’t swim. His criminal brain (try to get the image of Marty Feldman out of your minds!) doesn’t understand it when she drowns to death.
The town peasants find out about the Creature and dead girl. Torches are lit and up they march to castle Frankenstein. Trying to talk them out of it doesn’t work. Frankenstein encounters the Creature, is knocked out, and taken to an old mill with him. He is thrown to his death by the monster but saved by the vanes of a windmill. The peasants burn the mill down with the Creature inside. Dr. Frankenstein survives, probably moving on to a University teaching gig, tenure, benefits, publishing the occasional scientific paper and his wife’s strudel, but never again God-like enterprises.