Secret Window

The quality of said adaptations, historically, has been nothing but mixed – real gems like “Stand By Me,” “Misery,” and, the gold standard of Stephen King adaptations, “The Shawshank Redemption” coexist along with less successful translations such as “Cujo,” “Firestarter,” and (shudder) “Maximum Overdrive.” More recently, the last few King films, “Apt Pupil,” “Hearts in Atlantis,” and “Dreamcatcher,” have fared poorly, both commercially and critically.

The question all this raises is, why anotherr

Why has “Secret Window,” the subject of this review, and a screenplay based on King’s 1990 novella, been given the go-ahead when there isn’t much success to point to in the realm of Stephen King adaptations, especially in recent yearsr Especially considering that even the critical hits listed above started out as, mostly speaking, box office disappointmentsr The answer is beyond the purview of this review, but the question did remain mired in my brain as I read the screenplay. Keep in mind also that that question was percolating through the mind, not of a King detractor, but of an avowed fan. Indeed, I’ve read all of his novels, many more than once. So the preponderance of bad adaptations is evidence, to me, not of problems with King’s stories themselves, but of how they’ve been adapted.

What’s encouraging about “Secret Window, Secret Garden” is that it’s not a horror film, but a thriller. It’s the straight horror books that seem to, for whatever reason – they certainly work on the page – have had the most trouble adapting to the screen. To this day, it surprises many to learn that “The Shawshank Redemption,” along with “Stand By Me” the least genre-based of King films, is based on a King novel. “Secret Window, Secret Garden”’s closest cousin in the King canon, genre-wise, would be the aforementioned “Misery,” and the success of that adaptation has me hopeful about this newest script’s possibilities.

The script I read was written by Hollywood’s go-to genre adapter, David Koepp (of “Jurassic Park,” “Panic Room,” and “Spider-Man” fame), who is also directing; principal photography began in September. How close to this the final script is I couldn’t say, but it does seem pretty polished and ready for filming. The story concerns one Mort Rainey, played by newly hot Johnny Depp, a novel writer undergoing a relatively acrimonious divorce. The script opens with Mort’s discovery of what we later learn to be his wife and another man in a hotel room, and after a brief and muddled confrontation, marked by lots of hysterics, yelling and implied violence, immediately flash-forwards to a writer’s-block stricken Mort, holed up in his cabin near Tashmore Lake in the Maine woods.

The action of the film truly begins when John Shooter, who will be played by John Turtorro in the film, appears on Mort’s doorstep one day brandishing the manuscript to a story that he insists Mort stole from him. When Mort reads the story, it’s confirmed that it is almost identical to a story published by Mort in a short-story collection several years before. The thriller aspects of the screenplay come into play when Shooter proves to be decidedly unhinged, threatening Mort, in quiet, calm insistent tones, that if he doesn’t “make things right” bad things will occur. Shooter carries out on his threats by gruesomely murdering Mort’s dog. As Mort scrambles to retrieve the screenplay’s MacGuffin, a copy of “Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine” that will prove that Mort published his story years before Shooter claims to have written his, the violence escalates, even as it begins to draw in Mort’s soon-to-be ex-wife, Amy, and her soon-to-be husband, the man from the opening, Ted, who may or may not have connections to Shooter. As in all good thrillers, the violence and tension escalate until climaxing in an action-filled finale.

As a King fan who’s read the source material twice, I liked the script. Koepp does a fine job of capturing Mort’s degenerating state-of-mind and the stress that the writer’s block is inducing in him. It will be very interesting to see what Depp does with the character; Mort demands some subtle acting work and asks for none of the embellishments and quirks that have made many of Depp’s most recent performances so interesting. In some ways it’s a much more straightforward role, while in other ways it’s not, and how Depp strikes that balance will, I think, be key.

The slightly tired, but still effective, device of having that opening scene, of Mort barging in on his cheating wife in the hotel room, become more and more meaningful as the story progresses, works well here. This is a small film, with a small cast, and Koepp is able to quickly sketch these characters from within the confines of the plot with considerable skill. In addition, he deftly handles the more psychologically based drama and character moments that begin to dominate in the script’s third act.

The script’s main problem unfortunately coincides with what would be a major spoiler – on the level of giving away the “Sixth Sense” secret – and I’m not looking to reveal that here. King has crafted a real twist ending, one of the only times he’s done so in his writing, and it’s Koepp’s handling of that ending that I’m leery of. It’s not that I think he gives away the game too early – the script’s ending should, as far as I can tell anyway, come as a surprise to the average moviegoer. The hints are there, and King and Koepp play fair, but it should still come as a surprise. However, without giving away the ghost, this is a down ending as written, very creepy and very non-Hollywood, and I have serious doubts that it’s being filmed as is. It works in the script, and the down ending could be very effective in the finished film, but it does take King’s story to a place it hadn’t gone to before. What Koepp has done is to take King’s twist ending and lead it someplace else, to a darker place than King did, and I’m not sure that the story supports that weight. On top of that, I have serious doubts, given the way Hollywood movies tend to work, that the ending will actually survive; my hunch is that the final film will hew more closely to King’s original vision.

The ending aside, and, as I said, it could work, this is a fine adaptation, penned by a writer playing to his strengths, and, if executed well, could make for a tense and satisfying thriller. This draft of “Secret Window” is dated February 11, 2003, under the project’s previous name of “Secret Window, Secret Garden.” Written by David Koepp, it is based on the novella by Stephen King.

Rating: B+
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You’ll Never Die in This Town Again

He boasts a resume that includes many an enjoyable action-adventure film, which has gained him as many detractors as he has fans for the effect it has in cinema. After the flops of “Goodnight” and “The Last Action Hero” at the box office, though, he seemingly faded from view in 1997. But Black now returns with his first solo effort since that time with “You’ll Never Die in This Town Again.” Does it stand up to his previous well-received films, or is he marked for a return back into hidingr

In 1997, Christopher Wehner of Screenwriters Utopia wrote that Black’s critically-panned rewrite effort on “The Last Action Hero” was “nothing more then the result of a desperate writer who has fallen, and [couldn’t] get up. I didn’t want to believe it, but after watching “The Long Kiss Goodnight” when it came out… I am afraid that the dance is over. Shane Black needs to get back to the basics, and what it was that made him a record-breaker— a writer who lived on the edge and as a result wrote a cutting edge screenplay, “Lethal Weapon.” He has lost his edge.”

In reading the script for “Again,” I found myself looking for signs showing whether he has regained that edge he once showed in “Lethal Weapon” and “The Last Boy Scout.” For the most part, Black is back, displaying a deft ear for snappy dialogue. Those looking for the talent he once displayed in past works are going to be happy with this effort, as I feel he has proved Wehner and others critics wrong, all in all. Black shows that he has it in him to make another great action flick, one that would make film buffs anticipate its migration to celluloid. It isn’t his best effort, by far, but “Again” is a film that amiably works. There is some room for improvement; I feel this is a good momentary stopgap for him to regain his mantle.

But one aspect doesn’t quite work here and needs to be improved upon: The ending, which encompasses both the mystery itself and how it all plays out, needs to be revamped quite a bit. I find it hard to envision what is written here working on the big screen, as it may leave a sour taste in audience’s mouths. “Again” wants to be a mystery film for beginners, even clueing in audiences on what to watch out for via a narrator, but the solution to the mystery can easily be unraveled before the final pages—but the perpetrator to the crime gets menial face time before he is unveiled. And if a mystery can be unraveled, in my eyes, it knocks it down a peg or two in its grading, be it remedial or otherwise. Maybe I’ve been reading too much James Ellroy, Dashiell Hammett and Robert Wilson lately, but I would suggest that Black take a further polish to the script here. What is in these pages is satisfactory enough, but it could be brought up to the next level.

SPOILER WARNING!

This script review includes major plot points to “You’ll Never Die in This Town Again.” Read at your own risk.


The Plot
Borrowing a trick from “Weapon” even before the opening credits unfold, the film begins with a woman jumping to her death just after penning a suicide note. “No one will understand what I’m doing tonight,” she writes, while checking a dictionary for the spelling of several words. “That’s okay. My decision however is a rational, cognitive one. I can no longer persevere. It may comfort my father to know that my suicide is due only partially to him.” After a pause, she adds, as an afterthought, “You think I’m stupid, Daddy, but I’m not.”

We then meet our narrator and protagonist at a Hollywood party. “Hi, thanks for coming,” he says. “I guess you’d call this a detective story; there are dull parts, but there’s a murder in it. I’ll be your narrator. My name is Harry Lockhart, and my hobbies include f***ing things up, and reading. Welcome to L.A. Welcome to the party.”

The witty and laid-back Lockhart has an interesting story of how he came into the Hollywood game. It begins in a Manhattan toyshop just before Christmas, where we are magically transported, as he is stealing toys for his daughter. When his accomplice causes the alarm to go off (a loose alligator clip on a re-routed alarm pops free), they flee the scene. After his partner is shot dead, Lockhart hides out in an office building. There they are doing casting auditions for a film and Lockhart finds himself pressed into doing one as well, blowing everyone away with a dramatic reading that mirrors what just happened in his life. He’s brought to Los Angeles, in contention for a big leading role. What he doesn’t know until much later that the only reason he is brought out is to shave a million off Nicholas Cage’s paycheck, who is in negotiations for the role.

At the party, he meets Perry Van Shrike, a film consultant and private detective who is also an openly gay. “Gay Perry,” as he is referenced throughout the film, recruits Lockhart for a surveillance job he is doing. Saying the executive producer for the film wants him to learn the “method” way – apparently, the film Lockhart finds himself in the running for is a detective film – so Lockhart has no choice but to accept the assignment. The verbal sparring between the two is well written, although sometimes overdone. To wit: After asking about the assignment and who is paying them, “Gay Perry” responds that “I’m guessing a sad, lonely little man who single-handedly haunts his own house up in the hills.” After whistling softly, Lockhart replies, “Wow. That’s incredibly gay.” The patter along this vein, while funny at times, does go on a little too much throughout and feels a little contrived in the wake of other films and television shows. And this is coming from a straight man, so I’m left to wonder what the reaction would be from someone of the same persuasion as the fictional Van Shrike.

He also meets at the party the girl he fancied back in high school, Harmony Faith Lane, who has moved out to Los Angeles to become an actress. The two were inseparable throughout their early years, but he doesn’t recognize her at first. Producer Dabney Shaw, the same one who “finds” Lockhart, has invited her to the party. He stops her from getting raped after she passes out in a bedroom, although she later leaves with the guy. After talking with “Gay Perry,” Lockhart tracks Harmony down to her neighborhood pub, where she with a close friend of hers, Marleah. It is there that they recognize each other. After blacking out from drinking too much, he goes home with Marleah, much to his own consternation. After visiting her house to apologize to her, he leaves when she throws him out with his lame excuses, almost losing a finger when she slams the door on him.

The next day begins with Lockhart and Gay Perry staking out a cabin at nearby Arrowhead Lake. Following the man after he leaves the cabin, they soon see a car careen by them off an embankment and into the lake. Both swim out to the sinking car and finding no driver – but a locked trunk – “Gay Perry” shoots his three-bullet Derringer into the lock. Opening the trunk, they find a strangled girl, who also has been shot in the head, courtesy of the Derringer. Lockhart stupidly throws the gun into the pond and they both get out of there, although they discover two faces watching them from the towering embankment.

Then, Harry receives a shocking call from the police: Harmony has apparently been found dead, a suicide. The audience quickly learns that it is not in fact Harmony, but her younger sister Jenna. Out of cash and apparently trying to find her father, she has stolen Harmony’s wallet. Is her death tied into the dead girl Lockhart and Gay Perry found in the trunk of the car in the lake, as the narrator suggestsr

Not believing her sister would take her own life, Harmony hires Lockhart to find out what happened and the detective yarn begins. Why does the dead girl from the lake make reappearance in Lockhart’s bathtubr Does Lockhart eventually lose a digit, courtesy of Harmony’s anger, and does he get to kiss Gay Perryr How does a fictitious detective from a novel and film, Jonny Gossamer, play into all thisr Why are Los Angeles and its denizens so faker And, most importantly, do the three leads patter their way throughout and ultimately solve the mysteriesr

My Thoughts
In his recent review of Black and Anthony Bagarozzi’s spec script “The Nice Guys” (located here), Darwin Mayflower of Screenwriter’s Voice writes that “Black is a maestro when it comes to glib, dyspeptic dialogue and shatter-everything action scenes. There’s two or three action sequences here that leave you breathless. And it’s great old-school stuff, too. The kind of thing you miss. Tough guys using their fists, fighting to the death, everything they do and say a penis-measuring contest — and no one floats on the air or breaks out the kung-fu…Black has more or less been writing the same script since he turned out “Lethal Weapon.” A self-hating hero seeks redemption, usually with the help of a kid and a partner, and a lot of stuff blows up in the process. He’s been able to tweak it just a bit each time. But the repetition can’t help but show its ugly face at this point.”

What is true of “Nice Guys,” which has since been reformatted as the basis for a TV series, is true here as well. Like Mayflower, I would love to see Black move away from this concept he is so enamored with and see what he can do with an altogether new concept of a non-buddy comedy actioner. Viewed in this way, the script for “Again” underwhelms—it’s not a step forward for Black, but him treading water in a genre he once was regarded the pioneer in. But in keeping the writer and his work separate, this could be a good film that nicely captures the Los Angeles mentality and, in addition, spins a good detective yarn.

What also troubles me is that there is also an added pressure here: Black will be directing the film, which has seen no movement since it was announced as being sold in January. This will/would be his first effort behind the camera, although he has also worn the hat of producer and bit actor.

As of this writing, production is stalled at the pre-production phase— No casting has been announced, no location or time of shooting has been locked down and there is no word from the studio on the project moving forward in these areas. Only time will tell if this project, set up at Joel Silver’s production company and Warner Bros. for a possible 2005 release, sees the light of day.

But, should it be made (which I am hoping it will), there needs to be changes to the ending, as addressed above. I don’t buy Lockhart suddenly becoming a sharpshooter and taking out all the bad guys, while hanging from a casket with one arm. “Again” is a good effort, but not Black’s best—which still means it’s better than most out there. This 130-page script was written by Shane Black and dated January 26, 2003.

Rating: B
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Life Aquatic, The

The manner and gestures, the cadence and actions of Steve Zissou are so ineradicably Murray, one must wonder if Anderson long ago found a portal into the great comedic actor’s head and has regularly set up camp in there. A treat to read as a screenplay, even without the drawings of the filmmaker’s brother Eric Chase Anderson (a popular feature of Anderson’s last two films released on DVD through the Criterion Collection), “The Life Aquatic” should become one of the better films of 2004.

(Writer’s Note: While I have gone into detail concerning the first act of the film, I have left the second and third act of the movies completely unmentioned in this review.)

The film opens inside an immense movie palace not unlike the Grand Palais in Cannes, where the black tie crowd is taking their seats. We are at the Loquasto Film Festival (possibly named in an affectionate nod to Santo Loquasto, Woody Allen’s longtime production designer) in Italy, where the theatre is about to unspool the world premiere of the twelfth “Life Aquatic” documentary by the world famous oceanographer, Steve Zissou, entitled “The Jaguar Shark (Part One).” In the documentary, we are introduced to the crew of his ship, the Belafonte: Esteban du Plantier, the sixty-six year old chief diver of Team Zissou, who has been Zissou’s closest friend and colleague for over a quarter century; Klaus Daimler, 40, the ship’s engineer; Vikram Ray, 28, cameraman; Bobby Ogata, a diver in his early twenties who Zissou points out can hold his breath for over seven and a half minutes; Renzo Pietro, 45, editor and sound man; Vladimir Wolodarsky, 38, a physicist and composer of the scores for all of Zissou’s films; Anne-Marie Sakowitz, 25, the script girl; Pele dos Santos, 36, the safety expert; Eleanor Zissou, his wife and Vice President of the Zissou Society; and seven marine science students from the University of Alaska who are working as unpaid interns on this expedition for school credit.

The title of the documentary is a misnomer, as we never actually see the shark in question. While the cameras are rolling atop the deck of the Belafonte, Zissou surfaces through a bubbling swirl of blood. While photographic a school of fluorescent snapper, Esteban is attacked by something Zissou describes as a “highly abnormal shark-like fish” with strange dorsal features and spots all over it. As the film rolls in the theatre, Zissou is in the audience with Eleanor, watching the film without expression. During a question and answer period after the show, Zissou is asked by a young man what is next for Team Zissou, to which Zissou responds that he will hunt the shark down and kill it. Since the young man, Ned Plimpton, is being played by Owen Wilson, we know he will eventually become a major part of the story. Outside the theatre, Zissou is greeted by festival personnel, fans, his wife and crew, his hated rival, Alistair Hennessey, and his producer, Oseary Drakoulias. Not wanting to deal with a variety of issues, requests and demands, Zissou heads off to a festival bar, where Ned introduces himself to Zissou, the son of a former flame who recently passed away. The pair at first dance around the question of whether Ned is Zissou’s son, but by the end of the evening, Ned is staying aboard the Belafonte (docked in the harbor just outside the main theatre) and being introduced to everyone by Zissou as “probably my son.” Within 24 hours, Ned decides to leave his job as a pilot for Air Kentucky and become a part of Team Zissou, although he isn’t so sure he’ll change his name to Ned Zissou just yet, which is better than what his father would have named him if he had a say in it. Kingsley Zissou.

Ned joins Team Zissou at a bad time. Unable to secure grant funds to complete his expedition for the Jaguar shark (the effeminate Hennessey is the most popular choice of philanthropists), Zissou works on Drakoulias to find some kind of gap-financing. Meanwhile, Zissou agrees to allow an interviewer with Oceanographic Explorer to spend some time with his team, in the hopes a cover story will help bring investors. The reporter, a very pregnant Jane Winslett-Richardson, arrives while Team Zissou, in their pajamas, shooting a rare congregation of electric jellyfish washing up on the beachhead. Not wanting to see his possible father ending his career in such an anticlimactic fashion, Ned steps up with a donation of the small inheritance his mother left him, which helps Drakoulias acquire a completion bond. However, the bank is requiring one of their representatives, Bill Ubell, join the expedition to insure Zissou stays on budget.

Thus, Team Zissou, along with a potential son, a reporter and a bank stooge, sets off to find the elusive Jaguar shark, which Zissou was able to tag with a homing dart in the attack on Esteban.

Despite its 139 page length, the sreenplay was a quick read, one of the few I have ever felt compelled to read in a single sitting. And while “The Life Aquatic” can be somewhat properly described as an action film, Anderson thankfully understands, as he did in “Bottle Rocket,” “Rushmore” and “The Royal Tennebaums,” that a story is stronger when the characters are worth spending time with. Steve Zissou will be, without a doubt, the most narcissistic, tragically flawed protagonist to be seen on the silver screen in 2004. He often says the first thing that pops into his head, regardless of how it might make the people around him feel, and more often than not will think of how a situation will affect him instead of everyone else. But the man can rise to the occasion when he needs to, and he is able to recognize when he’s messed something up so badly, a little humility is required.

(Now that I think about it, there is one other actor in the world who could play Steve Zissou, Robert Downey, Jr., but not for another twenty years.)

While reading the screenplay, I was aware of some of the other actors who have already been cast in the film, including Cate Blanchett (Jane), Willem Dafoe, Anjelica Huston (Eleanor) and Peter Stormare. What I was shocked to discover while doing research for this review was that Dafoe has been tapped to play Klaus, the ship engineer, whom I saw as Stormare from the first page, as I had seen Dafoe as the bank stooge, Bill Ubell, instead. With Jeff Goldblum likely to be playing Ubell, I can only surmise Stormare will be playing the rather small role of Renzo the sound editor. The criminally underused Bud Cort has also been cast in the film, and although his character has not been officially announced yet, I estimate based on character descriptions he will be playing Hennessey. As of this writing, the Internet Movie Database, WesAnderson.org and several others report regular Anderson player Kumar Pallanda will be playing a Foreign Exchange Money Employee, but I cannot find this character anywhere in the script. Perhaps he will be the elderly man at the start of the film who tries to get Zissou to sign several photographs. One person who will be missed in “The Life Aquatic” is Luke Wilson, who will be busy working on his directorial debut, “The Wendell Baker Story,” to take a major role in this film, although there are plenty of scenes where he could make an uncredited cameo.

Wes Anderson is one of the best filmmakers working today, and “The Life Aquatic” takes him into new territories. Is the move away from the localized American locations (Dallas/Fort Worth, Houston and New York City) of the first three films to the more expansive area of the Mediterranean Sea the work of new collaborator Noah Baumbachr Certainly, in “Rushmore,” Anderson has shown interest in oceanography, using a Jacques Cousteau book as a minor plot point, and a Cousteau quote (“Whenever one man, for whatever reason, has the opportunity to lead an extraordinary life, he has no right to keep it to himself”) which one could say foreshadows the Steve Zissou character five years before his creation. Whatever Baumbach has brought to the table, it has made for the finest story yet from American Empirical Pictures, which is saying quite a lot indeed. This script, dated March 14, 2003, was written by Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach. Principal photography on the film is scheduled to begin in Italy this month.

Rating: A
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Resident Evil: Apocalypse

The first page of the screenplay makes it abundantly clear that this film is a more faithful adaptation of the game series, stating that it is “set in the time frame as the third and most popular of the “Resident Evil” videogames. The locations and much of the imagery [are] taken directly [from the game].” Andersen then goes on to name the scenes he borrowed from that game and how each new lead character is tied to the series in some fashion. It seems Andersen is still feeling a bit stung from the many critical barbs he has received from the games’ fanboys in the wake of the first film and wants to appease them that he is at least trying to move closer to the source material.

Continue reading “Resident Evil: Apocalypse”

Rating: D+
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White Chicks

Marlon and Shawn will star as Marcus and Kevin Copeland, brothers and FBI agents, who screw up a major drug bust in the Washington Heights section of New York City at the beginning of the film. Looking to get back into the good graces of their boss, Section Chief Gordon (who will, based on the description in the screenplay, will most likely be played by Keenan), Marcus and Kevin agree to take the lowly job of escorting the famous New York City socialite sisters Brittany and Tiffany Wilton from a private terminal at JFK airport to their hotel room in the Hamptons. There they will be guarded by Gomez and Harper, two much more respected agents. It seems the Wilton Sisters have been targeted by a serial kidnapper, who the FBI suspects will try to grab the two perky if not quite sexy socialites at an upcoming event in the Hamptons. Despite the relatively short trip, Marcus and Kevin manage to royally screw up. While the sisters are unaware of the plot to kidnap them, the Bureau planned to use the sisters as bait to snare the kidnappers. After learning of this “plan,” the sisters are now refusing to go along with it. Fully aware their careers are in jeopardy, Kevin comes up with the solution to their problems…to get one of the lab guys to come to the hotel and magically transform Marcus and Kevin into Brittany and Tiffany. After a quick montage, the new white chicks arrive in the Hamptons to keep the operation running.

As with all comedies of this manner, Kevin and Marcus will have to convince everyone that they are Brittany and Tiffany, which naturally they are able to do, despite not having spent more than a couple hours at most with the sisters. Brittany and Tiffany’s best friends are fooled, as are the kidnapper, the sisters’ bitter rivals, a studly basketball player, the ace reporter for Hamptons Magazine and even Marcus’s wife Gina. As in last year’s “Sorority Boys,” the IQs of every single person involved with the leads have seemingly dropped a hundred points, as nobody really seems to care the girls are taller and more athletic than they used to be, or notice they can now outrun and beat the tar out of thugs. The confusion and inanity continues to the very contrived ending, where everyone gets what they have coming to them.

Even the minor plot points are anachronistic. A big deal is made of the abilities of Darnell Walker, the awesome basketball player for the Knicks who is is seen on a television scoring forty points against the Celtics– during a game the weekend before the big summer ending Hamptons soiree. Now, the end of the summer season was just last weekend. How many buckets did Keith Van Horn make during the Knicks game ten days agor None, for the basketball preseason begins in early October. You think a couple of huge fans like Marcus and Kevin would notice something like this. However, some of the spoofs within the story are very amusing, especially a quick but effective jab at a major Hamptons controversy from a couple years back.

Perhaps the Wayans Brothers will be able to pull it off, and the film will be funny and believable when it hits theatres next July. Maybe the actresses cast at the Wilton Sisters will resemble the Wayans Brothers just enough to make the transformation work. And it is not out of the range of possibilities I am holding Keenan to too high a standard, based on my own admiration of his work on “Hollywood Shuffle” (with Robert Townsend) and “I’m Gonna Git You, Sucka.” But at the script stage, “White Chicks” is a major mess from beginning to end. The Wayans are capable of much better than this, and hopefully a quick polish will fix some of the problems before production begins. This script, listed as the second draft, is dated August 11, 2003. Screenwriting credits are given to Keenan Ivory Wayans, Shawn Wayans, Marlon Wayans, Andy McElfresh, Michael Anthony Snowden and Xavier Cook. Principal photography on the film is scheduled to begin in Vancouver in October.

Rating: D
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The Village

“M. Night Shyamalan is back to his old tricks with his latest, “The Village,” which he wrote and is set to direct. There is the slow plodding for three-quarters of the film to build towards the endgame, the use of colors to emphasize themes and the patented twist ending. Although I liked the script, knowing the pedigree of the film makes the reader more attuned to what is to come— I was able to guess the twist within the first 40 pages.

The film begins with Edward Walker, the leader of the small town of 60 people, intoning ominous words at a dinner: “We came here to start anew. We are grateful for the time we have been given.” As hands begin to pass various platters and baskets of food, screams carry through the village from a distant place. It emanates from the woods found on the town’s outskirts and soon dies away. Later that same day, a bell tolls from the town’s watchtower, which overlooks the woods, reverbrating throughout the area. Each family huddles to their basements and waits for the all-clear signal is given. Once it is sounded, the townspeople resume their lives. But they soon find a smaller piece of livestock brutally killed, its head twisted back and fur fully removed. We soon learn it was killed by what the townfolk call Those We Don’t Speak Of, creatures from Covington Woods that have been plaguing the town since the beginning.

We then meet some of the peripheral characters, such as: Lucius Hunt, the young man who questions the town’s way; Alice, his mother, a leader of the town and a member of its secretive council of elders; Ivy and Kitty, two sisters both enamored with Lucius, with the former blind but able to see the auras of people and items; and Noah Percy, the mentally handicapped young man who is drawn to the woods and contiunally tempts it.

After asking her father’s permission, Kitty proposes to Lucius, telling him that she loves him. “I love you more than the sun and moon together,” she says. “And if you feel the same way, we should not hide it any longer. It’s a gift, love is. We should be thankful. We should bellow it with all the breath in our lungs, “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”” Lucius turns her down, as he is seemingly more in love with her sister. As Kitty becomes engaged to Noah, Lucius secretly becomes engaged to Ivy.

Lucius becomes increasingly enamored with the woods and what lies beyond, coming to believe that the innocent people of the village can pass through it. Sitting him down, Alice explains that there is something in those towns that lie beyond the forest, contentment. “There is something in the very nature of the cities and towns that rejects it. Society survives on greed, and desire. Its heart is fed by wants.” She tells him to not desire to leave the town, even as some of the younger townspeople increasingly begin to step over the forbidden line into Covington Woods.

Wearing yellow cloaks, there they discover large clawed footprints, and they soon see “the dark form of a humped creature, standing upright,” which soon strides away from them. Soon after, the creatures enter the town, sending the townspeople flurrying. On each door is found a red crimson “X.” Kitty and Noah are soon married, although after the ceremony the creatures again visit, this time butchering all the livestock taken and skinned. The next day the town begins an inquisition to find out why the creatures visited…what was done to anger themr Did a member of the small town enter the woodsr

And then an act by Noah sets in motion the third act: He stabs Lucius as they try to work out the quasi-romantic triangle that exists with Kitty.

I’m going to end Reddy’s review at that, although there is a great deal more to tell. What I can reveal is this: After this point, the story focuses on Ivy as she is granted permission to go beyond the town’s walls in order to save Lucius. The creatures in the forest mentioned in the well-written speculative article found at IGN FilmForce are not the creatures of the forest plaguing the town—There is no Bigfoot, or albatwitches, ghosts, Cheenos, gnomes, faeries, goblins or anything else that has been mentioned. And the big reveal at the end is not even centered on this aspect.

But one thing struck me from what Reddy wrote me in a subsequent exchange:“When one goes to see a Shyamalan film, they expect a big twist at the end of the film. Unfortunately, as a big reader of the mystery genre, I was able to guess the ending of the film relatively early…It’s gotten to the point, that – like certain detective novels – we come knowing that there will be a twist at the end, and it’s gotten to the point where we are on the look-out for such a thing. And this can be a bad thing, especially when it is as easy to guess from the clues found here early on, based on the dialogue and main theme that runs through the entire film. Shyamalan needs to a way to satiate this fixation, because now it is getting tired— although I really liked the film and look forward to seeing it realized once it hits the screen next summer. I would love to see Shyamalan move beyond this, so as not to become a one-trick pony. He is a better storyteller than that and deserves a longer career.

The ensemble cast for the film includes (as of this writing) Adrien Brody, Joaquin Phoenix, Bryce Dallas Howard, Sigourney Weaver, Judy Greer and Jayne Atkinson. Shyamalan will also produce, along with Scott Rudin and Sam Mercer. Production is scheduled to start in Pennsylvania October 14. This review was modified October 7th, to change references to the title, which has changed “The Woods” to “The Village.”

Rating: C
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