Storylines In Review

Upcoming Attractions
-A series of blog posts on upcoming film or tv releases, storyline by storyline.
#1: The 'American Dream Cracks' Storyline 2018
'Sadly, the American Dream is dead.' - Donald J. Trump in 2015 when he announced his candidacy
Although this being chosen first-up might seem because it's so timely, the fact is I'm tackling this series alphabetically by storyline. This is by no means a new storyline, with coverage going back well into the silent era. In this storyline, protagonists struggle to keep their notion of the American dream alive in their own life. As with other storylines, there are Romantic and Realist interpretations. In the Romantic school, the protagonists fight to keep the dream alive, and usually manage - week after week if it's a tv series. The Realist approach means the protagonists fail or become disillusioned.
It might seem a timely choice as first-up not just because of the crisis in US presidential politics, but because of the #metoo scandal, where once-revered role-model celebrity figures have been named by multiple complainants as sexual predators, who for years have been using their fame and influence to intimidate or sideline complaints, or their wealth to buy them off with gagging agreements, in potential criminal cases. Celebrity after celebrity, often success-story embodiments of the American Dream, have been named, with no end in sight.
This also has a disillusioning effect on viewing earlier productions, so that for instance, watching Bill Cosby's old tv series is now a creepy experience - the revised perception being that the public face of "America's dad" was just a clown mask. (Others have commented that the plot setup of Woody Allen's latest film, Wonder Wheel, about a man attracted to the stepdaughter of his partner, now seems creepy since the allegations about Allen resurfaced.) Studios have begun removing such earlier work from the tv schedules, as well as recasting or even partly reshooting current works, as happened with Kevin Spacey. Producers and directors have also been named, with alpha-male Hollywood kingpin Harvey Weinstein facing criminal charges. (David Mamet has already written a play, Bitter Wheat, about Weinstein; no word yet on a screen version, but Brian De Palma says he is developing a horror film called Predator, for an unnamed French producer, inspired by Weinstein.) A yet-untitled drama (work title Fair And Balanced) by Charles Randolph (The Big Short) on the #metoo allegations against the late newscaster Roger Ailes is also in the works.
The bad old days of the studios covering up crimes and misdemeanours seems at an end, with the prompt cancellation of the Roseanne Barr show over some racist Trump-style 3am tweets a reflection of the new order. What effect this background is having on works in development or production is not easy to say, given that scripts are often rewritten during filming.
A few projects have actually been killed off. Kevin Spacey has had his House Of Cards tv series wound up without him, and Netflix's Gore Vidal biopic Gore, where he played the title character, seems to have been abandoned in post-production. (He was also replaced, at great expense - his scenes reshot - as J. Paul Getty in the David Scarpa-written kidnap-drama feature All The Money In The World.) The latest news is that earlier-shot Billionaire Boys Club, an R-rated fact-based 'get-rich-quick' story written by director James Cox and Captain Mauzner (previously filmed in 1987 as a TV mini-series), with Kevin Spacey as an LA con man, had its release fatally delayed and on its opening day in August earned only $126 from ten cinemas. Other projects are seemingly being abandoned due to the likelihood of controversy - Playboy Enterprises halted a planned biopic (with Brett Ratner directing) about Hugh Hefner.

As to plot setups, among the “how are the mighty fallen” revisionist biopics of national figures who fall from grace, just out is HBO's Paterno, written by Debora Cahn, John C. Richards and David McKenna, about Penn State football coach Joe Paterno. “the winningest coach in college football history,” whose career ended amidst a child sexual abuse scandal. The difference here is that the main character was not himself involved in any inappropriate liaisons, but seems (just going by Wiki) to have simply failed to do more than report the matter internally, where it was predictably buried. The concern here is the broader issue of institutional cover-up (the theme of the 2015 award-winning newspaper drama Spotlight).
The issue of failures at the institutional level also comes up in the 'officer involved shooting' plot setup occurring in dramas that are either fact-based or typical of incidents that seem to be happening weekly in real life, and which can lead to urban riots. Director Reinaldo Marcus Green says his feature debut Monsters And Men, about the police shooting of an unarmed black man in the Brooklyn neighbourhood of Bed-Stuy (Spike Lee's old homeground) "is inspired by the ongoing epidemic of race-related police brutality cases. It's talking about the cycle rather than one particular case because these things are happening all the time - it's happening everywhere, and I didn't want it to feel like one isolated thing.” Similarly, the hour-long CBS drama [The]
Red Line, written by Caitlin Parrish and Erica Weiss, “explores what happens after a white cop in Chicago mistakenly shoots and kills a black doctor.” The 10-episode Netflix drama Seven Seconds, created by Veena Sud [The Killing showrunner], follows events after a white police force covers up the hit-and-run of a black teenager by a Jersey City cop. These are examples of the 'ripped from the headlines' approach to contemporary drama. The Hate U Give, adapted by Audrey Wells from a best selling novel by Angie Thomas, has a young black female protagonist caught up in a traffic-stop shooting, then caught up in the resulting political crossfire.

Other story setups revolve around actual moments of public trauma or disillusion, where there is a perceptible loss of confidence in 'the system'. The JFK assassination in 1963 was probably the first of these moments in the modern era. The Ben Jacoby-scripted drama Newsflash is set November 22, 1963, when CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite became the 'voice of America' in the aftermath of the JFK assassination. That also saw Vice President Johnson take over as President, the subject of the biopic LBJ, written by Joey Hartstone. The conspiracy theories that flourished in the wake of the JFK assassination may be part of the story of the 1965 fate of columnist Dorothy Kilgallen. This is to be dramatised as a film or limited series by filmmakers John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle, based on Mark Shaw's true-crime novel The Reporter Who Knew Too Much: The Mysterious Death Of What's My Line TV Star And Media Icon Dorothy Kilgallen. (The title says it all, though they'll need a shorter one for the marquee.)  

Kathryn Bigelow's period drama Detroit, written by Mark Boal, focuses on the 1967 race riots prompted by police brutality. Amblin Entertainment’s Trial of the Chicago 7, written by Aaron Sorkin in 2007 for a production abandoned after a writers’ strike, covers the 1969 trial of the organisers of protests at the 1968 Democratic National Convention. (After the Chicago police were filmed attacking demonstrators, bystanders and reporters alike, the resulting federal indictments were seen as a political show trial, and it has been the subject of a series of dramatisations since - list here). Also out in the US is Chappaquiddick, written by Taylor Allen and Andrew Logan, about the 1969 political scandal that ended Ted Kennedy's presidential aspirations of continuing the family dynasty. The Front Runner, written by political journalist Matt Bai, Jay Carson and director Jason Reitman, based on Bai’s book All The Truth Is Out, opening on Election Day Nov. 6, covers the 1988 downfall of Democratic presidential nominee Gary Hart following press coverage of an extramarital affair he denied.
Sam Greenlee’s 1969 spy novel The Spook Who Sat By The Door, described as ‘the first black nationalist novel’ (and filmed in 1973 adapted by Greenlee and Melvin Clay), is being developed as a tv series [no writer yet]. This has the CIA’s first African-American hire discover he is only an equal-opps token hire when he is assigned to the photocopy room, and return disillusioned to his Chicago gang roots to politicize gang members to fight in the Black Revolution. (The 1973 film evidently had its release suppressed by the FBI, cf here.)

The notorious 1969 'Manson Family' cult murders, at the height of the hippie culture, of actress Sharon Tate Polanski and several others in LA forms the background of the latest Tarantino film Once Upon A Time In Hollywood, which focuses on people on the fringe of the showbiz community. (Manson himself died in prison, age 83, some months ago - which put the story back into the headlines.) Season 2 of true-crime series Mindhunter is reportedly to focus on Manson. The killings are also the subject of Charlie Says, a feature premiered at the Venice Film Festival, scripted by Guinevere Turner (the screenwriter of American Psycho) from books by Ed Sanders and Karlene Faith, on the involvement of a prison worker in the rehab of 3 'Family' women.
The killings are covered from a more supernatural angle in the feature The Haunting Of Sharon Tate, written and directed by Daniel Farrands. The pregnant actress, tortured and murdered by the Manson Family gang, apparently had premonitions of being killed by a satanic cult. There is also Tate, a feature drama to be made by the husband and wife team of Michael Polish and Kate Bosworth, on the actress's life rather than her death.




 

 

Left: The Post. Though set in 1971, the drama reflects ongoing American concerns about official lying.

The events dramatised in the recently released drama The Post [on UK DVD 21 May 2018], which has the Washington Post standing up to White House pressure not to publish the Pentagon Papers in 1971. (They upset many Americans as they showed the US govt knew the Vietnam War was unwinnable.) In fact the documents were leaked to, and published by, the NY Times, but the Washington Post did play a lead role in the Watergate scandal, as already told in All The President's Men. There are two upcoming tv miniseries about this multi-faceted 1970s scandal which brought down Nixon and made US conspiracy theory more mainstream.
George Clooney is backing an 8-part Watergate drama being written by Bridge Of Spies scriptwriter Matt Charman, for Netflix. (“The series is said to follow an individual who was significantly part of the Watergate scandal in each episode, following such players like Attorney General John Mitchell and Nixon counsel John Ehrlichman. The Watergate series will also be modelled after the Japanese drama Rashomon.”) And CBS TV is developing a series based on the 2012 novel Watergate by Thomas Mallon [director of Creative Writing at George Washington U], with a script by John Orloff [Band Of Brothers etc], which focuses on the politicians rather than the press. Meanwhile, the feature Mark Felt: The Man Who Brought Down The White House, adapted by director Peter Landesman and John D. O'Connor from the nonfiction books by Felt (Woodward and Bernstein's "Deep Throat" source for Watergate), is already out in the US, though not in Britain. (His Deep Throat cover-name being taken already by a famous porn film, are they hoping a shorter, more marketable title will materialise?)  

Post-Kennedy presidential assassination attempts are the subject of a couple of new dramas. A yet-untitled Warner Bros drama being scripted by Daniel Pearle deals with the 2nd attempt to shoot President Gerald Ford in September 1975. (The first was by one of the Manson Family, “Squeaky" Fromme, but her gun misfired.) The 2nd attempt, by Sara Jane Moore, in San Francisco, led to ex-Marine Oliver Sipple, who foiled the attack by knocking her gun arm, having his life ruined when he was outed as gay by a friend, SF gay activist Harvey Milk, who wanted to publicise him as a 'gay hero'. (Milk was himself assassinated along with SF's also gay mayor, in 1978).
The 1981 attempt on President Reagan's life (by someone obsessed with impressing actress Jodie Foster) in Washington is the subject of Rawhide Down, a spec script by Alex Cramer, dramatising events in real time. (The Secret Service codephrase was also the title of the 2011 book by Del Quentin Wilber. This near-assassination was the subject of previous films, right.) There is also Reagan, written by Howard Klausner and Jonas McCord, to star Dennis Quaid, which will cover RR’s life “from his childhood to his time in the oval office.”

Above: the 2001 tv film The Day Reagan Was Shot written by its director Cyrus Nowrasteh, and [mouse over] National Geographic’s 2016 Killing Reagan, written by Eric Simonson from the 2015 book by Bill O'Reilly and Martin Dugard.

Left: David Simon's 8-episode HBO series The Deuce, now embarking on Series 2.

The sleazy 70s New York porn scene (previously visited in Taxi Driver) is the setting of George Pelecanos and David Simon's 8-episode HBO series The Deuce, on "the birth of the modern pornography business in New York City in the early 1970s." Given the way Simon has demonstrated, in The Wire, how he can turn urban grime into state-of-the-nation drama, we should probably list this here without worrying about plot particulars. Season 2 will premiere in September.
One longstanding plot setup, which has roots in the postwar American novel (cf Thomas Wolfe), the 'you can't go home again' setup, has few current development examples. There’s certainly no sign of a film version of the recent big literary schocker here, Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird sequel Go Set A Watchman, published in 2015, to great consternation over its ‘revisionist’ view. (It has the protagonist’s ageing father Atticus now attending segregationist meetings.) This may be related to the litigious nature of the author’s estate (she died in Feb 2016), which recently tried to block a Broadway stage version of TKAM adapted by West Wing creator Aaron Sorkin, on the grounds of some textual changes which seem to reflect awareness of the GSAW followup. (That suit has been settled, but no word of any tv version of the new play yet.)
The dark side of Small Town America is instead explored in CBS All Access’s new series created by Jason Mosberg, One Dollar, “set in a small rust belt town in post-recession America" which follows a one-dollar bill that changes hands and connects a group of characters involved in a shocking multiple murder."
There is also HBO's 8-hour adaptation of Gone Girl author Gillian Flynn's 2006 novel Sharp Objects, debuting in July, though here the protagonist only goes home, to the Missouri small town where she was born, as a reporter to investigate the murders of two girls.)


Above: One Dollar - “The story follows a one-dollar bill that changes hands and connects a group of characters involved in a shocking multiple murder. The path of the dollar bill and point of view in each episode paint a picture of a modern American town with deep class and cultural divides that spill out into the open.”


All this unease about contemporary trends has inevitably created a nostalgia for the [imagined] good old days. A number of popular tv shows from the 1960s-80s, such as Lost In Space, Cagney & Lacey, Dynasty, Magnum P.I., and Murphy Brown are getting reboots. "Networks and streaming services are increasingly pulling from the past to flood the airwaves with reboots and remakes," - Dr. James Francis, Jr., The Conversation. (Even the recently rebooted-and-cancelled Roseanne may be recommissioned by ABC without the now-PNG'd Roseanne Barr herself, as The Conners.)

A particular opportunity for nostalgia currently being revisited is the US space program, whose glory days were in the 60s.
First Man, adapted by Nicole Perlman and/or [accounts vary] Spotlight-scriptwriter Josh Singer, from the biography First Man: A Life Of Neil is about astronaut Neil Armstrong’s career ending with his being first man on the moon, in 1969. There is also an indie film titled simply Astronaut, written and directed by Shelagh McLeod, now in post-production. This has Richard Dreyfuss as a senior citizen who lost out on his chance to become an astronaut when young, but now has a chance to rekindle his dream via a nationwide competition to win a space trip.

Americans getting into trouble abroad became a staple plot setup in the 1970s-80s, as more US citizens travelled to Europe and often got involved in the counterculture scene. Americans also discovered they were resented as the world's wealthiest people, and often became the terrorist and kidnap targets of choice.
The apparent kidnapping by Italian gangsters of the 16-year-old grandson of oil billionaire J. Paul Getty (his penny-pinching grandfather was sceptical and refused to pay) is the subject of two dramas. The David Scarpa-written feature All The Money In The World has Getty played by Christopher Plummer (replacing scandal-hit Kevin Spacey, whose scenes were reshot), while FX Channel's Trust, created by Simon Beaufoy, (with Getty played by Donald Sutherland) is a 10-part series on the same 1973 events, to be shown in the UK on BBC2.

 

Left and above - FX Channel's Trust: The story setup offers another 70s-era tie-in motif, the generation-gap clash over lifestyles and values, and the artwork reflects this. (Getty, considered the world's richest man, was obsessively frugal but collected paintings and presented himself as an arts-supporting philanthropist.)

The US [in]justice system has also been a focus. The issue of prosecutorial misconduct by suppressing evidence to obtain a conviction, is flagged up in Trial By Fire, scripted by Geoffrey Fletcher (Precious) from a New Yorker article by David Grann, about a Texas man executed in 2004 over a fatal arson fire which probably wasn’t. Another fact-based justice-system debacle is recounted in Wasp Network, written by director Olivier Assayas [Carlos] from Fernando Morais's book The Last Soldiers Of The Cold War, about the Cuban Five /Miami Five. They were Cuban intelligence officers rounded up by the FBI in 1998, whose series of trials rolled on for over a decade, until the Cuban Thaw. If Beale Street Could Talk, the first English-language film of James Baldwin’s work, with his 1974 novel adapted by director Barry Jenkins, “has doomed young lovers undone by police malfeasance and a false accusation of rape.”
The four episode Netflix limited series Central Park Five, based on a controversial real-life injustice, will dramatise how 5 teenagers from Harlem were unjustly convicted of the rape of a jogger in NYC’s Central Park.

The American who becomes so frustrated with the corruption of the US justice system that he turns vigilante is a story setup that became popular in the 1970s, its most commercially successful outing being the Death Wish feature series [1974-]. It continues with films like the 2014 The Equalizer, which has an upcoming sequel. The Equalizer 2 (2018), scripted by Richard Wenk, again uses the 1980s tv-series setup created by Michael Sloan and Richard Lindheim, of an ex-CIA black-ops agent retired but advertising his services to help others achieve justice [ie revenge] against those who are otherwise above the law.

Written by director S. Craig Zahler [Bone Tomahawk], Dragged Across Concrete has a US patrol-cop duo suspended after being video'd brutalizing a suspect, and going on the make to replace their lost salary income by pursuing a Russian drug trafficker. The 159-min R-rated film has already generated controversy after it premiered at Venice, as the mercenary/ vigilante protagonists regard themselves as victims while others view them as everything wrong with US policing.

To be released in 2020, the Warner Bros feature Just Mercy, written by Andrew Lanham, director Destin Daniel Cretton, and Bryan Stevenson, the defence lawyer in this case, based on Stevenson's 2014 memoir about trying to get an innocent black man released from death row.

 Below: If Beale Street Could Talk



The historically-based Paramount 6-ep miniseries Waco, created by executive producers John Erick Dowdle and Drew Dowdle, dramatises a still-notorious debacle, the 1993 siege by paramilitary-style federal forces [over firearms paperwork] of a compound in Texas that led to a massacre of 76 people including children (many killed by burning CS gas) - and to greater distrust of the Feds by many Americans, as well as precipitating armed hostilities with other anti-govt groups and leading to further domestic terrorism. (The Oklahoma City bombing was claimed as a direct reprisal.)

 

 

School-shooting massacres have become a what-is-America-coming-to topic, and this is the background to Vox Lux, written by director Brady Corbet, about “a female pop star who survives a school shooting and becomes famous writing and performing a tribute song to the victims, but evolves into a broken woman.”


The trauma of 9/11 is being relived in Only Plane In The Sky, written by Liz Hannah (screenwriter on The Post) based on eyewitness accounts, set aboard Air Force One on the day when all other planes except the president's were ordered to land or be shot down. The U.S. intelligence failures which led to the CIA and FBI not coordinating to prevent 9/11, despite the many clues it was about to happen, are the subject of Hulu's 10-ep drama The Looming Tower, written by Dan Futterman, Alex Gibney, Lawrence Wright based on Wright's Pulitzer Prize-winning nonfiction novel.
Set in the days after 9/11 is the fact-based The True American, a human-interest drama being adapted by writer-director Pablo Larraín from Anand Giridharadas's nonfiction book, about immigrant Rais Bhuiyan, a Bangladesh Air Force veteran, who worked to save self-styled “Arab slayer” Mark Stroman from death row, after he shot Bhuiyan in the head and killed two other Muslim immigrants in a Dallas-area convenience store shooting spree. The CIA's notorious post-9/11 "war on terror" rendition and extreme interrogation programme is the subject of The Torture Report, written and directed by Scott Z. Burns. However, Showtime’s announced 10-episode drama series Guantanamo created by Daniel Voll, which had a 2-hr opening ep to be directed by Oliver Stone due in October, has been abandoned for the time being, as it “got engulfed in the Weinstein scandal.”

 

Shock And Awe (2018), written by Joey Hartstone, about a group of journalists (including the legendary Joe Galloway of We Were Soldiers fame) from the Knight Ridder newspaper chain investigating the Bush White House's fake news story that Saddam Hussein had 'weapons of mass destruction' ready to use in 45 minutes, in order to justify their pre-planned 2003 invasion of Iraq. (As with the Pentagon Papers during the Vietnam War, this was the start of a very long scandal which shook many Americans' faith in their government.) The Bush administration is also the subject of Vice, a biographical comedy-drama written and directed by Adam McKay (The Big Short), with Christian Bale bulked up to play Dick Cheney, US Vice President 2001 to 2009.
Since the post-9/11 Gulf and Iraq wars of the 2000s, another plot setup has appeared within this storyline: the military veteran isolated on his return to America by PTSD. Thank You For Your Service, adapted by writer-director Jason Hall (who co-wrote Clint Eastwood's 2014 American Sniper), from David Finkel's 2013 book, deals with three returning Iraq vets. The Yellow Birds, adapted by David Lowery & R.F.I. Porto from the semi-autobiographical novel by Iraq War vet Kevin Powers, has a 20-year-old searching for a missing buddy while coping with his own PTSD. A Brotherhood, from writer-director Bandar Albuliwi, was inspired by an actual incident and has an Iraq war vet “forced to return to the Middle East after ISIS kidnaps his estranged brother.”

 

Left: Sicario [2015], currently getting a 2nd sequel [see below]. In the aerial shot at left is a stretch of the border wall between US and Mexico now much in the US news. Sicario 2 has been successful enough that Sicario 3 is planned.

The failed “War on Drugs” can also be regarded as a symptom of the failure of the American Dream, or at least the disastrous failure of official policy. The chilling 2015 Sicario, written by Taylor Sheridan, on the cross-border cartel-driven drug war turning the US justice system into a fig leaf for black ops, has been followed up with a sequel, subtitled Soldado. Here, drug running and people smuggling are officially classified by Washington as terrorism, and treated with even greater ruthlessness. (It doesn't feature the same lead female character, and seems from its trailer like more of a revenge-rampage drama, with an officially sanctioned 'sting' op that goes wrong.) A 'Sicario 3' is also in the works, with no title or release date yet. On a related theme, there is also Narcos: Mexico, Season 4 of Netflix’s series Narcos, which is “to explore the origins of the modern drug war by going back to its roots.” Drug-related Mexican border disputes reportedly also feature in FX’s Sons-Of-Anarchy followup series Mayans M.C. written by Kurt Sutter, along with “strange political bedfellows, the washing of dirty money and guilty consciences as well as hogs, betrayal, ruthlessness and regret.”
Netflix has also produced the drama series Amo, about the drug war in Philippines (long a US outpost), where officialdom has openly taken off the gloves in its war on drugs. Sylvester Stallone is filming Rambo 5, co-written with Matthew Cirulnick from the David Morrell character, where the embittered, ageing Viet vet takes on a Mexican cartel single-handed. (The earlier rumour was he would tackle ISIS in Iraq and Syria in this final outing, titled Last Blood.) A new version of Universal Pictures’ Scarface is also in the works, being billed as a "re-imagining", with a long list of scriptwriter names tackling it in turn, but no word yet how it will be updated in setting to make it contemporary, only that it will be set in LA - rather than in Chicago, as in 1932, or Miami, as in 1983. (Both earlier films had a factual background, using Al Capone and the Cuban Boat People respectively.)

 

The 2015 Sicario [above] was a grim portrait of the US administration sinking into the mire of the cross-border drugs war, with the sequel, Sicario 2: Soldado [below] evidently ramping up the ruthlessness of the [un]official response.


 

 

Whereas the first Scarface dealt with bootleg champagne etc as the great moneymaker in Prohibition America, the 1980s remake had its gangster characters deal in cocaine brought in from South America, for this was by then the drug of choice for those who could afford it. Cocaine has continued to distort American society, as Sicario shows.
Season 2 of FX’s Snowfall, created by John Singleton & Eric Amadio and Dave Andron, covers “the early days of the crack cocaine epidemic and its ultimate radical impact on the culture … of Los Angeles as we enter 1984.”
Also possibly drug-related is the inspiration for a surreal ‘social thriller', Sorry To Bother You, the debut feature of musician-turned-filmmaker Boots Riley. Here, a California telemarketer “discovers a magical key to professional success, which propels him into a macabre universe.”
Driven, the John DeLorean biopic written by Colin Bateman (The Journey) is also drugs-related, with the collapse of the maker of the sports car featured in the 1985 Back To The Future being due to trying to raise some needed millions for his car-making company via cocaine deals. The press notice describes is as a “wickedly comedic look at a bromance gone bad.” (DeLorean was caught via his good-buddy relationship to a criminal turned FBI informant). The Cartel, adapted by Shane Salerno [Savages] from a real-life tale of the Mexican-American drug wars over the past decade. A DEA agent spends years pursuing the head of El Federación, the world's most powerful cartel, who murdered his partner.


The latest trauma for many suggesting the American Dream is cracking has been Donald Trump's becoming President - despite losing the popular vote to Hilary Clinton. The bestselling exposé Fire And Fury by Michael Wolff, about "the first chaotic year of Trump's White House" is to become a TV series from the company that produced Patrick Melrose. ("Michael Wolff is a total loser who made up stories in order to sell this really boring and untruthful book." -Trump 3am tweet.) HBO cancelled a project about the 2016 election following #Metoo allegations against its writer, political journalist Mark Halperin, but it may continue with another writer. Zero Dark Thirty writer Mark Boal is also working on a miniseries, yet untitled, about Trump's election. (Earlier, we also had Donald Trump's The Art Of The Deal: The Movie, a 40-min web-tv indie spoof written by Joe Randazzo, made in 2016 as a spinoff from the 'Funny Or Die' HBO series, here pretending to be a 1988 docu made by DT himself, based on his 1987 book, starring Johnny Depp and Ron Howard.) There's also an ongoing satiric animated tv series, Our Cartoon President, which began as a segment on Stephen Colbert's late-night talk show, with 17 episodes now commissioned. Trump is the subject of another half-hour mockumentary special in Comedy Central’s The President Show series, written by Trump impersonator Anthony Atamanuik. A President Show Documentary: The Fall Of Donald Trump “is set in the year 2030 and looks back at the last days of the Trump administration and the Commander in Chief’s mysterious disappearance.” Created by Mark Taylor, a Florida firefighter suffering from PTSD, and written by Rick Eldridge and Jimmy Hager, The Trump Prophecy is not a documentary (it uses actors to portray real people), or a comedy (not intentionally anyway). A £2m cinema feature made by staff and students of Liberty University, a Christian institution, and being shown on the evangelical circuit, it “posits that God chose the philandering billionaire to restore America’s moral values.” It is based on Taylor’s book cowritten with Mary Colbert, The Trump Prophecies: The Astonishing True Story Of The Man Who Saw Tomorrow And What He Says Is Coming Next.
In the works is The Apprentice, a biopic being scripted by Gabe Sherman, a journalist specialising in political sex scandals, on 'how a young Donald Trump set himself on the unlikely path to become President'. (And, as Trump would put it in his mis-spelled tweets, "Make America Grate Again.") Also, The Thick Of It creator, director Armando Iannucci, has pitched [via Twitter] a “Dave-style comedy”: “Trump drugged and moved to a replica Whitehouse, where he carries on thinking he’s governing. Millions spent on hiring actors to play his staff, Senators, news anchors, people at rallies. There you go. Studios, your highest bid please.” One Tweet suggested the title Fake America Great Again.



'Sadly, the American Dream is dead.' - Donald J. Trump in 2015 when he announced his candidacy. (Irony seems to be lost here.)

 


The Trump Prophecy is based on a book which predicts that 'Obama will be charged with treason and Trump will authorise the arrest of “thousands of corrupt officials, many of whom are part of a massive satanic paedophile ring”. Trump will also force the release of cures for cancer and Alzheimer’s that are currently being withheld by the pharmaceutical industry.'

Left: The Trump Prophecy “posits that God chose the philandering billionaire to restore America’s moral values.” Here, a demon sends the author-protagonist a message.

Re the USA’s biggest current who-are-we national-identity-crisis controversy, the enforced separation of immigrant children from their parents, there is at least one related work in development, an MGM/WB film, scripted by Tracy Oliver from Nicola Yoon’s YA bestselling novel The Sun Is Also A Star, about a Jamaican girl in New York who falls in love just before her family is to be deported back to Jamaica.
An instant nostalgia has evidently set in re Trump’s predecessor, and there is a new Obama biopic feature in the works for 2020 release. Two 2016 indie films [Barry and Southside With You] already covered his early years, but this will cover his two presidential terms. Based on the just-out but already bestselling memoir by Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes The World As It Is, its producer (Likely Story’s Anthony Bregman) describes it as “The Right Stuff by way of Frank Capra, and it’s exactly what we need.”

The realist and satiric works above are obviously quite different from the more romantic treatment of the storyline from the viewpoint of frontline public services tv series, where week after week the protagonists reassuringly fight to keep alive their corner of the American Dream (if not Superman's “Truth, justice and the American Way”, at least their professional integrity in the face of political corruption, bureaucratic incompetence etc.) New on the block in terms of police and emergency services drama series are The Rookie, written by Alexi Hawley, inspired by a true story, about the oldest rookie [at age 40] in the LAPD; Safe Harbor, which “chronicles the colorful, complicated lives of cops on and off the beat”; Station 19, set in a Seattle firehouse (evidently a spinoff - set in the same neighbourhood as hospital drama Grey's Anatomy). The Good Fight (a spinoff from The Good Wife) has the female partners of a Chicago law firm taking on police brutality etc cases.
And the longest-running 'lawfare' series of all, the cops-and-prosecutors investigative-procedural drama Law & Order, has officially ended its 20-year broadcast run, but its creator Dick Wolf says he hopes to continue it under other auspices. With its focus on 'ripped from the headlines' plots, a relaunched L&O should, in Trumpian America, not lack for what is called 'hot button issue' material.
Showrunner Dick Wolf is currently producing a new procedural series, simply titled FBI, also set in NYC. This will also likely have plots built around contemporary issues. It won't air till autumn 2018 but the episode being trailed on YouTube etc has a white-supremacist financier behind a sophisticated bombing campaign designed to provoke a race war. Wolf also has a 13-episode order for his latest expansion of the franchise, Law & Order: Hate Crimes, based on New York's real-life Hate Crimes Task Force.

 

At the lower end of the economic spectrum, we also have Americans struggling to make ends meet in the face of medical etc bills and being led to desperate measures, perhaps drug-related. Breaking Bad may have been a trendsetter here, though the plot setup often also reflects the Thoreau quote about the mass of men leading lives of quiet desperation. A movie is now officially in the works.
In The Mule, written by Nick Schenk, a bankrupt 90-year old (played by Clint Eastwood) takes on a driving job which turns out to be acting as a drug courier for a Mexican cartel. And in American Dreamer, co-written by Daniel Forte and director Derrick Borte, “a down on his luck HAIL [rideshare] driver who makes extra cash chauffeuring a low level drug dealer around town, finds himself in a serious financial bind and decides to kidnap the dealer's child.”
In post-production [and not to be confused with an earlier horror film of the same title] is the indie thriller All Creatures Here Below, written by David Dastmalchian, which uses the young-couple-on-the-run plot setup. ABC's False Profits pilot, set in the world of cosmetics marketing, written by former Code Black writer-producer Kayla Alpert, is described as “Desperate Housewives meets Glengarry Glen Ross. It follows a team of down-and-out women in suburban Arizona.” Claws, TNT's “darkly comedic series about five manicurists in a South Florida salon” may be comparable. In writer-director Courtney Moorehead Balaker's feature Little Pink House, based on the nonfiction book, a Connecticut nurse campaigns against a corporation abusing 'eminent domain' rights of way to bulldoze homes in her working-class neighbourhood, the case going all the way to the US Supreme Court.
The Fall Of The American Empire is Quebec filmmaker Denys Arcand's belated follow-up to his 1986 adult-conversation drama The Decline Of The American Empire. This has an academic reduced to working as a delivery driver to make ends meet and stumbling on terrible temptation - a pile of cash from a hold-up gone wrong. Actor Paul Dano has described his directorial debut Wildlife, adapted by him and his partner Zoe Kazan from the novel by Richard Ford, as being about the American dream as ‘something that I’ve found just really beautiful and hard’. The plot has a teenage boy in 1960s Montana witnessing the breakdown of his parents’ marriage.
Writer Kevin Williamson’s 10-episode series Tell Me A Story is based on an Argentinian series but set in today’s US (Williamson: “we are living in “rage America” where everyone’s so divided”), using fairytales as springboards. Here, ‘The world's most beloved fairy tales are re-imagined as a dark and twisted psychological thriller set in modern day New York City, the first season of this serialized drama interweaves "The Three Little Pigs," "Little Red Riding Hood," and "Jack and the Beanstalk" into an epic and subversive tale of love, loss, greed, revenge, and murder.’
Awareness of international financial chicanery has become wider since the Crunch – the economic crash of October 2008. The latest development here is the release in 2015 of the Panama Papers. Jake Bernstein’s book Secrecy World: Inside the Panama Papers is to be the basis of a Steven Soderbergh-directed drama from a script by Scott Z. Burns. The Laundromat 'follows a group of journalists who take part in unearthing 11.5 million files, linking the world's most powerful political figures to secret banking accounts to avoid taxes.' An earlier Crunch, in October 1987, the worst stock market crash in Wall Street history, is being dramatised in Showtime’s comedy series Black Monday, created by David Caspe (Happy Endings) and Jordan Cahan (My Best Friend's Girl).

With the economic crunch, the idea of 'downsizing' one's lifestyle is a popular idea. The premise of the satire Downsizing, co-written by director Alexander Payne with Jim Taylor, and now out on DVD worldwide, was to take the idea literally, with the protagonists scientifically reduced to 5” high to save expenditure on resources, but - according to the reviews - discovering social problems persist regardless in their new small-scale planned community.



 


 

 


 


Here And Now, an HBO comedy-drama series by Six Feet Under creator lan Ball, described as “a provocative and darkly comic meditation on the disparate forces polarizing present-day American culture” evidently proved over-ambitious for a mainstream US audience, with its diverse domestic setup involving “the members of a progressive multi-ethnic family - a philosophy professor and his wife, their adopted children from Vietnam, Liberia and Colombia, and their sole biological child - and a contemporary Muslim family, headed by a psychiatrist who is treating one of their children.” (There's also a supernatural aspect.) It has not been renewed but Season One is still out there [trailer here].

Another 'all-in' melting-plot setup seems to be Universal TV's ensemble drama The Village, written by executive producer Mike Daniels (Sons Of Anarchy), about residents of a NYC apartment building interacting. ("All under one roof are a recovering war vet, a pregnant teenage girl and her single mom, a cop with an unexpected love interest, a woman hiding a terrifying secret from her husband and a millennial lawyer who might find his grandfather is the best and worst roommate he ever could have hoped for.") The premise seems to be all-human-life is here, at least as found in contemporary America. (The setup where protagonists, having moved away from their birth family, find social support in the big city via their work colleagues or room-mates is of course nothing new.)

The cynical-sounding punningly-titled Americons seems to embrace two unrelated dramas, one a 2017 indie drama about the mid-2000s US property market crisis, and the other a comedy drama in the works for Sky One being scripted by English comedienne Catherine Tate, as a vehicle for herself and her Scots costar David Tennant, playing a Brit couple who move to the US with high hopes.
The low-budget indie production Walden: Life In The Woods, scripted by Adam Chanzit, has 3 modern-day protagonists (in 3 separate plot strands) trying to keep the dream alive in their own way, by touching base with the ideas of a classic American-dream text, Thoreau's Walden. (That's the 1854 text that opens its argument for living 'deliberately' with the setup line “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”)
 
A tv-series version of an American classic novel sequence, John Updike’s ‘Rabbit’ novels, which began with Rabbit, Run in 1960, is being developed by Andrew Davies, regarded as ‘Britain’s most successful literary adapter for television’ [House Of Cards etc]. Updike: ‘My subject is the American Protestant small-town middle class’, characterised by men whose high-school promise was never fulfilled. The 5-novel sequence ended in 2001, after winning awards like the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the National Book Award for Fiction. Since the original May 2018 announcement, the 81-year-old Davies said he was struggling to convince his 20-something female script editor the project was not simply endorsing the way men behaved then – the matter of “how, in the era of #MeToo, TV and film-makers should depict behaviour that is no longer considered acceptable.”

Above: A still from the earlier film version of Rabbit, Run, announced in 1963 and released in 1970; it was adapted by its producer Howard B. Kreitsek, and re-edited by the studio.

 

Finally, Steven Spielberg is remaking West Side Story, once described as "the souring of the American Dream wedded to Romeo and Juliet." The new adaptation is by playwright Tony Kushner [his 1993 Angels In America: A Gay Fantasia On National Themes won the Pulitzer Prize], who previously worked with Spielberg on Munich and Lincoln.

 [c] Storylines In Review 2018
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