So How’s the 2016 Fall TV Schedule Shaping Up, Mrs. Lincoln?

A couple in love? Or are they holding on to each other for dear life?

A couple in love? Or are they holding on to each other for dear life?

by Rogelio Charles

EDITOR’S NOTE: Rogelio Charles, the Luis Miguel of wordsmithing, watches some Fall premieres so you don’t have to. Take it away, Rogelio:

My goal last week was to watch the complete opening episodes of at least four broadcast network shows.

I didn’t make it.

Here’s how far I got…and why.

Big Bang Theory:

It wasn’t funny. If that is the trajectory , then they have jumped the shark. Weird, mean, and stupid. Or, in case I haven’t been clear: This show has been shooting the same episode over and over with new details plugged into it for years. If they jumped the shark this time it’s no big deal because they’d already skinned it.

NCIS:

With the addition of new guy Wilmer Whatever, NCIS has come up with yet another television Latino stereotype seemingly designed to antagonize us. (By which I mean the Latin-American Community).

Also, I found myself wondering if there were new cameramen? The lighting, the shot set-ups and even Gibbs’ house and basement looked different than in previous seasons even though physically the sets were the same.

I also have to say that I believe the decision to focus on the new agents instead of on McGee and Bishop does a disservice to two stalwart regulars. Last season’s finale implied that McGee will be filling DiNozzo’s shoes, but he’s still chained to the computer while we get newbies Quinn and Torres.

As for poor Ducky, he wasn’t merely watered down, his presence was totally unnecessary. And Palmer and Sciuto seemed far too perky under the circumstances. And – oh hell, man, the only thing I liked in this episode was the JAG scene. So disappointing to this long time fan. Looking like the last season for my favorite Mark Harmon-fest.

NCIS New Orleans:

Watched the opening scene – sort of. I glanced at it as I left the room. Which proves how much I was trying to stick to my vow. God knows that’s more than I’ve ever been able to do before.

Bull:

This one’s a Maybe for me. My reaction to the opening was that Bull reminded me of the old Tim Roth show Lie To Me. That isn’t meant as praise.

As for initial character development, the little scene between juror Beth Johnson, and psychologist, jury consultant, hero Jason Bull (our recently so beloved NCIS hero Tony DiNozzo) where she analyzes him and tells him to stop analyzing people just so that he can get them to do what he wants and then he says he can’t stop – well, talk about a shocker!  [/sarcasm]

But it is Michael Weatherly/Tony Dinozzo up there on the screen, so I’ll probably watch the show a few more times just to make sure I’m justified in hating it. As Roberta (you don’t know her but that’s your loss) said, “I hope Weatherly doesn’t keep dressing in blue.”

Cassandra Hennessey: Why I Stopped Watching Fear The Walking Dead

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Sinking ship?

by Cassandra Hennessey

Oh, it pains me to write this, it really does; but I have not watched Fear the Walking Dead since its return in August.

Yes! Me; The Champion of the show since Season One, Episode One! Me; The one who was giving people grief on Twitter to have patience and let the show develop before judging it as “boring” or “not having enough walkers to make it interesting”! To be honest, I haven’t had the interest or the unction to continue as an avid audience member.

I know, it’s shocking to me, too.

And for the passed few weeks, I’ve wondered why I’m not setting the carpet on fire on Sunday nights, running to turn on the TV and tune in.

The elusive “why” hit me just now, as I was mulling my malaise towards the series over my second cup of coffee.

It’s characterization– or the lack thereof– that has made me so antipathetic toward this show.

Fear the Walking Dead’s characters HAVE NO CHARACTER!

Wait. Hear me out.

I understand that the show has no source material to draw upon like its predecessor; but that’s no excuse. With as popular a genre as zombie fiction is, there’s more than enough material out there to siphon from.

In Season One, the story was gripping in its realism with what I like to call the “small touches of 21st Century Tropes”– the YouTube video of the walker attacking the EMS worker; police shootings of walkers causing civil unrest for being mistaken instances of “excessive force”; missing children posters gradually appearing near the playground at the onset of the outbreak. These drew the viewer into the story with that sense of “What If?” realistic circumstances…

…And then they got to the boat. Once they got the cast onto the Abigail, I believe it was all bets off.

What could have really played as a “Twelve Angry Men” dramatic scenario with a ragtag group of perfect strangers in the confines of a vessel out to sea surrounded by unknown threats fizzled. I believe there could have been more tension on board– especially between Strand, Maddie and Salazar, who have the Type A personality traits of the cast.

This takes me back to my original thought about how characterization has been handled on both The Walking Dead and Fear the Walking Dead. Let’s examine the subtle and not-so-subtle nuances, shall we?

On The Walking Dead, we know Michonne is a badass with an eclectic appreciation for the arts. Remember the multi colored cat statue she just had to go back for, or the house where she removed the tarps from the hanging paintings, to peruse the artwork? We know she has a silly side and a penchant for Crazy Cheese.

Or how about Andrea’s  moral dilemma of taking the mermaid necklace from the mall to give to her sister, Amy? We found out three things in that scene very subtly; A) Andrea was tentative about taking the necklace without paying for it B) Rick realizing that on any other day, it would be considered larceny to simply take the necklace, but now in the Zombie Apocalypse, all societal norms have been cast aside and condoned Andrea’s taking it for her sister; and C) Andrea has a sister who really, really likes– and at one time collected– all things mermaid-related.

Or how about Carl? Growing up in the Zombie Apocalypse must suck. This kid has had to learn to shoot efficiently to survive while still being a kid enough to enjoy chocolate pudding and read comic books.

We could go on to discuss at great length Daryl’s relationship with his brother Merle, his dysfunctional childhood, and finding a sense of family in Rick’s group.

These nuances, these sprinklings of humanity are what Fear the Walking Dead sorely lacks.

We do know a few things; Daniel Salazar has a dark, sordid past. So does Strand. And that Travis is a pretty good mechanic in a pinch.

But do we care about these characters? About what happens to them? No, not really.

It’s disappointing, because I really was intrigued by Nick in Season One. I was like, “Wow, what an interesting angle; a junkie in the Zombie Apocalypse. Someone who’s wily and streetwise, manipulative and self-destructive. It’ll be interesting to see how he redeems himself and others during this ultimate test of endurance and struggle to survive…”

…And then, it seemed the writers simply FORGOT that Nick was a junkie. Gone were the withdrawals, the trawling for a fix. Not only that, but it seems that lately, they’ve tried to morph him more into Murphy from Z Nation. They’ve made him into the Walker King.

And can we talk about Maddie? You know what– never mind. Maddie spent most of Season Two berating Strand about what to do and where to go with HIS OWN BOAT after he was gracious enough to let her and her family come along to escape L.A.

So, there’s a two-fold problem here– not enough characterization and not enough likability. I know I wouldn’t want to be trapped anywhere with any one of these characters. Okay, maybe Travis. But that is it. I think that’s because Cliff Curtis is doing an incredible job portraying the Every Man character the best he can despite the material he’s been given and well, Travis for some odd reason reminds me of Chief Brody from Jaws. Just saying. He’s got a “Roy Scheider circa 1975” vibe going.

The other day when discussing the show, I couldn’t remember Ophelia’s name. I literally blanked on it. I’ve never done that with The Walking Dead. Even with minor characters.

And therein lies the problem. That’s HUGE. Not to remember a name of a character that has been there since Season One.

I remember Carol’s husband’s name. Ed was a piece of trash. Shane pummeled said piece-of-trash how many seasons ago? And how many episodes was Ed in?

That’s what I’m saying, folks. Characterization. Believe-ability. In Ed’s case it wasn’t likability– because he was a wife-beating, belligerent scumbag– but it was the sympathy for Carol and Sophie and giving the nod to Shane meting out an appropriate punishment that made him memorable.

If you’re wondering why I haven’t touched on the metamorphosis of Carol as a character– THAT is for an entirely different article. Actually, I would write about that in an entire chapter of a book!

As viewers, we were told that we were going to witness how a “21st Century Family Unit” was going to weather the storm and survive the Zombie Apocalypse.

But, by the Season Two mid-season finale, the family had been split up– Madison and Alicia escaped with Strand, Travis decides to stay behind with a gone-off-the-deep-end Chris, and Nick– who ventured off on a solo adventure in the wilds of Mexico, covered in entrails, masquerading as King of the Walkers …

That was the mid-season finale. And frankly, I wasn’t intrigued enough to watch what happened next upon its return. It wasn’t as gut-wrenching or emotional to provoke a “OMG, I can’t wait to see what happens next!” reaction. In fact, after Daniel Salazar’s apparent fiery demise, it was almost anti-climatic.

Now, I’m not going to merely bash the show without offering some thoughts of how to resolve this glaring problem with the writing, so here it is: MAKE US CARE ABOUT THESE CHARACTERS. Let us be able to identify with them more. You don’t have to show us the skeletons in their closets; just let us in on what makes them tick.

So far, they haven’t really had to struggle for food or water. Hell, they’ve been on a YACHT for a whole season. Alicia is a privileged, spoiled brat who appears freshly styled and caked with cosmetics; Chris is an emo-turned-psychopath. Madison is a bossy shrew. And Ophelia is underused and uninteresting. Have I missed anything?

Evidently not, because its viewership has been steadily on the decline since its return from Mid-Season Break. I’m not the only one who has opted out. Fear the Walking Dead has gone from premiering with 7.61 million viewers in 2015 to only 2.99 million viewers (September 4th, 2016’s episode). They’ve got to step up their game. The numbers should be a startling eye-opener to AMC that something is very wrong.

Some have speculated that it’s because there is no definitive “villain” on the show, but I don’t think that is necessarily the case. The problem goes much deeper than the introduction of a “discount Governor” or “Dime Store Neagan” could resolve. Again, if we don’t care about these characters, we won’t root for them as they struggle against whatever or whoever the obstacle is.

I’m not saying that we should know what Alicia’s favorite color is (though, in a purely psychological character-study sense, it might have embellished in the scene when they were rummaging through the luggage from the doomed Flight 462 to show some preference for color or style). It would have added to the “teenager” aspect of her character and maybe sparked some telling dialog between her and her estranged brother, Nick.

We see that Maddie’s a heavy drinker. Have her mention what her favorite beverage of choice is. Maybe mention that she used to raid her dad’s liquor when she was Alicia’s age. We get the feeling of her being unconventional and on the cusp of being inducted into the Hall of Badassery, but we’ve got no backstory to base our intuitions upon.

We’re fast approaching the conclusion of Season Two and have not gotten to truly acquaint the main characters to appreciate their personal plights.

I’m not going to be crass enough to suggest that there needs to be a change of command at the helm of this ship, but perhaps AMC would do best to find another showrunner who may correct the course and steer this vessel into better waters.

That being said, AMC has greenlit the show for Season 3 to air in April of 2017.

If you’re a fan of the show, what’s your take? How do you feel the show could be improved? Do you feel there’s a need for improvement at all? I’d love to know your thoughts!


Cassandra Hennessey is a TVWriter™ Contributing Writer. You can learn more about her HERE

Doug Snauffer sees “Major Crimes”

TVWriter™’s and Larry Brody’s Facebook friends have the best posts on their timelines. Take this one, from yesterday:

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by Doug Snauffer

I didn’t even know MAJOR CRIMES was still on the air. Not that I really care for it anymore anyways.

I do enjoy seeing G.W. Bailey alive and well and employed. But what’s with that kid that Mary McDonnell adopted who’s always hanging out around the office? He’s always there around all those violent criminals, listening in on interrogations, and commenting on everything.

I’m not sure if that would actually be allowed in real life, not that real life has anything to do with TV shows. But really, what kind of mother is McDonnell’s character to allow that?

I wish they would write him out of the show, even though I don’t really watch it anymore.


Reprinted with permission from the writer. TVWriter™ knows Doug Snauffer from Facebook. Now if we could get him to do some writing just for us….

And You Think Your Family Has Problems?

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Lew Ritter Reviews “Bloodline” Season Two
by Lew Ritter

Ah, to be a member of the Rayburn clan. They are rich and influential in their community. The family owns a popular bed and breakfast Inn in the sunniest, most romantic part of Jimmy Buffett’s Margaritaville, aka the Florida Keys. At one point, they were going to name a local landmark after the family. Yet like many families, the bright surface image rarely reflects the murky problems laying beneath the calm surface.

This spring saw the release of the second season of Netflix’s popular series Bloodline. It is the Family Noir drama created by Todd and Glenn Kessler and Daniel Zelman. They were the producers of the wonderful series Damages. Season One dealt with the arrival and dramatic departure of one of the most troubled member of the Rayburn clan.

The sudden arrival of Danny, the older brother and “black sheep” of the family, during the celebration of fifty years of the Inn signaled trouble in Paradise. His troubled past and engagement in low level drug dealing was a blight on the family’s reputation. He had become an outcast because he had caused the tragic drowning death of one of the younger siblings. Danny played with working class gusto by Ben Mendelson was sympathetic despite his criminal past.

Much of the drama of Season One revolved around the family’s attempt to deal with their past and attempts to have him leave. Despite attempts at rehabilitation, much like the vaunted Al Pacino in Godfather III, Danny’s troubled past had drawn him back into low level drug dealing. At the season finale, Brother John lured him to an empty stretch of beach and killed him.

Danny’s demise should have been the tragic, but satisfying end to the drama of the Rayburns. However, it was merely the prelude to even more serious unraveling of the family during Season Two. It has provided more emotional character arcs and plot driven cliff hangers than the average series provides in five seasons.

The first dilemma the family faces in the second season is the sudden appearance of Nolan. He is the troubled and unexpected son of Danny. He shows up unexpectedly after father’s demise. Nolan is sort of the sullen boy who appears to be nothing but trouble. In an early episode, Nolan sneaks into John’s bedroom and starts stealing some possessions. Interestingly, Nolan’s character arc moves from menacing kid to becoming more sympathetic as the series unfolds. At the end, he appears to have become part of the Rayburn clan and confident of Sally, the mother of the Rayburn clan.

John, the younger brother played by Kyle Chandler, appeared in the first season as the “Good Brother.” He was sensible and grounded, in essence, the rock of the dysfunctional family. He seemed to be on the fast track to becoming sheriff of the county.

In Season Two, he seemed to have lost his way. His attempts to cover up the family’s involvement in Danny’s death constantly unravel. His dark side emerged, as he fails to cover the tracks of the family’s involvement in Danny’s demise. At first, he attempted to pin the death on a local drug dealer.

His former partner Marco and the Sheriff Aquirre, managed to untangle the elements of Danny’s demise. The airtight story kept getting punctured. In the end, Diana, John’s wife discovers the truth about Danny’s death in some of the finest dramatic scenes of the second series. This sends John spiraling down further down his path to destruction.

Meg, the high flying lawyer, became more of a spectator in the events. Increasingly desperate as her life falls apart, she attempts to manage John’s campaign for sheriff and fend off the dangerous Ozzy, (John Leguizamo) a sleazebag who attempts to use his knowledge of Danny’s past to blackmail the family.

In Season One, Kevin, The younger brother, seemed to have a minor role in the series. In Season two, his role increased, as he struggled to save his failing boat business, quit drinking and faced fatherhood. He proved to be the weak link in the family’s attempt to cover their tracks. Driven by doubts and his own weakness, his actions set up the shattering climax and the tragedy for an upcoming Season Three.

PROS:

The entire cast was terrific. The show‘s characters were believable and the plot twists startling. It seemed the producer’s took a special delight in surprising the viewers with some unexpected turns of events. Kyle Chandler, Linda Cardinelli and Norbert Leo Butz ( John, Meg and Kevin) are fully dimensional and tragic characters. Jacinda Barrett brought surprising energy to her role as John’s wife, as she discovered the truth about the demise of Danny.

CONS:

If you like fast paced action series, Bloodline is not for you. There are no car chases or fights to the death. Rather, it tended to be slow paced, moody and concentrated on revealing the tension and plot twists between its characters. It is shot in the sunny Florida Keys, but has many shots of the dark underside of Paradise.

CONCLUSION:

Bloodline is an outstanding example of Family Noir. It follows a series of plot twists and shocking revelations in the family saga. It is a wonderful show to choose if you want to enjoy binge watching a gripping family drama. They reflects more of a day to day reality of family dynamics than all of the episodes of ‘Dallas combined.

Many viewers point to Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones or even The Sopranos as the ground breaking series in the new golden age of television In many ways, this show is underrated. It provided riveting character, amazing plot twists and revelations and suspense. It showed how limited multi –part series can create vibrant, characters who draw you in every week.

Each of the actors in the cast was first rate. John Leguizamo provides some comedic relief as the evil opportunist Ozzy. Owen Teague was the spitting image of Danny and played an outstanding role as Nolan. One of the less heralded roles was David Zayas as Sheriff Aquirre. Despite being a secondary character, he oozed menace in every scene.

In some ways, the show was weakened by the death of Danny, the series most compelling character. His character was the dramatic center of the first series. Ben Mendelson has become a much sought after actor as a result of his role in the show. The producers wisely kept him on despite his character’s death. Danny would appear in flashback sequences or in dream sequences where Danny would be debating family events with John. It proves that even when dead, you couldn’t keep a good character down.


Lew Ritter is a frequent contributor to TVWriter™. An aspiring TV and film writer, he was a recent Second Rounder in the Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition.

munchman sees BARELY FAMOUS

And even though it’s funny in that dry, unfunny way all new sitcoms are funny, I’m disappointed.

Can’t help but wonder why in this day and age something called BARELY FAMOUS isn’t, you know, a little more bare…?

What’s the matter, VH1? Never heard of truth in advertising?

Sheesh!

(Hey, it’s Sunday and I’m stuck working. Cut a guy some slack, OK?)

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munchman

 

Diana Vacc sees “All the Way”

by Diana Vaccarelli

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*If you haven’t viewed this film yet be warned. This review may contain spoilers!*

With the U.S. Presidential election turning into a bad reality show I decided to take the time to watch the film All the Way. Produced by HBO, this film follows President Johnson after the assassination of Kennedy and the 1964 civil rights bill.  It is great to be reminded of how far our country has come. Not to be too political by any means.

THE GOOD:

  • The performances of both Bryan Cranston as Lyndon Johnson and Anthony Mackie as Martin Luther King Jr. are the best to date in their careers.  They both bring depth and emotion to these historical figures from our past.  I truly felt that I was watching these men that I had learned about in history class.
  • The writing by Robert Schenkkan is brilliant and brings a true life event to the screen that makes you feel as though you are in the room negotiating this legendary policy. Not only is it a serious film, but the writing also brings some humor to break up the drama. For instance, there is a scene where the press is interviewing Johnson and he is playing with his dog, the way any of us would. I found this to be a hilarious way to show us the humanity of the man. (Even though back when this actually happened, the press vilified Johnson as an animal abuser for “pulling” the pooch’s ears.)
  • Jay Roach, the director of this film and others such as Game Change and Recount, presents the subject matter of politics and the civil rights movement with great care and consideration.  His work does more than merely do this script justice as he delivers a film that everyone will enjoy from start to finish even in an upsetting election year.

THE BAD:

  • There is nothing bad about this film.  I highly recommend it.  Go to on-demand and order through HBO and be inspired, as I was, by what you see.

Happy Summer Movie Season!


Diana Vaccarelli is the TVWriter™ Critic-at-Large and, in case you haven’t noticed, a HUGE Outlander fan. Learn more about her HERE

Houdini and Doyle – The Victorian Odd Couple

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That’s “Doyle” on the left and “Houdini” on the right for those not up to snuff on 19th Century superstars

by Lew Ritter

The modern detective procedural show features a group of suave actors playing Detectives. They solve crimes while driving around in hot sports cars, using the latest technology and keep the world safe from the bad guys. Very traditional and often very predictable.

Houdini and Doyle is an offbeat period piece procedural that takes place in Victorian England, circa the early Twentieth Century. Its main characters are Harry Houdini, the famed illusionist, and Arthur Conan Doyle, the creator of Sherlock Holmes. The two men were real life friends, who unite to fight unexplained supernatural phenomenon. It is not inconceivable that they would unite for such purposes. It is an offbeat and well executed concept.

In its first season, beginning in the spring of this year, each episode dealt with some impossible crime that appears to be supernatural in nature. Vampires, aliens, unexplained deaths etc. The trio uncover logical reasons for the crime at the end of each episode. Some critics have labeled the show, The “Victorian X-Files. That is fair description because it deals with supernatural crimes in Victorian England. It sounded like an even better idea especially since Fox’s other hit supernatural show Sleepy Hollow ran out of steam in its third season.

Shows rise or fall on the likeability and charisma of its stars. In Houdini & Doyle, the actors are uniformly excellent and well cast. Each of the cast members are relatively unknown in America , but they add a strong presence to their respective roles.

Michael Weston is appropriately unkempt and over the top as the famed illusionist Harry Houdini. He is quirky in manner and eye’s full of mischief. Even when his stock in trade was to pull off incredible illusions that appeared unearthly or even magical. On the show, he is often portrayed as the skeptical debunker of the supernatural.

Stephen Mangan is appropriately dapper as the buttoned down Arthur Conan Doyle. In real life, Doyle was a real life aficionado of the supernatural. As a real life medical doctor, he also brought knowledge of early twentieth century medicine to solve crimes.

Completing the trio is Rebecca Liddiard as Detective Adelaide Stratton, the first female police detective from Scotland Yard. It seems improbable back in the late 19th century that Scotland Yard would have allowed a woman to be a detective. However, for the purpose of the show’s premise, it works very well.

Liddiard presents the perfect foil and rational center for the Houdini and Doyle crime fighting team. Her personal story became the backstory for the series. Week by week, we learn more and more about her past. Stratton discovers that her first husband apparently died or committed suicide. This backstory played out for most of the remaining episodes of Season One. Eventually we learn that the husband was not the victim of an untimely death. Her husband appears first to be an undercover agent in a radical group, and then revealed to be the would be assassin of President McKinley.

Houdini appears to be infatuated by the lovely Stratton, and often a highlight of the show is the banter between the two characters about kindling some sort of romantic relationship. Each of the characters have interesting backstories. Houdini is at the height of his fame as an illusionist and seems to be plagued by death of mother. Doyle is grief stricken that his beloved wife is deep in a coma. He suffers writers block and cannot bring himself to write more Sherlock Holmes stories.

In the season finale, Houdini comes to grip with the death of his mother. Doyle breaks free of his writers block and began writing Hounds of the Baskervilles.

The show does take some liberties with the era. As mentioned, Stratton was an unlikely detective in that era. In another episode, a famed Faith Healer of the era was played by a black actor. Racism would still be a potent factor in Victorian England. However it’s just a light TV show and an indication of how far Hollywood has come in terms of diversity on television. The historical inaccuracies such as these are all over the place. However, they can be forgiven because it is enjoyable escapist entertainment with a supernatural twist.

Several Outstanding episodes:

After a terrifying encounter with otherworldly beings, a man awakes in a field claiming that the aliens have abducted his wife. Doyle and Houdini discover that the “aliens” are really a group of cast off East Europeans stuck at the bottom of a mine for over a dozen years. Lacking exposure to the sun, they appeared to be almost alien in their appearance.

When several people are scared to death, clues lead the team to the notorious Bedlam Mental Hospital. The episode deals with Doyle as an apparent captive of the mental hospital. Later, it is revealed that the abduction is all in the mind of Doyle as he wrestles with issues from his past dealing with his father.

Several other episodes incorporate real life characters from the era. They include Thomas Edison inventing a Necrophone to communicate with the dead. In another episode, a housemaid of Bram Stoker’ is found with a stake through her heart in Vampire style. Stoker was the creator of Dracula.

The season finale jammed two episodes together. The mystery of the show was exploring the mysterious deaths of some members of a mining town. This was resolved about halfway through the show, so that it could wrap up Adelaide Stratton’s backstory.

Conclusion:

In the U.S., the show was well scheduled on Monday nights schedule following the spell binding Batman origins show Gotham. It was well written and moved at a fast pace. Its only crime was that it only lasted for a brief ten episodes. The era has many unexplored characters and situations worth exploring. It was a fun show and a nice change of pace that deserved to be renewed for a second season. Unfortunately, even Houdini’s skill as an escape artist couldn’t help Houdini and Doyle escape cancellation.


Lew Ritter is a frequent contributor to TVWriter™. An aspiring TV and film writer, he was a recent Second Rounder in the Austin Film Festival Screenplay Competition