It’s Monday so it must be time for another Roger review. Today he jumps in his time machine and tackles a screenplay from the past, which, ironically, is set in the future. Bringing it full circle, I’m writing this from the present. But speaking of the future, the rest of the week should be fun as I plan to review that script with a “genius” label on the final 20 pages, a script I thought would’ve been a thousand times better than Bel Ami for Scriptshadow’s favorite son, R_Patz, and a script for a prominent film playing at The Toronto Film Festival. For now, here’s Roger…

Genre: Post-apocalyptic action-adventure.
Premise: A female courier in a plague-ridden future has to take a cure across state lines.
About: This script became notable as it sold right after the infamous 1988 Writer’s Guild strike (for $500,000 to Columbia) when studios were starved for product. Many years later it was considered one of the best unproduced screenplays in town. Heavyweights at the time Cher, and then Sharon Stone, were attached. It’s apparently swamped in producer fees and Pascal has repeatedly and adamantly refused to allow it to leave Sony in turnaround.
Writer: John Raffo. Screenwriter of “The Relic” and “Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story”.

Eden Sinclair is the female side to the Snake Plissken and Mad Max post-apocalyptic action hero coin. But before Eden Sinclair and Neil Marshall’s “Doomsday”, there was Mary and John Raffo’s “PINCUSHION”.

America. The post-apocalyptic future. The remaining inhabitants of New York City, St. Louis and Chicago have lost the battle against “DNV 47X toxemia”.

DNV 47X toxemia is a stronger, evolved, more dangerous strain of the plague that has driven survivors to live in fortified, sanitized stalags. The ruins of Americana modified into clandestine bomb shelters, makeshift underground railroad-like stations of the post-cataclysm.

Dust-bowl wanderers try to survive in a world that’s much, much worse than any mere debilitating Depression or recession. Ordinary people are forced to play the role of brigand, of killer, of victim.

America’s highways and bi-ways have become killing grounds. A simple trip from Point A to Point B becomes a trial in a gladiatorial arena. Mutants and dwarves and assorted freaks patrol the desolate roads by gunpoint, by the razor-sharp tips of arrowheads.

It’s a dog-eat-dog-world, and if you’re brave enough to venture onto the charnel tracks you better have a fast car, your favorite shotgun, and a trusted friend to watch your back when shit gets rough.

A weapon of last resort is probably not a bad idea either, because when you’re forced off the road and the people attempting to jack you take your boomstick away, that last trick up your sleeve is gonna be the only thing between you…and life and death.

And try not to stay out of your car for too long, otherwise you might get burned.

Radiation exposure.

It’s a bitch.

But The Cross is worse. Much worse. Those shitbirds that were on the road earlier, who set up an ambush to steal your vaccine? The ones you were scared of? They’re nothing. Even they run from The Cross. And if you’re smart, you will too. Because The Cross? They’re the masters of the road, and you best oblige and hide.

Because there’s a war a-brewing between The Carriers and The Cross. And The Cross is gonna do everything and anything to come out on top.

So who’s this Mary chick?

Mary’s a plague carrier. Might as well be immune. She’s alive and kickin’ it. Trying to eke out a living in a world that has little life.

Mary’s a courier.

You need to move some alcohol, some heroine, some vaccine, some toothpaste, some explosives but you’re too yellow and weak-kneed to brave the roads yourself? Mary’s the gal you want. She gets shit done, son.

Give that precious little package of yours to Mary, and she’ll make sure it gets to its destination. Her vehicle of choice? An antique station wagon she’s painted a dull black and equipped with large off-roadin’ tires. She’s even covered the rear with sheet metal and rivets. Armor like this is kinda required should The Cross ride up and stitch a line of machine-gun fire into your backside.

All this for a price of course.

Besides Tommy, her eye-patch-wearing navigator, compadre, and mentor, the only thing that matters to Mary is the dollar-sign payday that’s waiting for her at the end of each journey. Mary’s destination is currency.

Now, for Mare, there’s nothing she won’t carry. But she’s gotta play the odds, and there are places she won’t go. Only problem is, Mare’s hard up. And when a job she would normally tell to fuck off offers a solution to her financial woes, she’s forced to take it.

What’s the job?

She has 72 hours to deliver some precious cargo to Salt Late City. Big whoop, right? Wrong. To get there, Mare has to cross the Nevada Border. And no one crosses the Nevada Border except for The Cross. Last courier that tried the Border got himself killed, and since then, everyone’s developed the wisdom to stay away.

Why only 72 hours? What’s the precious cargo?

It’s a box. It’s about four feet high, two feet wide, three deep. Looks like an ordinary shipping trunk. Except this trunk is covered with valves, pipes, and scuba-like tanks.

And inside of the box is a cure for DNV 47X.

The storage life on the tank is limited, and the people waiting for the delivery can only safely hold out for 3 days.

Who’s hunting these people?

He’s known as Number One. Captain Doctor Alwin Spoor. That’s right. You guessed it. The Cross? This is the organization formerly known as The RED Cross. And they have devolved into an authoritarian terror squad.

The Cross shut down the borders, sealed off the city and state lines to non-Cross personnel. To not only stop the spread of disease, but to cut off the free market and freeze out all the other medical groups. They starved out everyone who refused to live under the Cross’ iron fist.

Number One is after Charles Shepard, a molecular biologist, a geneticist who has developed the cure to stop the Ultraplague. Shepard’s the guy who has decided to go rogue, to cross to the other side and petition the help of the plague carries and its couriers to get his panacea to the right people.

Spoor, in true totalitarian-gestapo-commandant fashion, kinda likes the world the way it is. He enjoys being at the top of the post-apocalyptic food-chain, and he doesn’t want this to change. At all. A cure would break the manacles The Cross has cuffed society in. This cannot happen. Because well…Number One would no longer be…Number One.

What’s the cure?

It’s Pincushion. Pincushion is the child inside of the box. He’s a test-tube baby. Genetically engineered. His blood is the serum, the antidote to the plague and its manifest destruction westward.

So this story has an interesting world, an intriguing protagonist, and a cool set-up. Does it work?

It has four issues that keep it from working:

1.) Mary’s arc is underdeveloped. For her journey to have emotional resonance, this story does warrant an elegant character arc. It’s a sinner-to-saint character journey that should connect, but doesn’t. If this is connect-the-dots, we’ve got the dot at the start of the journey and the dot at the end, but we’re missing all the other dots in-between.

This is all dependent on her interaction and tortured feelings for Pincushion, and I feel like there’s not a lot of time for these two to bond. And this is a minor note, but the kid is pretty freakin’ weird. I mean, I’m not blaming him. He’s engineered after all. But he has this weird, unpleasant alien quality to him. If he were CGI he’d be afflicted with Uncanny Valley syndrome.

I think I could live with this if Mary wasn’t so much of a blank slate. Something about her seems void. One interesting character trait is that she’s illiterate. But other than being a pretty bad-ass driver and resourceful shooter, she’s kind of one-note. Two dimensional. Stilted.

There’s not much meat to these spindly, bad-ass heroine bones.

2.) There’s a jarring tangent after the mid-point where our protagonist is M.I.A. The floor is given to the villain. And it’s boring.

For the first half of the script, Mary shares a lot of the decision making with her first-mate, Tommy. And since he has more experience than her, you get the sense that she’s more of the apprentice to his mentor. And you know, we get a really good mid-point where she is forced to take control. Kinda like Ripley in Cameron’s “Aliens”, but the opportunity is wasted here.

Mary is injured and taken in by this convent/coven of crazy post-apocalyptic warrior nuns, and she’s unconscious for a lot of the time. And these are such weird, bizarre characters you become more interested in them than Mary.

And I think this is a bad decision, because this should be about Mary.

Then we get scenes of Spoor monologuing and providing us with exposition that we really don’t need. Yes, we know the kid is the cure. We don’t need a lab scene where Spoor fondles the child’s flesh and terrorizes the nuns with verbose threats. Unnecessary exposition is death. There’s absolutely no need for it. Slows the story to a halt.

3.) It lacks rising action. If your most suspenseful action sequence is in the first 10 pages of the script, man do you have problems. And it’s a great 10 pages! But every single action sequence in this is a chase, for the most part. And every single chase is Mary trying to escape Number One’s massive Red Cross Truck that’s armed with machine rifles and an artillery battery. For an action movie, the lack of rising action is death to your movie.

In a movie like this, what we’re basically waiting for is the big fuckin’ Road Warrior sequence that’s going to blow the top of our skulls off. But no, we’re treated to something we saw in Act 1 and Act 2. There’s no incremental build-up to the action sequences. I mean, actions sequences are basically mini-movies and mini-acts in themselves. Each one should be bigger and better than the last, right? Or at least more interesting with higher stakes than the sequence that came before it.

Pace yourself and –

Up the stakes, up the stakes, up the stakes.

4.) It does not earn its ending. The ending is great. With this one scene, we get everything that this story is about. It has an emotional wallop to it that I kind of adore. It’s harsh, poignant. Imagine being on a clean-up crew after someone is martyred. And all of your co-workers are a hardened lot, just doing a job. Now imagine the type of dialogue that would be said as you clean the mess up. Maybe a quick blue-collar sentiment…but life goes on and you still got a job to do.

It’s sad, but great at the same time.

Except, because of the reasons above, the story does not earn this moment.

Now, I know Jeb Stuart rewrote this thing back in the day, and I’m really interested to see what he did with the story, because despite its similarities to “Mad Max”, “Escape from New York”, and “Doomsday”, I still think the script can be fixed. And when it is, it has all the ingredients to be an awesome flick.

Hell, I’d be the first in line at the theater.

A final aside, this script reminded me a bit of Kurt Wimmer’s “Ultraviolet”. Which begs the question, I wonder how many working filmmakers today have read this script and are influenced by it?

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I Learned: Mid-points. Read a David Mamet interview and I’ll bet he’ll say something like, “Anyone can write a 1st Act.” Inferring that Act 2 is the true challenge. Having a great mid-point can really glue a story together. Especially when it is seamless. And most great mid-points are reversals of some kind. When I read scripts, I’m always really curious to see what the mid-point is going to be. It’s like a game for me. And this script has a great one. It’s emotional. It shakes the story to its core. So much so that you can’t wait to see what happens next. Even if you can predict what the mid-point is going to be, the good ones always seem to be surprising. Something that makes you say, “I can’t believe they really went there! I didn’t want it to happen, but I’m glad it did because it makes the story better.” It’s narrative harmony.

Genre: Thriller
Premise: A U.S. Marshall must go to a maximum security psychiatric ward located on an island to find a missing patient.
About: They’re baaaaaaaaaaaack. Moviemaking BFFs Martin Scorsese and Leonardo DiCaprio are back at it again with this surprisingly conventional thriller. In addition to DiCaprio, the film also stars one of my favorite actors, Mark Ruffalo, as well as heavyweight Ben Kingsley and the delightfully delicate Michelle Williams. Writer Kalogridis has emerged as one of the top writers in Hollywood, having worked on a ton of big films such as X-Men, Tomb Raider, Wonder Woman, and two films yet to be made by James Cameron. Kalogridis sold her first spec to Warner Brothers (about Joan of Arc) all the way back when she was at UCLA film school. But for those of you who think it’s easy street after selling your first spec, Laeta disappeared off the map for many years and had to pay her dues before she was finally able to get back in the game.
Writer: Laeta Kalogridis (adapted from the novel by Dennis Lehane)

Scorsese and DiCaprio are reportedly buying a house together in Southern France

It was recently reported that Shutter Island was being pushed back to February. This was a shocking development for a few reasons. First, this film (or the film’s pieces at least) was on a lot of peoples’ Oscar radar. Second, outside of summer, December is the most profitable time to release a movie, especially if it’s good. And third, February is probably the least profitable month to release a film. To give you some perspective, last February’s big release was The Jonas Brothers in 3-D (by the way, these rumors floating around that I was there opening day are greatly exaggerated). Could the film actually be bad?

Well here’s the confusing part. Even if the film was terrible, it’s still extremely marketable. You have Scorsese. You have Leo. And you have a spooky intriguing concept. So why would you put this in the worst box office month of the year? The studio’s saying that they don’t have the money to promote it properly but everybody knows that’s bullshit. They have the money. Could it be that the suits are afraid the audience will go in with certain “award-worthy” expectations? And that this isn’t that type of film? Do they want to market it more traditionally? All of these questions peaked my curiosity, so I decided to take a look at the script. You can throw all the actors and production value you want at a flick. But you can’t protect a bad screenplay. It was time to find out what these suits were so afraid of.

Uh, can anybody say 13 Going On 30 2!

It’s 1954 when we meet Teddy Daniels. Teddy is a born fighter. The guy’s got danger in his eyes. He’s a U.S. Marshall. Except we’re catching him in his only vulnerable moment, on a boat, puking. The foggy wavy ride has set his stomach crawling faster than a five course Indian brunch. Teddy’s partner is CHUCK, always ready with a joke. This is the first time the two have worked together and it’s clear from the way Chuck treats Teddy, that Teddy’s something of a legend in the business. When you need something solved, Teddy solves it.

The two are being ferried over to Shutter Island, an island built specifically for the most insane of the insane. But Shutter Island is unique in that it’s a maximum security island. In case you didn’t know, there’s no other “maximum security” insane asylum in the U.S. The people on this island are that dangerous. Or at least that’s what we’re told.

After a brief look at the grounds, they meet Dr. Cawley, who informs them that a patient named Rachel Solando has gone missing. Rachel is so fucking crazy that she drowned her three children in the ocean, then dried them off and set them up in their chairs for dinner. Yeah, and you thought your ex-girlfriend was crazy. Anyway, Rachel has constructed a fictitious reality here at Shutter Island that allows her to believe she never came here in the first place. She thinks she’s still back at home, and the orderlies and doctors are post workers and milkmen. What she did to her children was so traumatic, the only way for her to go on was to create a world where it never happened.

Hmmm, I think I know where this is going.

So Teddy and Chuck start searching around, only to find that the patients’ and orderlies’ answers don’t exactly add up. Rachel somehow got out of her max-security cell and then snuck past not one or two, but three sets of guards without being seen. Dr. Cawley and his cohorts are clearly hiding something. And that’s when things really go off the lid. Turns out we don’t know Teddy as well as we thought we did. Teddy’s been doing research on Shutter Island for years now. It so happens that his wife was murdered in an arson fire at their old apartment building by the maintenance man, a lowlife named Laeddis. Laeddis was later sent here. Which means that finally, Teddy has a chance to confront him.

Chuck is skeptical. How did Teddy know that at some point in time he’d be asked to come to Shutter Island? It’s a question that doesn’t bother Teddy, but it’s the beginning of a series of clues that lead us to believe Teddy might not be all there. Or is it we’re only supposed to think that? Is Teddy insane? Or is he being set up? More investigating follows, which leads to more creepy patients, which leads to the same message being offered to Teddy over and over again: “Get off this island while you still can.”

Wow, looks like Teddy’s gotten himself into a TITANIC mess.

The cool thing about Shutter Island is you’re sitting there thinking, “Is Teddy crazy? Is he one of the inmates, imagining all this?” Normally you’d think yes and chalk it up to a generic thriller. But because this is Scorsese, who’s seen just about every iteration of every story ever told, you know he’s not going to make it that simple. You know there’s gotta be another answer. But then again, maybe Scorsese knows you know this, which is why he WILL do exactly what you expect. Or….don’t expect. Or wait a minute. What’s the question again? Basically, Scorsese and Kalogridis are fucking with our heads the same way the doctors and orderlies are fucking with Teddy’s.

In the end, I don’t think Shutter Island gives us anything new, but the way the story is told still feels original. One of the cool things about the screenplay is that it goes much deeper than “is or isn’t Teddy crazy?” 1954 was a huge transition time in the psychotherapy field. Back in those days, they’d use shock treatment and physical violence to treat the insane. But a new approach was gaining ground in the industry – that of medicated treatment. The government is dreaming of a future where people can be medicated right out of their pain and symptoms. “We’re on the verge of medicating the human experience right out of the human experience,” Dr. Cawley’s cohort says. One of the subplots is that Shutter Island is a secret testing ground for this new type of treatment. Teddy, who was there liberating one of the concentration camps back in World War 2, fears that Shutter Island is a concentration camp in itself. The experience affected him so much, he’ll do anything to make sure something like it never happens again. All this plays out very eerily as you don’t have to look far to realize that 50 years later, this medicated form of existence has become a staple of our society. My guess is that this extra element is what attracted Leo and Scorsese. There’s definitely some depth here.

I really dug Shutter Island. It kept me guessing all the way through and it had more twists and turns than I knew what to do with. This should be a fun flick. And my guess is it will move again to a more audience friendly month.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: If it’s possible, try and contain your thriller. By not giving your protagonist anywhere to go, you raise the stakes and the tension of your story. In Shutter Island, we knew Teddy had nowhere to run, and that extra “contained” element made everything scarier. The only thing worse than being caught in a terrifying situation, is being caught in a terrifying situation that you can’t run away from.

Genre: Dramedy
Premise: Semi-autobiographical look at a man who finds out he has cancer. Coping with his mortality, he decides to use humor in his struggle to cure cancer and keep his sanity intact.
About: Just last week, Seth Rogen announced this will be his next project. Mandate pictures and Seth himself will be producing (along with Evan Goldberg). James McAvoy is attached to play the lead. What might explain Rogen jumping from the cancer-themed “Funny People” to another movie that centers around the disease, is that Seth is friends with Will Reiser, the writer, and was there with him while he dealt with the disease (it may also explain why the friend’s character name is “Seth”). “I’m With Cancer” also finished 9th in voting on last year’s Black List with 24 votes.
Writer: Will Reiser

Today is sort of a monumental day at Scriptshadow because it’s the first review from someone completely outside the industry. This person has no aspirations whatsoever of being a part of the movie business.The extent of their involvement is going to see movies and that’s it. So what are they doing reviewing a script on Scriptshadow? Let me try and explain. My really good friend who I’ve known for fifteen years now, Carmen Rossi, has breast cancer. So when I decided to review “I’m With Cancer”, I thought it would be an interesting idea to get her perspective on it. I was a little reluctant about approaching her at first but as soon as I mentioned it, she was immediately game. I remember the day she told me the news and how sick and scared I felt. I told her she could write whatever she wanted. No restrictions. Just tell us what she thought . So, this is Carmen Rossi’s review of “I’m With Cancer.”

I have cancer.

I found out one week after my birthday. To say I went into shock upon hearing the news would be the understatement of the century. I’m not old. Cancer doesn’t run in my family. I’m a good person. When I took my life insurance health exam two years ago I was rated “Preferred Plus No Nicotine” which is, like, the healthiest you can be—essentially I was as healthy as a marathon runner. So yes, I totally went into shock when I heard the news. But once it finally sunk in, I realized that I could cry about it or I could laugh about it. I chose to laugh about it and continue to do so.

When I heard about “I’m With Cancer” I wanted to read it out of personal curiosity. I wanted to read what a comedy about cancer was all about. That, and I wanted to try out my new Kindle (which I love, btw).

Adam Schwartz is a normal, ordinary guy. He enjoys his job, loves his girlfriend and complains too much. Out of the blue, at age 25, Adam’s diagnosed with cancer. There’s nothing too distinctive about Adam. He could be anyone. Which is the whole point. What happens to Adam could truly happen to anyone. “I’m With Cancer” is semi-autobiographical, and Reiser draws upon his experience with a cancer diagnosis at a young age, and the battle he went through, to present the story. Following the rule of “write what you know,” Reiser perfectly captures the emotional aspects of the story—from the apprehension of telling people about the cancer, to the varied reactions the news elicits and how these affect the character.

“I’m With Cancer” takes us along on Adam’s physical and emotional journey to happiness and acceptance. We’re with Adam in the stark hospital room when he receives his diagnosis, we’re with him as he shares the news with family and friends. We’re with him through chemotherapy, relaxation therapy and laughter therapy. We’re with him as the drugs designed to kill the cancer cells also kill the healthy cells and his physical appearance deteriorates. We’re there as he receives more and more bad news, and plans his own funeral arrangements. And then we’re with him when he has an emotional catharysis and complete transformation.

Being diagnosed with cancer, particularly unexpectedly and at a young age, is the most traumatic event you can experience. As someone who’s experienced a fair number of traumatic events in her life, take my word on this. But one thing you learn is that while the cancer may reside only in *your* body, it affects everyone around you. A positive attitude and a good support system can get you through it. I have an amazing support system of family and friends. Adam has…well, Adam has a smothering mother, a stroke victim father, Seth, his pothead jokester of a best friend (who uses Adam’s condition to score chicks), and Rachel, Adam’s girlfriend of four months. While they all care about Adam, none of them are really able to handle all that comes along with a cancer diagnosis, and Adam forms new relationships with those that understand his situation more—specifically, his fellow chemo patients and his psychologist.

While the principal story is that of Adam’s transformation, we also see a transformation in Seth—in between his wisecracks, he’s a concerned friend terrified of what may happen—and in Rachel, who simply cannot handle Adam’s condition or his needs, and lets him down time and time again. While not a traditional laugh out loud comedy, “I’m With Cancer” approaches a serious disease with humor and light-heartedness. But to those who know people who have died from cancer, I fear the tone of the story may be off-putting and come across as flippant and disrespectful. It’s not, but cancer evokes a lot of emotion in people and personal experiences will most definitely play into one’s interpretation of this story.

Once Adam decides to go through chemotherapy to fight the cancer, he quits his job at the museum, and his co-workers throw a going-away party for him. Without question, the main and only topic of discussion among all the party attendees is Adam’s cancer. Through short snippets of conversation, we see the co-workers react to Adam’s health—from the guy who asks if he’s wearing a wig, to the woman who advocates natural healing and a diet of only green foods , to the woman crying in hysterics—each are portrayed in an honest and sincere way. (Responses to me ran this gambit and beyond, and just this morning I received an email from a friend praising asparagus is a miracle food to defeat cancer cells.)

It’s a funny scene. But it’s also a perfect example of what concerns me about this script. I find it hilarious because I’m a young person with cancer. Will someone who doesn’t have cancer find it funny? Will they feel uncomfortable laughing at it? What about someone whose mom died of cancer? Is cancer something that’s so sacred we can’t laugh about it? My grandparents would never say the word aloud, and if it was uttered, it was whispered as if saying it would bring it upon them. But that was then. Now, we have high-profile athletes and celebrities who fight their cancer battles in public. We have cancer walks and fundraisers in which survivors proudly stand tall and tell their stories.

But is it something people are comfortable seeing on the screen? There is humor in this movie. The character of Seth (to be played by Seth Rogen. It was hard to read the part and NOT imagine Seth Rogen playing the Seth character, in part because it reads like every role Seth Rogen has played) provides comic relief, as does Adam’s stereotypical Jewish mother. But is it enough to balance the scenes where Adam’s in the Chemotherapy room? Where you visibly see his health deteriorate until he’s a shadow of his former self? When he starts making his funeral preparations?

To help cope with the emotional aspects of his disease, Adam sees a psychologist. During their first meeting, the psychologist says: “The first thing I want you to do is to stop looking at cancer as a burden. Cancer has come into your life to show you that your emotional and physical bodies are out of balance. This is your chance to correct that.” Adam completely dismisses her advice. But as his ordeal continues, these words shape his life, and in the end, he ends up both emotionally and physically content, and in balance.

Reiser does a great job of telling Adam’s story in a realistic and accurate voice. The story progresses at a great pace, and I feel there is a good balance between the humorous scenes and the more tragic scenes. Reiser nails the details, like the doctor who speaks as though everyone has a medical degree and understands what a schwannoma neurofibrosarcomas is. He illustrates the paralyzing fear Adam has about Rachel with eerie accuracy—the cancer diagnosis is too much for Rachel to handle and they drift apart. Though it’s obvious she doesn’t love him and the relationship is over, Adams’s fear of being alone and the disbelief that he can ever find anyone to love him while he has cancer, keeps them together. And breaks my heart.

But Adam’s story ends as I know mine will—with the cancer gone and a life full of love, happiness and the things that really matter.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest

[x] worth the read

[ ] impressive

[ ] genius

Genre: Thriller
Premise: A man wakes up from a four day coma to realize his wife no longer knows who he is and his identity may have been erased.
About: Based on the 2003 novel “Out Of My Head” by French author Didier Van Cauwelaert, this Dark Castle Thriller went from the treadmill to the production mill when Liam Neeson signed on to play the lead. Jaume Collet-Serra (Orphan) is directing. Joel Silver and Leonard Goldberg are producing.
Writers: Oliver Butcher and Stephen Cornwell (revisions by Karl Gadjusek)
Details: 116 pages (dated 2.10.09)

I possess a very particular set of skills…

When I saw Liam Neeson sign on to Unknown White Male, I thought, “yes.” Taken may not have been the deepest pool, but it sure was fun to swim in. And Neeson fit into that role like a well-worn pair of speedos. What did I want to see after Taken? I wanted to see more Neeson kicking ass! I wanted to hear more Neeson talking into phones and telling people that if it’s money they wanted, he didn’t have any. But that he had developed a particular set of skills over the years, skills that have enabled him to find and kill bad men like them. I wanted him to give these men an opportunity to leave his daughter be. But if they didn’t, I wanted him to tell them that he would find them…and he would kill them. On title alone, “Unknown White Male” sounded like the kicking-ass cousin of Taken. Neeson wakes up from a coma and starts beating the shit out people! Right? Right?? At least, that’s how it played out in my head. Is that how it played out in reality?

Well, not exactly. Unknown White Male is more of a mystery than an action flick. Neeson certainly does a lot of running around. But not so much beating up people. Part of the problem is that his phone is broken. Obviously that means he can’t call people and tell them that he will find them and he will kill them. If he had that phone, I’m sure this would be a completely different movie.

Dr. Martin Harris and his wife, Liz, have just arrived in Germany for a bio-tech conference. We learn very little about the two other than that they’re tired and want to check into their hotel. For reasons unexplained, Martin hops into a cab to head back to the airport. In a case of wrong place, wrong time, the young driver, Gina, swerves to avoid an accident and ends up sending them into the river. Gina saves Martin, but runs away before the police arrive.

Four days later Martin wakes up from a coma in the hospital. He’s confused, disoriented, and he’s got a slight case of amnesia. All he cares about is finding his wife though. Against doctor’s orders, Martin hops out of bed and goes back to the hotel. But when he asks hotel security about his wife, about his room, he finds out that “Martin” has already been checked in. He’s supposedly already here. When Martin insists that’s impossible because *he* is Martin, he realizes that he has no way to actually prove it. His wallet was lost in the accident.

Lucky for Martin, a party happens to be going on in the hotel and wouldn’t you know it, there’s his wife! All dressed up right in the middle of it all. Smiling. Laughing.

Wait a minute. What the hell is his wife doing smiling at a party when he’s been missing for four days?? Martin charges into the party and grabs her. He’s here, he tells her. He was in an accident and got sent to the hospital but now he’s okay. Yet his wife just stares back at him, confused. She’s doesn’t seem to know Martin. And if that isn’t bad enough, a man steps up and takes Liz’s arm. The man’s name is…Martin (referred to in the script as Martin B) and he claims that Liz is *his* wife. What the fuck is going on here?? With a combination of anger, confusion, and hurt Martin insists, as the entire party watches, that he is indeed the real Martin and that this woman is his wife. Problem is when a bandaged unkempt man with no identification barges into a party and claims a woman who says she doesn’t even know him is his wife, it usually doesn’t go over well. That’s how security sees it anyway and sends Martin out on his ass.

Martin, alone and, more importantly, without a phone, attempts to go back to that night and figure out what happened. Part of the problem is that his amnesia is fragmenting his memories. He only remembers bits and pieces of the evening. After doing some research, he remembers he had a meeting set up with Nobel Prize winner and head speaker of the biotech conference, Professor Bressler. If he can get to that meeting and convince Professor Bressler he is who he says he is, maybe he can regain his identity and figure out what the hell is going on.

But like a lot of things in Unknown White Male (and like a lot of things should be in a good thriller/drama/mystery) shit don’t go according to plan. When Martin shows up, he finds that Martin B. is already there ahead of him. Martin approaches the problem a little differently this time around, realizing he can bring up e-mails and phone calls that only he and Bressler would know about – once and for all proving that he is the “real” Martin. But wouldn’t you know it, as soon as he speaks, Martin B is already a step ahead of him, feeding the professor Martin’s lines before they’re out of his mouth. Now Martin’s mind goes from “What the hell is happening here?” to “Am I going crazy?” I mean, how could this possibly be happening?

If that weren’t bad enough, a healthy dose of paranoia sets in when Martin starts noticing the same people over and over wherever he goes. Is he being followed? Are these men trying to dispose of him? With nowhere to go and his life in danger, Martin must find the driver that saved his life, Gina, and beg her to help him. As an illegal immigrant, she’s limited in what she can do, but she knows what it feels like to be alone, and offers Martin a helping hand.

But since this is a mystery, there’s really only one thing that matters, right? Is the reveal any good? Is all this craziness explained in a satisfying way? I have to say I was pleasantly surprised with the reveal. I did not see it coming. In fact, Unknown White Male is one of the few mysteries where I eventually just gave up trying to figure out the mystery. I honestly had no idea what the ending was going to be. So when the reveal turned out to not only be plausible, but sensible, I was quite impressed.

Unknown White Male is one of those screenplays that’s hard to critique. Because you’re so excited to get to the ending, you’re not as aware of the characters and the story. Looking back, there are definitely some questionable areas in the plot. For instance, if I were accused of not being me, I’d call every single person I’ve ever met in my life to vouch for me. It’s really hard to imagine that in this day and age, with all the technology and instantaneous communication methods we have, that you couldn’t prove you were you in a first world nation. Gadjusek makes a bit of a stab at this problem (The incident is taking place on Thanksgiving Day weekend, therefore nobody is answering their phone. – Yeah…right) but it’s not very convincing. Luckily, as I mentioned, once the story gets going and the pace picks up, you’re not thinking about plot holes.

I’m sure my knowledge of Neeson in the lead colored my opinion of Unknown White Male (if I haven’t made it clear, I love Liam Neeson) but this was a solid script regardless. Definitely worth the read.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: When you’re trying to pull off a high-concept mystery like this one, its’ important to ask what YOU would do in that situation. Don’t use movie logic to guide your character. Ask yourself: “I’m in Germany. My wife doesn’t recognize me. Nobody believes I’m me. What would I do?” Martin calls a couple numbers for the police and when he gets answering machines, he gives up on trying to make any connection back home. That seems a bit unrealistic. So always make sure to approach your character’s decisions with real world logic by putting yourself in their position. Not only will your movie feel more logical, but you’re bound to get some interesting ideas from the practice.

I thought I’d never live to see the day. Mark the date my friends. Monday, August 24th. Roger B. gives a negative review. It’s too bad the script wasn’t any good. I have to admit, however, Roger’s pretty entertaining when he’s negative.

Genre: Prophetic horror, Action
Premise: After a terrifying Biblical apocalypse descends upon the world, a group of strangers stranded in a remote truck-stop diner in the Southwest become humanity’s last line of defense when they discover the diner’s young waitress is pregnant with the messiah.
About: Paul Bettany, Dennis Quaid, and Tyrese will star. Scott Stewart, the director, learned effects from the master himself, George Lucas, up at ILM. He later founded his own acclaimed effects company The Orphanage. This will be his directorial debut.
Writers: Peter Schink, Scott Stewart

Now here’s a screenplay I decided to read after I saw the Red Band Comic-Con trailer. I’m a freak for trailers. It’s an art form unto itself, and I’ll watch the more sublime previews obsessively. I disappear into the loop like a borderline autistic child. I had actually opened up the screenplay a few weeks beforehand, and skimmed through the first few pages. It looked pretty good, but I decided to save the read for later. Then that trailer hit MySpace and I was glued to the monitor. In between twitterin’, txtin’, and facebookin’ how much I loved the trailer to friends, I gave the script a read.

I was crestfallen.

I closed the script and half-heartedly clicked on the trailer like a child who just realized that the scuffed action-figure he got so much joy out of is, in reality, just a piece of plastic. A broken, lifeless, limp toy.

I was duped.

What happened?

I was into the 1st Act. It’s a pretty good-setup. Then somewhere around page 35, or maybe page 40, I dunno…I started to sense that something was rotten in Denmark. Actually, something was rotten in Paradise Falls Gas’N’Grub. Then around page 60, I’m calling bullshit on the writers. My roommate wakes up and tells me to shut-the-fuck-up and who am I talking to?

Then bullshit turns to disbelief, disgust, and ultimately boredom. But what the hell, I’m around page 90, might as well see how it ends.

Yes, I had to force myself to finish. Not because I was tired, not because I needed to take a break, but because I had completely lost interest.

I was bored.

What’s the story?

There is no story. But I’ll tell you about the plot.

The Archangel Michael, the “One who is like God”, the field commander of the Army of God, that guy in the Bible who fought some demon called the Prince of Persia, falls to earth.


He lands in a rain-soaked alleyway, like he’s the fucking Terminator or something. Except you know, he’s not naked. Nope, he’s in full Kyle Reese-regalia. You know, like right after Reese raided that sporting goods store?

Except in this movie, Reese, I mean Michael, is already fully dressed. Presumably, a pair of combat boots and a trench-coat is the traditional attire of the Angelic Host.

Anyways, with the acumen of a Chinese contortionist, Michael cuts his wings off. With a knife.

Let me repeat that.

Michael, an angel, falls to earth, seemingly pissed. He’s angry about something. Emotional. Maybe not the best time to make life-changing decisions. I mean, in that state, even an angel might do something rash. An angel might even act like a hormonal, rebellious teenager who is having a hissy with their parents and starts making unwise decisions. You know, stuff that might have a negative effect down the road. Like say…CUTTING YOUR FUCKING WINGS OFF.

It seems like something an angel would need a teammate for, a spotter, but this guy is determined. And flexible. He cuts off his wings and flees into a sporting goods store. There he finds a first-aid kit, and somehow stitches these wounds closed. It’s impressive. On the LOST pilot, Jack, who is a surgeon, couldn’t even do this. He had to request the help of Kate, a civilian, to help stitch those hard-to-reach places. But whatever, Michael isn’t a Doctor. He’s an angel. And angels know all sorts of fancy stuff. Hell, if you put stock in the Book of Enoch, angels taught us humans all our knowledge and medical-know-how.

But apparently angels don’t need wings. They need guns. A whole shit-ton of them.

So Michael starts filling rifle bag after rifle bag with FEROCIOUS firepower. Whatever he’s preparing for is going to require lots of explosions and kill-shots. But shit, this store is locked. How is he gonna get out? Not quietly, that’s for damn sure…

BOOOOM! That’s how! The explosion cuts a cross-shaped exit out of the sporting goods store. Oh shit! This catches the attention of two on-duty black-and-whites. In fact, the fiery debris of Michael’s ostentatious exit rains down on their hood. But Michael doesn’t give a shit! Why? Because he moves so fast it’s like a blur, that’s why!

He quickly grabs a cop and tries to talk sense to them. It’s an urgent bit of business. Michael has a child to save! Which gives him the searing authority to be as capriciously brazen as he needs to be. But oh shit, son, that cop with the gun aimed at Michael starts to vibrate like a human dildo. Sodium lights start to hum and flicker. Something supernatural is happening!

Bones crack, and a hideous smile forms on the copper’s face. And then he says something that makes me think of Kiefer Sutherland in The Lost Boys: “What are you doing Michael? These weren’t your orders.” Except it’s not Kiefer. It’s never explained, but I’m pretty sure it’s The Big Guy Upstairs.


So how does Michael respond to this? He pretty much tells The Almighty to fuck off. “I’m following my own orders now.” God doesn’t seem very concerned. God informs Michael that then, he too shall die, along with the Christ child.

Wait. What?

Yeah, dudes. Christ, the son of God, is returning back to His Creation again. In the form of a baby. He’s gonna be human again. And God the Father wants his Son dead. What is that? Filicide? But aren’t they one and the same as well? That’s also suicide, isn’t it?

But enough semantics. You don’t need to think about the concept of the Holy Trinity to understand this movie. In fact, it’s best not to ask these type of theological questions at all if you want to enjoy this prophetic horror narrative!

God isn’t really concerned with Michael’s rebellion. Why be concerned when you have an entire heavenly army at your disposal? If that’s not enough, God can just demonically possess humans with his angels and turn them into fast-motion zombies. He can use hordes of these things to dispose of Michael. Because when you’re God, even angels can be like demons! Even angels can drop F-bombs like I, the foul-mouthed Roger Balfour!

What’s the rest of the plot?

While the rest of the world is being terminated by God’s Own Army, we get to meet the important players. Our ensemble cast, if you will. We get to meet Charlie, our twenty-something Mother Mary of the Paradise Falls Gas’N’Grub congregation. A colony of ancient silver Airstream trailers in the middle of the desert. Humanity’s Alamo is the truck-stop diner that serves as the Paradise Falls nexus. I like the name of our setting. It’s so Miltonian. I’m into that kinda shit. Puns…

Ahem, so. Jeep is our hero. I don’t mean the vehicle. There’s a guy named Jeep in this thing. He rises up to be our hero. I like him. He’s the son of the owner of the gas-station and diner, Bob. Bob has a cook named Percy. Percy is a war veteran who has a metal hook for a hand. I like that detail. I like slasher movies, and I like pirates, and what do these things both have in common? Hooks. So that’s pretty cool.

Percy is going to try and lay some wisdom down on Kyle Williams, our black Escalade-driving cool-as-ice gangbanger. He’s handsome as hell, thug-style, bwoi! Kyle’s just driving through, but when the apocalypse rides in on angel’s wings, he’s here to stay. Kyle’s gonna try to put those sweet baby-face moves on Audrey, the provocative teenage daughter of Sandra and Howard, our requisite salt-of-the earth suburbanites.

So them’s our players.

They only exist to have horrible, horrible deaths. One dude even gets nailed upside down to a cross, like St. Peter. But unlike St. Peter, he also has explosive, acidic boils all over him. It’s a nasty biological bomb. That happens sometime after the first wave of attacks.

So yeah…Michael shows up, arms everyone with guns. Makes them defend the truck-stop diner while wave-upon-wave of angelically possessed fast-motion zombies, referred to as The Possessed, attack the diner. They have to hold them off so Charlie can push her baby out, who presumptively is going to grow up to become Neo from the Matrix movies. A lot of these details are referred to vaguely, or completely left to the imagination. Kind of like a Mad Libs tablet…or not. I think the idea is that Jesus Christ, angel-slayer, will reach adulthood and war against the Divine Army, showing God, his Father, that humanity and its institutions are in fact, pretty fucking groovy.

In a weird way, it’s a lot like “Dawn of the Dead”, which is a much better movie. Both versions. It’s about survival! But with “Legion”, it’s survival and ‘splosions before everything else. Even story, sadly.

And it’s also like “The Terminator”.

It’s really like “The Terminator” when Michael says, “If you want to live, you’ll do exactly as I say.”

I typed the phrase, “if you want to live” into the search bar on this pdf script. It came up twice. Both times uttered by Michael. It’s very Terminator.

In the third act, even the T-1000 shows up in the form of Gabriel. He’s Michael’s Lieutenant. Except he obeys God. Even when it comes to exterminating mankind. And Michael is in his fucking way.

Things don’t go very well for Michael. There are a few things working against him. 1.) Gabriel has a pretty bad-ass mace. 2.) Gabriel has wings. 3.) Michael cut his wings off when he got to earth.


But it doesn’t matter. Michael is covered in tattoos. The tattoos are actually Instructions on raising the Christ-child. Training him. Preparing him to be John Con…a leader. When Michael is killed, the tattoos will disappear from his divine dermis and supernaturally appear on the flesh of Jeep.

Which makes me think why he didn’t just off himself when he got to earth. But there I go again with those questions.

Jeep is the father-figure. I mean, he’s not the actual father of the Christ-child. That’s some random dude who only exists in Charlie’s Mary Magdalene-past. Regardless, Jeep loves Charlie. He wants to be her husband. He wants them to be a family.

He gets his wish when Gabriel kills Michael and when he and Charlie kill Gabriel. With a grenade.

Grenades kill angels. Pretty cool, huh?

So our tale ends with Jeep and Charlie riding off into the post-apocalyptic sunset with their new baby.

Instant family. Just add Jeep! And he’s got those Instructions tattooed onto his flesh. It’s gonna be A-OK…or is it?

In your Hollywood screenplay, injecting room for those nawty sequelz.

Wow. Anything else you care to say, Roger?

In terms of suspension of disbelief, horror is a genre that certainly gives you some leeway. You have some slack to play around and be crazy. Get some blood and gore on those hands. But it doesn’t mean you have a free pass to throw character, logic, and story out the window.

You have to find that balance. This script attempts to establish a story between Jeep and Charlie, and it’s promising when we first meet them, but their story, and all concrete sense of character, are pushed to the background as soon as the repetitive and numerous action sequences arrive. I literally felt my eyes glaze over as soon as gunplay, explosions, and gore rammed its way into the foreground.

And it’s not anything new. All the money shots are in the trailer.

Little details are planted to suggest that some of these characters have interesting back-stories, but it’s all too little too late. These characters are one-dimensional in a flat world.

There’s even a moment where the emotions and sentiments feel flat-out wrong. When Gabriel points out that Michael no longer has wings, Michael replies, “To no longer feel their burden…is a dream.”

I’m sorry, what?

I just don’t buy that. It feels forced. Flight is both an archetypal dream and a fear…and there’s no explanation to why God is doing what He is doing and why Michael hates his angelic status so much.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[x] barely kept my interest

[ ] worth the read

[ ] impressive

[ ] genius

What I learned: I’d also like to point out, that when you’re playing with mythology, theology, and lore to create a world, to fucking do your research. Check out some library books. Do a little reading. Hell, check out Wikipedia at the very least. I know novelists who cut-and-paste their baddies from the monster compendiums on Wikipedia for fuck’s sake. It’s lazy, yes, but it’s at least something. The writers of “Legion” should be damned to a Southern Baptist-fried Vacation Bible School to at least glean a basic knowledge of theology.

When I saw the trailer, I thought it was interesting that someone tipped the demonic convention of prophetic horror on its head by having angels be the baddies. It could have worked, but in this story it just came off as ignorant.

You want to see and read some good, post-apocalyptic, prophetic horror narratives that manage to create interesting worlds and have great characters? Check out Robert Kirkman’s “The Walking Dead” and Garth Ennis’ “Preacher” (someone with true anger and knowledge who is criticizing the Church and questioning theology). Want to see angels as baddies done intriguingly? Check out the CW’s “Supernatural” and Caitlin R. Kiernan’s short story cycle, “Alabaster”.