‘Stitchers’ ABCs Answer to Scorpion?

Promotional still from Stitchers
It may seem a bit unfair to maintain that ABCs Stitchers is the network’s answer to, or version of, Scorpion especially since the premiere has apparently taken several things from other shows as well. Scorpion, with its cast of socially inept geniuses, including the real life leader of the group Walter O’Brien (played by Elyes Gabel), is the closest match in terms of characters. It could also be said to borrow heavily from The Bridge with its “autistic” female lead, played very well by Diane Kruger, who is another social inept because of her mental issues.

Stitchers stars a group of relative newcomers with Allison Scagllioti (Warehouse 13, Redemption) being the most senior member of the cast in terms of experience. Emma Ishta (I Smile Back, Manhattan Love Story) is the incredibly attractive lead, Kirsten who suffers from “temporal dysplasia” which does not seem to really exist at least not according to Google. In the series it is an inability to sense time and also appears to prevent the individual suffering this mental problem unable to “feel” normal emotions, e.g. love, despair, grief, et al. There is a similar affliction which is a common symptom of ADHD but that is not mentioned in the show.

After the premiere’s teaser, or open, we meet Kirsten who is being accused by her housemate Camille (Scagllioti) of tampering with her PHD project. Unsurprisingly, Camille is also a brilliant student, again along the lines of Scorpion, with its genius level IQ cast of characters, and as Kirsten cannot prove her innocence she is suspended from the PHD program until she can be cleared.

She is approached by the local police about her “father” who apparently killed himself. She claims he was murdered, but never really explains why she knows this. After Camille suggests, sarcastically, that Kirsten should hack the police computer via the Head Instructor’s office computer which she then does, the temporal dysplasia suffering PHD student is kidnapped.

The upper graduate learns that her abductors are a “secret” government agency that puts or “stitches” someone’s consciousness into the brain of a recently deceased individual to pull out memories and help solve crimes. Not just who murdered the victim but, as in the first episode’s plot, other information that can solve other problems/crimes.

Ayo, the head of this secret agency’s LA branch (played by Sola Bamis) recruits Kirsten and the man who runs the stitchers program, Cameron (Kyle Harris) immediately fills the slot reserved for a “will they, won’t they” type interaction.

While the overall plot may seem new, it does appear to borrow from a lot of other shows, at least two of which were Eliza Dushku vehicles; Dollhouse and Tru Calling especially the latter show where the recently deceased were aided by the show’s heroine.

As mentioned above, the CBS summer replacement show Scorpion is the most obvious influence on the series as all the incredibly intelligent leads are socially inept, although heavier on the geek ratio, “Star log date…” It also seems to borrow a little from Prometheus where scientists “trick” the decapitated head of an alien into believing it is still alive in order to harvest its memories.

The show even appears to borrow from Avatar to a degree in that the protagonist enters another’s consciousness via similar methods as in the James Cameron film. This show could still prove to be entertaining and interesting enough to revisit as the season continues. Certainly all the main actors are attractive and if the writers can control their attempts at clever topical and pop culture references the series could be successful.

After all, who does not want to watch a beautiful blonde heroine waltz about in a skin-tight “cat-suit?” Joking aside, it would be nice to see more of Scagllioti, and not in a cat-suit sort of way, as this actress was brilliant in Warehouse 13. Yet, another “time will tell” new show that may not overcome their apparent lack of originality. Stitchers airs on June 2 on ABC Family.

30 May 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

The Cabin in the Woods-Gate? Joss Whedon Sued

Somewhat amazingly, one of the most original thinkers in Hollywood, aka Joss Whedon, is being sued, along with Lionsgate and Drew Goddard, by an author who claims that the 2012 film Cabin in the Woods has infringed upon his own 2006 work. Cabin in the Woods-Gate begins with Facebook being deluged with links back to journalistic coverage of this alleged “crime.”

As one Facebook comment noted, on the special features portion of the DVD for said film, both Joss and Drew talk about writing the screenplay back in 1998. For those with math issues, that is eight years before the published work by Peter Gallagher.

The book, titled “The Little White Trip: A Night in the Pines” has a plot where five young friends, two girls and three guys, go to a “remote” cabin and find that a killer, who murdered the buildings previous inhabitants, is stalking and killing this new group. Later in the book, it turns out that the whole thing is being filmed as “entertainment.”

No mention of old, terrible “Gods,” the end of the world…or weed. The self-published book was done in two 7,500 “runs” which the author flogged on the street in Venice, Santa Monica, etc. Gallagher states that he finds portions of the book “identical” with the film and he is asking for $10 million in damages.

Unfortunately for Gallagher, if Goddard and Whedon did actually write the initial screenplay in 1998 (and can prove it) then he has no legal leg to stand on. Despite his claim of registering the tale with the Writers Guild of America in 2007, the predated screenplay makes his charges of “copyright infringement” null and void.

Another comment on the social platform mentions, “why did Gallagher wait so long to file?” Good question.

Surely, these charges should have been made at the time of the film’s release. If, as the author stated, the similarities were so obvious, why take so long to lay the claim? Could this delay be down to no one else feeling there was a case?

In “The Wrap” the actual complaint states that the “plots, characters, sequence of events, stories, dialogue and incidents are virtually identical.” If the intent of these claims was to have fans rushing out to read the book to see for themselves Gallagher may have to point out a few of the more specific “similarities.”

In any other case of alleged “infringement” the author stands a good chance of being, at the very least, heard. In this case time and evidence may stop the lawsuit in its legal tracks. Certainly the idea of Goddard and Whedon working on the screenplay to Cabin in the Woods back in the days of ‘Buffy’ and Angel has a sort of logistical sense.

Both men have worked together for years on both shows and, if memory serves, on other Whedon projects as well, i.e. “Dollhouse” and “Firefly,” although I could be wrong. Joss had the services of many a talented writer on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” and “Angel,” and all are a very talented lot.

This could be a case of wishful thinking, and I believe that is indeed the case, that will fade quietly into the background. Chronology will settle this claim and it is doubtful that anyone with real intelligence will think for one moment that Joss Whedon copied anyone else’s work when he and Drew Goddard penned “The Cabin in the Woods.” In fact, in my own review of the film, I stated that it felt like a big screen adaptation of Wolfram and Hart from Angel, which came out much earlier than 2006.

Just saying.

15 April 2015

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD to Break Whedon TV Curse

Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD to Break Whedon TV Curse

Joss Whedon has become an icon in terms of television as well as the big screen. His 2013 film Marvel’s Avengers Assemble confirmed what Whedon fans already knew after his first foray into feature films with Serenity in 2005. The Serenity film is a perfect example of the Whedon TV curse as it was a fan’s “closure film” for his doomed space series Firefly.

Open Graves (2009): Sizzling Dushku

Open_Graves

Directed by Álvaro de Armiñán and written by the Father/son duo of Roderick and Bruce A. Taylor Open Graves is like Jumanji on PCP or alternatively for grown-ups.

There’s nothing new here on offer. An old board game that “magically’ comes alive to inflict horrible deaths on the losers and maybe give the winner their ultimate wish. Sort of like Jumanji on acid or PCP.

One complaint about the film on IMDb was that, “The board game was created in 1465 Spain, so how come all the directions and cards are in English?” Fair point I suppose, but if the game is magic doesn’t it stand to reason that if English-speaking folks play it, the game switches to…oh…say, English? So if Spaniards or some French folks start to play, then the cards and directions would be in Spanish and/or French, respectively.

Just a thought.

I will openly admit to liking the film. Mainly because it features the sexy, sultry, and sizzling hot Eliza Dushku (who was obviously on break from the 2009 telly series Dollhouse) who plays the love interest in the film. But the lovely Eliza had a little competition from actress Naike Rivelli  who, if they ever film Ava Gardener’s life story could play The Barefoot Contessa quite easily, she could be Ava’s twin.

The male “love interest” is Mike Vogel whom you might recognise from Cloverfield. He makes a pretty fair romantic match for Dushku’s character.

The film opens with scenes of torture. A lot of nude women being cut, maimed, burnt, et al; all in the pursuit of proving their innocence or guilt in the area of witchcraft. All this murder and mayhem before the opening credits. The end result of all this “Witchfinder General” type activity results in one of these unfortunates being found guilty of witchcraft.

The lady in question, one Mamba by name, is skinned alive for her poor career choice and her skin and organs are used to make a “cursed” game. Somewhat similar to  the board game in Jumanji,  cards are drawn that state (in rather morbid prose) what the player’s fate will be after their “token” lands on a certain space.

It is now “present day” and a group of twenty-somethings are on holiday in Spain. Jason (Vogel) and his mate Tomàs (Ethan Rains) are at the beach when Jason notices Tomàs chatting up a gorgeous beach babe (Dushku) whose name is Erica. Jason is immediately smitten and Erica reciprocates the emotion.

These two lovebirds decide to play a game that Jason has found called (appropriately enough) Mamba. Erica seems to know an awful lot about the game and the two of them talk the rest of the gang into playing.

The end result is that the losers die gruesome deaths not long after getting bumped off the board. Jason and Erica must complete the game in order to save their friends.

Despite the low score on IMDb (4.0 if you’re interested) I thought the film was pretty enjoyable. The pacing was good, the effects impressive and the story, while not blazingly original, did not insult the audiences intelligence too much and there was a good old sense of urgency to the groups survival.

I’d love to go into the films “nuts and bolts” a bit more but that would be skirting dangerously near spoiler territory and I don’t want to go there.

The film is available on Netflix at the moment, which is where I saw it (on UK Netflix) and it was worth the time spent to watch it. So pop yourself some popcorn, prepare a big glass of your favourite beverage and sit down to enjoy this ‘board’ game adventure, you won’t get ‘bored’ I promise.

And on a sad note; Film critic Roger Ebert passed away today and while I quite often did not agree with his views on film, I will miss his often acerbic possessions on films and can only wonder what he would have made of this film. If I’m correct, I don’t think he would have thought too much about its relevance or value. I guarantee though, that he would have stated his views vociferously and scathingly as only he could.

RIP Roger Ebert (B: 1942 – D: 2013)

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The Cabin in the Woods (2011): Wolfram and Hart go Big-Time

It may just be me, but the whole film kind of felt like a huge Angel episode. One where Angel and co have already been defeated by ‘Wolf, Ram and Hart’ and are now running the entire world to their own set of skewed rules. It felt like the ‘bad guys’ had won the battle, but in order to win the war had to keep sacrificing a certain amount of people to hold the ‘ancient ones’ at bay.

It was like this was really the series end of Angel and it showed us that the demonic law corporation was alive and well and holding back the evil gods by the skin of their demonic teeth. Having Whedon regulars like Amy Acker (never a bad thing) and Fran Kranz (a personal favourite after his brilliant role in Dollhouse), not to mention Tom Lenk (it was nice to see him in something other than the Pepsi Max commercials he’s been trapped in), sort of made this film seem like ‘old home week’ already, but add in the massive plot device and the twist at the end of the movie and it still felt a little like an Epilogue to Angel season 5.

But despite the niggly feeling that Eliza Dushku was going to suddenly show up and save the day, I enjoyed the film. The very presence of Richard Jenkins(who gave a star turn as the father figure in the film Let Me In) ensured that the calibre of acting was going to be top notch and it was. I adored the explanation of how the whole thing worked. The ‘participants’ had free-will going for them. Okay the cards were pretty much stacked against them from the get go, but they still had the liberty to misbehave or not. The entire feel of the ‘behind the scenes’ guys was brilliant. Right down to the betting pools on which ‘big bad’ was going to dispatch the group.

The writing was pure Whedon and Goddard gold. The scene where the gas station attendant rings the control room for a strange almost biblical rant. He  stops mid-rant and asks, “Do you have me on speaker-phone?” With much choked back giggling and gestures to keep quiet, the controller talking to the gas station guy says, “Yep, I did. Sorry about that.” He then makes a knocking noise and says, “Okay, you’re off.” Of course gas station guy isn’t off the speaker phone and the giggling and laughing clues him into this. The entire film was worth the price of admission just for this scene alone.

“I told you! I don’t want to talk about Dollhouse!”

It was these type of scenes combined with the subtle action that made the film worth watching. Wendy Lin (Amy Acker) turning up her nose at the office pool and then at the last minute placing her bet. The slow realization that everything is resting on their televised sacrifice show and the pressures and tension that entails. The premature celebrations when they think they’ve won. I could go on but what would be the point?

The film was a brilliant attempt at satirizing the horror/slasher genre that just doesn’t quite work. The film has stand out moments and for my money Fran Kranz stole the show. The Cabin in the Woods was plagued with problems from the get go. The studios who had given the film the green light, then turned around and wanted to first change the format to 3D and then just wanted to get rid of the finished product.  *Interesting to note that the other film the studio was desperate to get rid of was the re-make of Red Dawn. Red Dawn also starred Thor aka Chris Hemsworth. It makes you wonder what the studio was thinking.*

I did also get the feeling that Kristen Connolly was a replacement for Felicia Day who must not have been available for the shooting schedule. I was desperate to see this film and was gutted when I missed it’s cinema run. Watching it last night, I was actually glad that I didn’t see it on the big screen as I don’t think it would have enhanced the experience at all. I am now waiting for the blu-ray copy to come in so that I may see the making of featurettes that I live for.

Goddard, Thor and Whedon

My final verdict is that the film is a must see for Whedon fans, or indeed Goddard fans,  and it’s still very entertaining. It is not a horror film (I thought I’d better warn you) and it only just misses the satire genre. The film is still clever and what we have come to expect from Mssrs Whedon and Goddard.