‘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

Eliza Dushku: Faith in Comic Con Rattled by Theft

Eliza Dushku: Faith in Comic Con Rattled by Theft

Not even Faith, that other vampire Slayer from the Buffy verse, is apparently safe from the crime of theft which is what happened to the rattled Eliza Dushku at the Rhode Island Comic Con when she was checking into a local hotel for the upcoming event. The 33 year-old actress, shot to prominence as the “naughty” wild-child slayer Faith in Joss Whedon’s award winning television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997 – 2003). She went on to work with Whedon again on Angel, the Buffy spin-off and The Dollhouse, the second “cursed” television series of The Avengers director to be cancelled before it could really begin. The actress had her $4000 Louis Vuitton duffel bag taken from her side while unloading her car before going into her hotel room.

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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Wrong Turn (2003): The Right Stuff

Cover of "Wrong Turn"

With Eliza Dushku being a hot property (Buffy, Angel, Tru Calling) off television and a cast of well known, if not star calibre yet, actors that included the ever lust worthy Desmond Harrington ( I’ve known full-grown women who go weak at the knees from just a mention of his name) Wrong Turn was a sure-fire money-maker. If not in the cinemas (where it did more than alright), it would reap great home sales benefits for the makers.

It did.

In fact Wrong Turn did well enough that it has spawned four sequels the last of which, Wrong Turn 5 is due to be released later this year. I’m not going to talk about the sequels or prequels. I have no interest in any of them, unless of course Dushku or Harrington show up which is very doubtful.

Directed by Rob Schmidt, Wrong Turn was his second feature-length film. Armed with a more than adequate cast and a straightforward story plus prosthetic makeup effects by the legendary Stan Winston Studio, Schmidt came up with a real winner of a horror film.

Using the age old plot of ‘strangers in a strange land’ aka ‘The Deliverance motif,’ the film places six young people in the middle of nowhere in the Appalachian mountains of West Virginia. Chris Flynn (Harrington) is a medical student running late for a job interview. He decides to take a shortcut around a four lane pile up and runs into Jessie Burlingame (Dushku) and crew who have had their tyres slashed by barbed wire placed in the middle of a back road.

As Chris literally runs into them or at least their vehicle and effectively renders both cars unusable, he strikes out with Jessie and newlyweds Carly and Scott (played by Emmanuelle Chriqui and Jeremy Sisto respectively) to find a phone to call for help. *On a side note here, Chriqui and Sisto fit so well together that major kudos go to the casting folks and for the actors themselves  for really selling their characters.*

They leave behind Evan (Kevin Zegers) and Francine (Lindy Booth) who have only a few moments of screen time and to live. In the short time they are on the screen they paint a brilliant picture of two self-centered, fun-loving Bohemians who have somehow found one another. Booth also has the funniest line with her, “Come on boy, don’t be a sissy. Take off them trousers.” which signals the beginning of fun and games with Evan. Off screen of course.

Oh, it’s trouser time again.

The first few frames of the film have already shown us that the woods are a scary place in West Virginia and that the local inbred population are a little hard on folks who cross their path. So when the killing starts  we are not surprised. The genius of this film is that the casting works so well and the actors sell their characters well enough that we actually care when they start to die.

We are rooting for them to get out alive and we feel badly when another one is taken by the grotesques of inbred hillbillies who treat the youngsters as prey. As the group is slowly whittled down (almost literally) it begins to look very unlikely that anyone will make it out alive.

The real power of the film is the group of actors who play the victims searching for an escape from the nightmare they’ve found themselves in. The script and the actors all work to get us, the audience, behind them. The whole thing is also helped by the grotesque inbred creatures that are hunting them. We never really get to see too much of them. Even the ‘lingering’ shots of the sleeping monsters are no more than a second or two in length.

No, I don’t want any damn candy!

The FX are top-notch. Speaking of FX, Wrong Turn is the first film to use CGI to brilliant effect in the area of pupils. When one of the group is killed quite graphically, CG was used to show the pupils dilating. According to the ‘making of’ featurette on the DVD, this film was the first to use CGI in this way.

The film delivers an entertaining time with the right mix of terror and humour, a likeable cast and suitable boogeymen to jump at and enough gore to remind you that you are indeed watching a horror film.

It is a ‘must see’ for Dushku and Harrington fans and I’d recommend it to anyone thinking of making a horror film. Wrong Turn show how it should be done with more than two-dimensional characters as the victims and damned scary villains. It moves at a great pace and the humour is well placed.

My final verdict is that it’s one that you should watch with all the lights off…

I spy with my little eye…

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.