The Player: The Big Blind – Was that Ginny? (Review)

The Player - Season 1

Last week in The Player, Alex started searching for Ginny in earnest and Mr. Johnson offered to help his player in the effort. This week in The Big Blind, the pit boss is more interested in the game than in helping Alex find his “dead” wife.  It also seems that Johnson does not want Cassandra to know about the assistance. Ms. King and the pit boss reveal a bit more about their “relationship” while she struggles to keeps things smooth with her boyfriend.

The Big Blind delivers in spades. This new series has definitely hit its stride and is moving swiftly into an addictive experience. With the underlying plot thread of Ginny’s “fake” death (The missing tattoo and  Cassandra’s connection with Alex’s wife , that she removed all evidence of,  show that something shady is going on here.) plaguing Kane’s thoughts as well as  the increased action and impressive stunts of the game, The Player as series has shifted easily into the top spot on the NBC lineup.

This week the show starts with Alex laying in the dirt, bloody and disoriented and a female shape, with a silhouette that looks an awful lot like Ginny’s (Daisy Betts), appears and  Alex says her name.  Later, we learn that Alex met Ginny, aka Virginia, this way; wounded, laying in the dirt and blood at the Sudan.  Like any good romance scenario, the soldier fell in love with his doctor.

Alex and Ginny are given just enough screen time together to cement their backstory. The two are decorating their first home, “for posterity” and we see a playful exchange of paint and a kiss. (This scene is, perhaps, the only annoyance out of the whole episode. The reason? For a “self-filmed” bit of action, the camera work was way too smooth. Apart from that little problem the scene does set up the relationship between the two brilliantly.)

The stakes in this episode were raised through the roof as Alex has to face a number of bounty hunters who appear to be after a client of his. Later he learns  that the men are attempting to collect on an anonymous contract placed on the target, Ray, by his wife Monica.  After the initial attempt on Ray’s life, the contract changes. The mob thug puts out another contract on his missus.

It is also revealed that things between Mr. Johnson and Ms. King are not entirely harmonious. There is some tension there, not entirely caused by Cassandra losing her day off.

The Player - Season 1

Ray is almost killed by a bomb and Cassandra tracks down the hitman, using Alex’s security cameras and Kane finds the killer dead with four fingernails pulled out.  At this point, the player learns, with Ms. King’s help, that a number of new “hitmen” have been drawn to the $250K bounty.

A total of five hunters are competing for the bounty and Alex must defeat them all to win.

The Big Blind had the right amount of action, stunts for the win and even contained a couple of “MacGyver” moments. One, used a  timed flash on a smart phone and another was a paint thinner, duct tape and a welding torch construct. Both equally impressive, violent and effective. The fights between Alex and the baddies in the deserted hotel were choreographed brilliantly. Kudos all around for the action scenes in this one.

Eric Roberts, in his  cameo as the mafia daddy of Monica who is in prison with a wheelchair and a nasty bit of emphysema gave his usual above par performance. Roberts played Pauly Agostino, a mob figure who has connections with Mr. Johnson and despite his ailments is still a very powerful man.

The plot of The Player, set around the failed assassination attempt on Ray, is really about spousal abuse. Monica, who was friends with Ray’s wife Ginny (yet another trail leading back to Kane’s “dead” wife) miscarried once before when her husband threw her down the stairs.  Monica is pregnant again and since Ray beats her on a regular basis, she puts the initial contract out on his life.

Along with the domestic violence storyline the episode is also about relationships. Most notably Cassandra and all her relationships/connections with the main characters, as well as her personal one with Nick, a partnership that looks to be dissolving.  Cassandra King is connected to Alex (work), Mr. Johnson (work) and Ginny (This last is a question mark, is Ms. King a friend, an old colleague or former coworker of Mrs. Kane?  We do not know…yet.)

Charity Wakefield as Cassandra continues to captivate and the writers of the show have the “Dealer” down pat. The scene in the kitchen, the morning after, is spot on. Nick asks for spices and King opens a cupboard door to take out the one item on the shelf; salt. She hands it to Nick and he jokingly tells Cassandra that she’ll make someone a good wife some day.

The scene between Philip Winchester and Daisy Betts shows the chemistry these two performers have.  We have  no doubt that these characters are/were very much in love. Wesley Snipes also shows another side to his Mr. Johnson; pit boss extraordinaire. When Cassandra tells Alex that she is seven moves ahead of him and to “catch up,” Johnson grins widely and chuckles, a little touch that makes Snipes’s character a bit more dimensional.

By the end of the episode, after Alex “sees” the silhouette of Ginny and he wins the game, we have to ask if that was Ginny. Kane’s flashback to meeting his wife and her treating his wounds before makes the sighting feel a bit ambiguous.  Still, it is pretty much a certainty that Ginny is still alive so it could well have been her.

The Player - Season 1

The Player airs Thursdays on NBC. Tune in and see what an action/thriller television series should look like. Show creators John Fox and John Rogers have hit their mark perfectly this week and this series is delivering on all cylinders. 

Bloodworkz aka Bloodwork (2012): The Things We Do For Money

Travis Van Winkle and Tricia Helfer in Bloodworkz
Bloodworkz, aka Bloodwork, is a 2012 horror film that could almost be seen as a cautionary tale. A look at the things we do for money; for instance taking part in drug trials for big pharmaceutical companies. Directed by Eric Wostenberg, his second time in the chair; the first being the 2005 film Sacrifice which he wrote as well, the film looks at the dire consequences of taking drug tests too far.

Starring Travis Van Winkle (Transformers, Friday the 13th), Tricia Helfer (Battlestar Galactica, Tiberium Wars), John Bregar (Kick-Ass 2, Servitude) and Joe Pingue (Drive, Pacific Rim) Bloodworkz follow a mixed group who participate in the trials of a new drug meant to deal with allergies, instead the corporation is testing a regenerative vaccine with deadly side effects. Eric Roberts is used in a tiny cameo as a bit of typecasting, he is the organization’s “cleaner.”

Two college students decide to take part, for a fee of $3,000. Greg (Van Winkle) and Ira (Bogaert) are typically cash strapped young men, Greg is the extrovert and Ira the more sensible of the two. Once the trials begin Greg zooms in on the woman running the trials Dr. Wilcox (Helfer). Another trial member, Englishman Nigel Denton (Rik Young) shows the two men around and explains about placebos. Something that will Greg will personally know about later on.

The film moves steadily towards its climax. The participants are each affected by the serum, or vaccine the same way; loss of inhibitions, a lowering of resistance to eating grotesque items and an increased resilience to injuries. As easily imagined, this ends badly for all involved and the film could be classed as a disturbing horror film. People eating rotting animals and, finally, other people as they overdose on the drug.

This US/Canadian film is not too dissimilar to the 2012 UK horror film The Facility. Like Bloodworkz/Phase One/Bloodwork/The Last Experiment, the British film deals with paid drug trials that go horrifically wrong. Starring Alex Reid (The Descent, Wilderness) and Aneurin Barnard (Citadel, Ironclad) and written/directed by Ian Clark (See No Evil, Ultimate Warfare) the film is comparable in terms of entertainment and it too can be seen as a cautionary tale.

It is odd that two films so alike came out in the same year. Rather interestingly, on IMDb, Bloodworkz just nudges past The Facility in ratings. The former getting a score of 5.1 and the latter a score of 4.7. It could well be down to a matter of taste, or that the American/Canadian film features more in the way of gratuitous nudity. The Ian Clark film also feel a bit like a docudrama as well as different side effects from the American film’s drug trials.

The two films both feature participants who change dramatically as a result of the trials, with the Brits all becoming psychotic homicidal monsters (literally becoming disfigured) versus becoming superhuman and disgusting eating machines. Each ends badly and preference is down to personal taste in the end although the ratings at IMDb make no real sense. There is nudity in the British film, for around a minute and it is non-sexual in nature. The US film features the obligatory bare boobs and gratuitous sex scene along with an attempted rape.

Both films are available on Hulu and fans of horror films should have a look at both of them. Each film is entertaining and of similar budgets although The Facility seems to have better FX overall. Fans of Alex Reid, one of the best character actresses in film and television, will appreciate her performance in the Brit film.

Bloodworkz does have Roberts in his two second cameo but not much else in terms of star power. As a horror/thriller film it ticks the boxes and provides an interesting story but not much in the way of character development. At the end of the day, the viewer never really gets attached to the two dimensional characters in the film.

This is a 3 out of 5 star film and pretty solid horror fare if not overly impressive in terms of plot and character empathy. Worth a look but not two.

23 Minutes to Sunrise (2012): A Old Fashioned Sort of Film

Eric Roberts as Daniel in 23 Minutes to Sunrise This small budget feature uses a lot of local talent to tell its tale, except for the presence of Eric Roberts who plays a sinister, or at least rather nasty, character who shows up at a diner 23 minutes to sunrise. Roberts’ does nothing outside of his normal range, but damn it, what he does is good regardless of how big his role, or just what it entails. Julia Roberts’ sibling is infinitely watchable regardless of what his part is.

In this low/no budget feature film, Roberts’ mysterious man, whom I at first thought was Death, but who turns out to be much more, enters the graveyard shift of an all night diner. The establishment feels like a throwback to those eateries of the 1950s. Like the one featured in the film Diner and the waitress actually pours every customer a cup of coffee, whether they ask for one or not.

Roberts, who plays Daniel, points this out when she fills his empty cup while the waitress explains to his young lady friend that it is the late night menu, so only what is on the back of the list can be ordered.

This is a small ensemble piece that features a middle-aged couple (Bob Zany and Nia Peeples), a young couple (Tom Sandoval and Kristen Doute), Daniel and his lady friend, Hannah (played by Haley Busch) the cook (a vet who has issues), played by Dingani Beza, and a waitress (Jilanne Klaus). There are other characters who appear fleetingly, the waitress’s drunken bully of a husband, a simple minded man who dresses as a superhero and a couple of cops. Each of these other cast members appears, some like the wastrel husband, two or three times, and their presence helps to round out the film.

23 Minutes to Sunrise is about immortality, whether it is a gift or a curse, and how someone would react if offered this chance to “live forever.” In Eddie’s case, the Gulf War veteran turned cook initially refuses point blank, despite being shown that the young lady is not delusional.

The film has an old fashioned feel to it. Almost like a film version of the play about three friends who discover the fountain of youth. A sort of morality tale with a confusing end and yet, it is oddly watchable. The dialogue often misleads the viewer just enough to keep things interesting.

When Daniel comes in with his teenage friend, the two speak in such a way that it seems that the older man has groomed the young lady. The dialogue screams pedophile and victim. However, after listening to the couple for a bit longer, it turns out that she took him up on the offer of immortality, not underage sex.

She has the last 23 minutes of the night, before the sun rises, to convince someone in the room to take over the “gift” of living forever. The eternal 17 year old wants out, as she says earlier, she has no family, friends and no life. The character also has not learned a lot during her 250 years of being a teenager as she cannot convince any of the diner’s customers or staff to take the gift at first.

There are things in the movie that annoy. Apparently the budget was so small on the film that blanks and a working pistol could not be provided. The use of sound, light, and the actor jerking his hand while pulling the trigger did nothing to convince me that he had shot off the weapon.

This one “cheat” did not spoil the film but did let it down considerably. The overall rating of 23 Minutes to Sunrise on IMDb is pretty low with a figure of 4. The one review by a customer is scathing and insulting. The film is interesting and definitely does not deserve the severe pasting received. Perhaps not worth the $3.99 paid at the truck stop, but worth watching if it turns up on Netflix or YouTube.

Considering that 23 Minutes to Sunrise  was made with local actors, with the exception of Roberts and Nia Peeples, the overall feature is pretty impressive. Certainly interesting enough and no worse than many other low/no budget films on offer. Worthy of a look as the film does make the viewer think.