“Wild Card” is a remake of the 1986 Burt Reynolds film “Heat”. Scribed by one of the most prolific and award winning screenwriters in Hollywood, William Goldman, the first film suffered from a fractious atmosphere on set and a so-so reception from the public and critics alike. Director Dick Richards and Reynolds had a falling out on the movie and Burt broke Dick’s jaw before firing the director.
Jason Statham worked on adapting the film into “Wild Card” over a long period and drafted Brit director Simon West into helming the project. The collaborative effort paid off with an entertaining re-imaging of Burt’s original film.
There are a number of familiar faces in the movie – Anne Heche, Hope Davis, Stanley Tucci, Sofia Vergara and Michael Angarano to name a few. But it is Milo Ventimiglia who Statham’s character goes up against who almost steals the show. While the actor from Derbyshire, England may be the star, there is no denying that Ventimiglia “gives good bad guy.”
On the small screen Milo is cast, more often than not, as the hero. In “The Whispers” he was the pilot who shrugged off the alien influence to help save his son and in “Heroes” he was the guy who wanted to save mankind.
Big screen Ventimiglia makes great villains. In the 2008 film “Pathology” Milo was not the nicest chap in the world and he is a real piece of work in “Wild Card.”
Statham is Nick Wild, living in Las Vegas and hiring out as a bodyguard, shill and good all rounder, the jack of all trades and soldier of fortune is a tough nut who will take a fall for the right sort of money. A friend; Holly (Dominik García-Lorido) is picked up by Danny DeMarco (Ventimiglia) and his two bodyguards. She is sexually abused and beaten severely. She wants Nick to help her get some payback.
Meanwhile Cyrus Kinnick (Michael Angarano) breezes into town and wants Nick to show him around the casinos and keep a protective eye on him. Nick does some sniffing around and learns who Danny is and agrees to help Holly. He also starts to do the Cyrus job but then backs out.
As per usual with any Statham film, the movie tough guy has some great choreographed fight scenes and easily lives up to the audiences expectations in terms of stunt fights and action. But despite the crowd pleasing athletics, there really is nothing new here.
A performance that, apart from the stunts, could have been phoned in detracts from the overall entertainment value of the film . Most of the action takes place around Fremont Street (the old strip) and focusses on The Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino. A number of second unit shots establish that Statham is driving around Vegas, with other newer casino’s visible in the background, as well as the famous Caesar’s Palace.
It is Ventimiglia’s mafia sleaze that makes the film. He is slimy, despicable and not above lying to save himself, but not his bodyguards. All smarmy overconfidence and snotty attitude the actor makes a brilliant villain that the audience feels free to dislike from scene one.
Stanley Tucci plays “Baby” a local “made man” who officiates over Vegas squabbles and makes the most out of a small cameo. Angarano does well with his role of the rich guy looking for some intestinal fortitude and Davis; as the dealer Cassandra, does more with her eyes than most actors can with their entire bodies.
While nothing to write home about, it after all just another remake, “Wild Card,” aka “Joker,” is a firm 3.5 out of 5 stars in the entertainment department. With just enough of Las Vegas to make it sell but perhaps too little of Statham doing his action man routine, the film fails to pull in a higher entertainment factor. Available on Amazon at the moment it will satisfy Statham fans and is well worth the time spent watching it.
There is an almost inexplicable allure to setting television shows in Las Vegas that apparently began with the Robert Ulrich 1978-1981 hit Vega$. The Player is the latest to be set in the Vegas desert capital of gambling. Wesley Snipes is the network’s hole card in this thriller that feels a little like a small screen variation of the 2009 film The Tournament
The last television show set in the mecca of gambling was the Dennis Quaid/Michael Chiklis vehicle Las Vegas. That series did not fare well, quite possibly because it was set in “the good old days” of the town.
Now we have The Player which pits actor Philip Winchester against the “crook of the week” in a game run by Wesley Snipes’ character and aided by gorgeous Brit actress Charity Wakefield.
In the pilot, Alex Kane (Winchester) works in Vegas as a security advisor. The former FBI agent and terrorist specialist is enjoying his life with “almost” ex-wife Ginny (Aussie actress Daisy Betts) when someone enters Kane’s apartment shoots at him and murder’s Ginny.
He is then propelled into a world of the ultra-rich who bet on the outcome of criminal activities. Snipes is Mr. Johnson the pitt boss, Wakefield is Cassandra the dealer and Kane is the Player. After his former cop friend Det. Cal Brown (played by Damon Gupton) arrests him for his ex-wife’s murder, Kane is recruited by Johnson and Cassandra to their game.
The premise of predicting crime and betting against the outcome is interesting and could work, whether this will do so on a weekly basis remains to be seen. In the pilot the first challenge presented to Alex is to save a mother from dying during a kidnapping that he must also stop. The rest of the episode moves between Kane’s interaction with Snipes and Wakefield and trying to save the girl who is kidnapped.
With internals filmed in Los Angeles and all the Vegas externals being second unit footage, there are, as pointed out by a local publication, inconsistencies with geography of the town. Because of this the new series feels like a bit of a cheat. At least with Vega$ and the short-lived Quaid/Chiklis double-act, most of the show was actually filmed on the strip.
Winchester, who is a more than capable actor, fills a role that seems it should have been filled by Sean Bean. The actor who plays Kane does indeed feel like a US version of Bean, who already plays a “kick-a**” agent of sorts in TNT’s Legends.
NBC have opted to have Wesley Snipes be the show’s main draw. Unfortunately there is not enough Snipes to make the ploy work too successfully. Still, with a minimal amount of effort the Blade star does well in his scenes but alas lacks the spark he normally exudes. The former star seems to be a bit diminished on the small screen. Perhaps this will change over time.
Damon Gupton is Detective Brown, Kane’s former friend. This one character does not fit well in this verse. This friend seems all to ready to turn on his pal and even after his “innocence” is proven remains hostile toward Kane. Gupton is a performer whose delivery always feels flat and seemingly forced. It is an annoyance in this show which boasts some impressive performances.
Interestingly, the performer who “owns” the pilot is Charity Wakefield. Her dialogue with Winchester, where she replays his career as a sort of “This is Your Life” monologue is sheer brilliance. The delivery of her line “Against direct orders from the United States government, you shot Ibrahim Chechik in the face” is just perfect and tells the viewer volumes about her character.
If this series survives, it will be less because of Snipes and more because of Wakefield. Her performance far exceeds anyone else in the pilot. Clearly a case of casting being almost sublimely perfect. Philip Winchester may be the “star” and Wesley Snipes the “name” but it is that English actress from Tunbridge Wells who will sell this series.
The Player airs Thursdays on NBC. Fans of Snipes will tune in to see what he will do, join them for a change of pace. Only time will tell whether this new series will work or not.
The real desert is cloudy today. It has a solid covering of dark hues which cries occasionally and lets a few dry tears plummet to earth. Striking tin roofs with a clunky, non-melodic rhythm that is short lived yet oddly comforting. The covering floated in yesterday, slowly filling the vast Arizona sky with something that resembled peaceful candy floss (cotton candy) with varying tints of color. The temperature was a cool 106 degrees Fahrenheit despite the lack of direct sun and sleeping in this stuporous heat felt like being in a cloudy oven.
I tweeted, at half 10 last night, that the temperature was a staggering 91 degrees. I watched RIPD, with Jeff Bridges, Ryan Reynolds, Mary Louise Parker (whom I have a huge schoolboy crush on, sorry Mary) and Kevin Bacon while baking on high for the duration. The heat from my laptop was a little worrying on top of all that external heat. I checked and the mercury inside the house was standing at 99 degrees and I switched the thing off afterward.
Until then, I sat with all windows open and a pedestal fan scant inches from my face and the laptop. I sat oozing sweat and battled the elements in order to be fair to the comedy action film. (After all that “suffering” I found I did enjoy the film after all.)
Around midnight I gave up waiting for the heat to drop much further, the gauge outside on the porch read 82, and I crawled, sans PJs into bed. I lay on top of the sheets with fluid leaking in a steady stream from the back of my neck. By the time morning came, a cool 78 degrees for around two minutes, I was semi-rested from sleeping in a giant Arizona-sized oven and my top pillow was drenched.
I have been told that July and August resemble hell on earth and I must agree with that description after living in Vegas last year and seeing that Quartzsite is hotter than the casino town on a regular basis. Still what does not kill you, or dehydrate you, makes you stronger they say and after last night’s turbulent sleep I am not too tired this morning.
Unfortunately I will not be heading to town today as thunderstorms have been forecast and I do not want to cross the desert on a metal bike inviting lightning to strike me and my Schwinn. Of course there is the paranoia that my MacBookPro gets soaking wet thereby stopping my sporadic memoir writing and the chances of being paid by another content mill for journo pieces. I do have a waterproof bit of stuff that I wrap the thing in, but between the wind, rain and lightning, sitting today out seems wise.
It was interesting, and not a little disturbing, to see that the cloud cover kept the heat in over night. Generally on a clear day, besides being able to see “forever” the heat dissipates once the sun goes down. By half 11 or so the temperature has lowered enough to allow something resembling sleep. Even on the hottest clear day, the mornings are pleasantly cool.
Sitting here now, in the Arizona room, I can see the wind pick up. The sound of rain hitting the roof is slowly increasing in volume, not of a decibel level but amount, and the sky is becoming a more uniform color, grey without so much black mixed in. Rather interestingly there has been a lot of rain since my arrival.
Meanwhile, life in the real desert goes on and tonight I’ll wager that sleeping in a cloudy oven will not be an issue since the weather has driven the mercury down for the day. Looking at the forecast, the average temperature will be around 106 over the next week or so which means spending a lot of time in Burger King and the public library. An unexpected bonus of living in this environment is that I’ve met some lovely folks at the local eatery and managed to lose most of the tummy pod that I’ve carried with me for years.
Somewhat amazingly, the big wind down has already begun in Quartzsite, Arizona and Life in the Real Desert is about to change once again. Riding down the main drag in town the first noticeable thing is the lack of big tents and vendors who have been present since at least the start of 2015. Apparently this mass evacuation will continue until the end of March and the sleepy burg will go back to being semi deserted once more.
I stopped here last year in February/March and was told that I’d missed the rush. Having been here for the busy time, I am quite anxious to see just what the quiet times will bring. Of course there will be less snowbirds for a start. There are not that many who opt to live here year round. Those that do, immediately lose their feathered status.
Summer temperatures soar, as they did in Vegas, but at night they do drop dramatically. The folks who opt to stay are used to this drastic see-saw effect of hot and cold. Of course in the Nevada gambling town of Vegas there are enough buildings, pavement and people the sun going down does not equal a huge drop in heat.
Last March, in Las Vegas, I was sleeping with windows open and a sheet on the bed. Coming to Quartzsite, I was offered heavy blankets. I turned them down, explaining that I could take it.
When the sun set here, I immediately froze. There was no gradual decrease of temperature, one moment it was hot and then, BAM, cold. By the time morning came, I was wearing every item of clothing that I owned and had desperately wrapped the dogs’ blankets around my shivering body.
I will, in fact, welcome the increase in heat and pray that the nighttime hours in summer do not drop to what feels like sub-zero figures. While I’ve gotten used to the increased Fahrenheit readings, I’ve learned that less clothes, more fluid and a change in operating hours equates to more comfortable living conditions. Cold, however, is a different aspect completely.
Although the reaction is amazingly similar, more (rather than less) clothes, more fluid (of the hot sort) and a change in operating hours, the end result is nowhere near as satisfactory. I do not like the cold, my body despises it and my operational capacity is cut down accordingly. It is hard to type when you cannot feel your fingers.
Granted, extreme heat also results in less productivity. But, regardless of what the climate is, I would still rather battle heat.
While the town is winding down and the snowbirds are slowly following the vendors lead and heading out, I have learned that a new bike with new gears is easier to ride than a cheap second-hand one. My initial bike was a Chinese knock-off of a BMX and it damn near killed me.
My new bike, a 700c Schwinn, is a dream and apart from the fact that I have to keep centering the front tyre is a lot easier to ride. I am now in the process of getting either saddle bags or a box for the back to facilitate grocery runs.
I will, hopefully, have sorted out some sort of television and Internet within the next month. Both quite important as my writing income for the new site has rather disappointingly worked out to considerably less than I was hoping.
Things will even themselves out eventually. Getting used to the different setting, sorting out living conditions and becoming a recognizable figure around the local area is helping to at least make me feel a little less disoriented. Some setbacks are very temporary. Having to cancel Hulu and Netflix has hurt, but I can rejoin as soon practicable and will do so.
The reality is that I’ve missed so many episodes of shows I wrote reviews and recaps for that I am hopelessly behind and will not catch up, even with serious binge watching. Hopefully TV will be restored in time for summer replacement programs.
Until things are back to “normal” my immediate goal is to write two articles a day for my personal blog and the same again for the new website. On top of that, I have plans to write a certain amount each day on my own books.
The move from Vegas, while necessary, has been almost catastrophic in terms of output. Other factors, which I will not go into here, have also upset the balance of work and “off time.” While I struggle to maintain a certain status quo, I will continue to write and keep practicing what I have learned and continue polishing my output.
I returned to the USA last year on January 15. I flew into the airport in Las Vegas to meet a man I’d only encountered on Skype and the Internet. The promise of working as the head of Entertainment for a relatively new “news-site” seemed like a dream come true. The job, and the publisher, appeared to be legit. After all, I had been sent to South Africa to speak to sources who told our “reporter” in-country that Nelson Mandela had died in June and was not still alive as the SA government and the rest of the world were reporting.
That was in 2013 and everything certainly felt like it was “above board.” However, what seems all too real over the Internet can turn out to be something altogether different in the flesh. But this article is not about the fall, and continued fall, of the publication where I worked for 18 months, I’ve already written about that. This is more about my sudden change of lifestyle and working conditions, the second in a two year time period.
I jumped at what seemed like a generous offer to come over and live with the publisher and his wife until I could get settled. Working and living in Las Vegas was, a lot like my job in Her Majesty’s Prison Service, not something I’d ever planned on or dreamed of doing. It was another of those, “just turned out that way” moments.
After being ill health retired from HMPS I was in a bind. I’d stupidly spent my way through the one-time cash payout from “her majesty” and was down to trying to survive on £255 per month via my tiny ill health pension. Time to leave my adopted, and beloved, country behind and come “home.” Leaving my daughter behind with her boyfriend, I boarded a small plane in Norwich and began my journey back to the US.
Again, I digress, I am pretty sure I’ve covered this before so I’ll move on. Once I arrived in Vegas and got the lay of the land, I slowly began covering events and doing interviews with celebs and authors and got to attend my first ever Comic Con.
After working very hard to fix a communications problem with the local studio reps I also got a slew of invites to film screenings and reviewed each one attended. I was busy building up our Entertainment section and having a ball doing it. Sure there were problems, money being one of them, but I was enjoying the act of meeting and talking to actors I had admired from afar for years.
I also got to meet new actors and celebs from television as well as from the world of literature. One happy accident was getting to meet the Winner Twins. Two delightfully talented, and damned nice, girls who rock it in the world of Science Fiction. Award winning authors, the two young ladies were positioned diagonally near two ladies I was desperate to meet and interview from the SyFy channels series Heroes of Cosplay. Brittany and Brianna Winner started out in this world as two dyslexic children whose love of stories, and their father’s encouragement, learned to overcome this problem by writing their own tales.
The two ladies from the SyFy channel, Jessica Merizan and Holly Conrad, were two of my favorites on the show and are partners in a business related to cosplay. Both were very friendly and I owe the both Holly and Jessica a bit thank you for telling me where to find British food in the country. Especially Heinz baked beans.
Both pairs of women were lovely to talk with and I was pleased to find that both Jessica and Holly had been reading my reviews of the show. Later on I would meet a very busy Chloe Dykstra at another convention who, while not quite so eager talk, did allow me to take a quick snap of her at the Star Trek Convention.
I met a number of well known folks at my first ever Comic Con and got pictures taken with as many as I could. Later I would learn that this was a unique opportunity. At year two of the Amazing Las Vegas Comic Con it was relatively easy to access the celebs. At the Star Trek convention I learned that interviewing the “stars” was pretty much verboten unless set up before hand. I did “luck out” and got to speak (illegally) to the late Richard Kiel, just a month before his death, and a number of other stars I have idolized since childhood.
Tony Todd is a brilliant chap who spent hours talking to me and was one of the most fun interviews I have ever done. He made me laugh so much that my cheeks hurt. This Horror genre icon has a tremendous sense of humor and really enjoys interacting with his fans. I even spent two seconds, well maybe a bit longer, with the wonderfully intimidating Peter Weller (the other baddie in the last Star Trek film in case you’re wondering).
Weller, whom I adore, was giving “private” autographs to fans who spent a pretty penny to get the opportunity. A minder stood outside the room where Peter was ensconced and I asked if he thought it was alright to take a picture from the hallway. He went in to ask and the great actor looked up and saw me hovering in the doorway. “RoboCop” motioned me to come forward.
“You realize,” he said, “that people are paying a lot of money for pictures and autographs, don’t you?” I replied that I was not a fan attending but a member of the press and only wanted a snap to pop on Instagram for our readers. He then smiled and said, “Sure.” I stepped back toward the doorway, as I really was not supposed to be in there, to take the photo and he stopped me. “Oh no,” he said, “Don’t take it from there, take it here. The light is much better.”
What a guy.
There were many stars and things were so hectic that I missed half of those I wanted pictures of and hoped to have a word with. On one evening while leaving the venue I bumped into Walter Koenig. He was dressed in a flat cap and long jacket. He walked feebly between two people who were apparently holding him up. I stopped and put my camera away. I told him that I admired his work and was so pleased to see him at the conference. He smiled and shook my hand and moved slowly away.
The next day he was onstage and there was nothing feeble about him. I realized that his two minders were part of his “act” and kept most fans at a distance. The night before only one other person recognized “Chekov” and if she had not spied him, I would have walked right on by.
Almost all of 2014 was full of meeting people I never dreamed of ever getting close enough to speak to. I met and interviewed Tommy DeVito from the iconic group The Four Seasons and on the same night got close enough to his best friend Joe Pesci to smell his cologne. The press were not allowed to speak with Joe or take his picture unless it could be done without bothering him. Short of stature both men might be but the aura they both put off was that bigger than life projection that only stars can manage.
I met many more, got pictures of a lot, selfies with some others, and spoke to more. The publication I worked for might not have been “the real deal” but it provided me a banner to work from and to fulfill part of a dream. I got to meet the rich and famous, and not so famous, speak with them and write about them.
This year I have faded back into the woodwork. Obscurity beckons as I wait, not so patiently, for decent Internet and the ability to write enough articles for a new site to make a little money. I still have the odd film to watch/review and the odd interview to schedule, but this is life in the slow lane and I’ve got to say, despite all the negative aspects of working in Vegas, I kinda miss it.
Hopefully, once things are sorted out, I’ll be back in the thick of it. Nervously interviewing those talented people who entertain or inform for a living by directing, acting, writing or a combination of the above. While I have not met a number of folks I’ve interviewed in person, I have spoken to some brilliant people: Stephen Bishop, Jordan Hayes, Tiny Lister, Terry Kiser, Dr. Cyril Wecht and a number of other folks who were great fun to meet “over the phone.”
I would like to do an Arnold Schwarzenegger and say firmly that I’ll be back, but I cannot do so with any degree of certainty. What I can say is that even with all the negative things that were going on in the company I was attached to for 18 months, I had one helluva good time and met some great people. For awhile there I was doing the dream job. It was nice while it lasted but sadly it was not the opportunity it was advertised to be.