Wayward Pines: The Prisoner Updated?

Wayward Pines banner
Coming late to the Wayward Pines party, the first thought after watching the premiere episode is that this show is an updating of the superlative, and before its time, British series The Prisoner, “Who is number one?” Starring the intense and brilliant Irish actor, director and producer Patrick McGoohan. In some ways the only thing missing from Wayward Pines is the big plastic balloon-like ball which used to chase down and capture the odd “inmate” from the village who managed to get past its boundaries and almost escape.

*It should be pointed out that The Prisoner was remade in 2009 and released as a six episode mini-series. It was met with a mixed critical reception, much like the original 1960s series.*

This Fox series is not just The Prisoner revisited though. There are hints of Twin Peaks, American Horror Story and Cape Wrath, aka Meadowlands in the US throughout the show’s plot and if one looks hard enough, more off-beat and odd television show’s may be spotted like Eureka or even at a stretch The Stepford Wives film.

Of course, Matt Dillon as Ethan Burke is this show’s version of Number Six. In the 1960s show, the “agent” is someone who has opted to get out of the system. His “defection,” which is in fact a resignation, is not allowed; hence his incarceration in the quaint yet disturbing village. As far as we know Burke has not tried to leave his organization. He has had some sort of meltdown after failing to stop a bombing where over 600 innocent people died. His Secret Service Agent is mired in a world of guilt, regret and pathos.

A car accident leaves him injured and disoriented in the “town” (village) of Wayward Pines. As he stumbles about, after checking himself out of the deserted hospital, it becomes apparent that this place is not what it seems. By the end of the show, he has learned that the area is surrounded by a tall, seemingly never ending, electric fence with signs that warn death is imminent if the boundary is crossed.

As this first episode shows, Burke’s life is pretty screwed up from the word go. His guilt, from failing to stop the bomber and his affair with a partner who is thought to be missing has consumed him. Discovering that she is in Wayward Pines, along with the dead tortured Secret Service agent who is also missing, Burke learns that this town is a prison where people listen to what is happening and questioning things can be fatal.

“There are no crickets in Wayward Pines,” says the back of a bar bill that Juliette Lewis’ character, Beverly, hands Ethan in the Biergarten. Of course the same slip of paper has an address where he finds the other missing agent dead and decomposing. Later in the episode, Burke hears crickets and leans towards the foliage where the sound is emanating. He discovers a metal box and this is responsible for the cricket “sound effects.”

After leaving the hospital Burke tries to call home twice and leaves messages for his wife. Away from the town, the Secret Service tell Theresa Burke (Shannyn Sossamon) that her husband is missing and that there was no sign that he was even in the car at the scene of the accident. By the end of the show Mrs. Burke checks the answer machine and it holds no messages from her husband.

Thus far Wayward Pines is four episodes into its first season and looks very promising. Binge watching will allow the viewer to catch up on events and see just how strange things may turn out. The cast includes the superb Juliette Lewis and English actor Toby Jones (Captain America: The First Avenger, The Hunger Games) and Terence Howard (Iron Man, Empire) and of course Matt Dillon as Burke.

Show creator Chad Hodge has come up with an interesting show that appears to borrow from a few existing examples of the weird and wonderful. Producer M. Night Shyamalan directed this first episode and has obviously set the tone for the rest of the first season, which may still turn into an updating of The Prisoner. Time will tell whether this new show finds the audience it deserves.

7 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Sex Ed (2014): Haley Joel Osment Indie Comedy

promotional still from Sex Ed
Haley Joel Osment has followed up his previous 2014 Independent film outing, Kevin Smith’s superb Tusk, with another Indie movie, this one a comedy titled Sex Ed. Written by Bill Kennedy and directed by Isaac Feder (helming his first feature-length film) the movie is an almost wry look at a virginal teacher’s attempt to teach middle school kids about sex.

Osment may have gotten the world’s cinematic attention after playing the kid, (“I see dead people.”) in M. Night Shyamalan’s brilliant 1999 film The Sixth Sense but to a huge portion of the population he is the English voice of Sora from the epic video game Kingdom Hearts. Anyone watching Haley in Tusk will have noticed that even with very little to do, in that film, those acting chops are alive and well.

Sex Ed proves that the adroit performer can do comedy as easily as other types of roles. It is always a shock to see a grown up Osment, he is now 27 years-old and until Tusk, the last film I saw the actor in was Second Hand Lions. As the young semi-abandoned lad, “I’ve been to the orphan home before, I don’t want to go back,” Walter, he projected the perfect mix of loss, hopefulness and pathos, how he did not get an award for that film is a mystery.

In the start of this film, he plays Ed Cole, unemployed teacher, virgin and all around nerd. His character is uncomfortable around women and is convinced he is not cool enough. Ed is working in a bagel shop and getting rejection letters from every educational institute he applies to. After a motivational chat with his housemate JT (Glen Powell) he goes and demands that he be hired for a teaching job

On his first day, a young teen girl in his class comes back from the restroom crying and between sobs tells Cole that she has cancer and is dying. She has started her menstrual period and does not know that this is normal. The teacher immediately decides to teach the kids during their detention period about sex education.

He also falls in love with a student’s older sister and incurs the wrath of the local minister. During his daily adventures with the kids in his class, Cole desperately wants a girlfriend and to have sex, although not necessarily in that order. Sex Ed may not be blazingly original but the film is entertaining, funny in the right spots and although not “laugh out loud” funny, the film is pretty chuckle worthy.

Love interest Lorenza Izzo (Aftershock, Knock Knock) does a great job at being awkwardly interested in the nerdy Cole. Abby Elliot and Powell make a great couple and play really well off one another.

Kudos to Retta (Parks and Recreation, Fracture) as Sydney, Ed’s landlady and “life coach” as well as the owner of the bar below his apartment. This lady plays her part with a genuine feeling of warmth and caring that is funny and amidst the humor, sincere.

Streaming on US Netflix, Sex Ed is a 3 star film. Enjoyable enough but not so original that your breath will be taken away.

6 June 2015

Michael Knox-Smith

Devil (2010): Good Night?

Based on a story written by M. Night Shyamalan (The Sixth Sense, Unbreakable) and adapted for the screen by Brian Nelson (30 Days of Night, Hard Candy) and directed by John Erick Dowdle (QuarantineThe Poughkeepsie TapesDevil is ‘watered down’ Shyamalan.

Night who wrote the story with  Agatha Christie‘s book And Then There Were None as his template, married the plot with a fairytale about the Devil coming to Earth and torturing sinners. With most of the action taking place in an elevator, it makes for a claustrophobic tale of terror.

Unfortunately using a lift (elevator) as the setting for a ‘horror film’ is not unique. The vastly superior  2004 Japanese horror/science fiction film  Hellevator was set (apart from a very tiny portion of the film) entirely on an elevator. *On a side note – this Japanese film was made by a group of university students who had to tout tickets for its World Premier. Shot on what could be called the very epitome of a shoestring budget, the core set (the elevator scenes) was a 4×6 box that had removable sides. This ‘small’ student film builds more atmosphere and foreboding than most mainstream films on the market today.

Devil opens with a voice over telling the story of the Devil visiting sinners on earth. We are told by the narrator of the story that a suicide opens the door for the Devil to arrive. At this point in the film a man commits suicide by taking a high dive off of an office building where the story will take place.

The main cast of characters include an alcoholic cop who lost his wife and child in a hit and run years before – Detective Bowden (Chris Messina) and the five strangers who enter the elevator in the building (Logan Marshall-GreenJenny O’HaraBojana NovakovicBokeem WoodbineGeoffrey Arend). The last character of significance is Ramirez (Jacob Vargas) who is a security officer in the office building and who does the voice over at the beginning of the film.

In a nutshell, the cop is going to investigate something else when the leaper falls from the office building. The security officer is the one who realises that the events in the elevator and the office building are connected and supernatural in origin. The five occupants in the elevator are all ‘sinners’ with the degree of their ‘sin’ varying by each person. One of the occupants in the elevator is actually the Devil and one is connected to the alcoholic cop.

Whew.

The elevator with the captive audience of five, is trapped between floors. As they are waiting for the thing to be fixed, tensions mount and they start attacking one another. Verbally at first then physically and finally lethally. Each time the action  escalates in the elevator it’s preceded by the lights going out. When the lights come back on, someone has been physically attacked or another member of the group dies.

The whole thing hinges around who in the lift is the Devil. When we watched the movie at the cinema, my daughter and I picked out early on who we thought the Devil was. There is a plot twist in the film that, although it has been done before, still manages to surprise the viewer.

This film is worth watching as it is entertaining if not blazingly original. I cannot help but feel it would have been a lot better if Night himself had helmed the project and not just written the story it was based on. But as this was at a point in his career that ‘Night bashing’ was rife in the industry I am not surprised that he chose this route for his vision.

My final verdict is that it is a ‘one bagger’ of a film. One large bag of popcorn will easily see you through the film with it’s lack of jumps and popcorn tossing scares. Entertaining  but be glad you didn’t fork out the price of a cinema ticket.

M. Night Shyamalan
M. Night Shyamalan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)