As Comic-Con International 2015 #SDCC kicks off in San Diego, Universal Cable Productions (UCP) has unveiled several new deals that will continue to fortify the studio’s growing genre library and cater to the high demand for television content inspired by science fiction, graphic novel and comic book stories. As part of its overall deal with Valhalla Entertainment, UCP today announced renowned graphic novel writer Warren Ellis (New York Times best-seller “Gun Machine”, and “Iron Man: Extremis” – the Marvel Comics graphic novel and basis for “Iron Man 3”), will adapt the popular 1970s Mexican comic book and Televisa format “El Pantera” as his first original TV series with Gale Anne Hurd set to executive produce and Televisa USA to co-produce.
Based on the popular 1970s Mexican comic book and hit Spanish language TV series adapted by Televisa, “El Pantera” is a vigilante crime drama set in a fictional metropolis on the U.S. Mexico Border. When a young officer is appointed Head of Police, he only has one request: He asks that his friend, who was wrongfully imprisoned, be set free. Under the guise of his rumored death, the two create ‘El Pantera’ to rid the city of the Mexican mob. Warren Ellis is set to adapt the comic with Gale Anne Hurd’s Valhalla Entertainment attached to produce and Televisa USA to co-produce with UCP.
UCP is also developing the award-winning cult British film, “The Machine” into a scripted series for Syfy with the film’s Caradog James (“Little White Lies”) set to write the script and John Giwa-Amu (“The Silent Storm”) to produce. The story follows a brilliant computer programmer, desperate to save his terminally ill daughter, who creates the first-ever piece of self-aware artificial intelligence. But things go terribly wrong when the technology, designed to help injured soldiers, is hijacked by the government and used to create the ultimate robotic weapon. “The Machine” will follow multiple storylines as it takes a broad view of cutting edge scientific breakthroughs in genetic engineering, trans-humanism, and artificial intelligence.
Additionally, the studio has recently optioned the critically acclaimed comic series “Kill Shakespeare”, created by Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery, and released by IDW Publishing (“Orphan Black”, “Locke & Key”). This dark take on Shakespeare – which has also spawned a stage production and board game – pits his greatest heroes (Hamlet, Juliet, Othello, Falstaff) against his most menacing villains (Richard III, Lady Macbeth, Iago) in an epic adventure to find and kill – or save – a reclusive wizard named William Shakespeare. Anthony Del Col and Conor McCreery are set to write.
“These projects speak to UCP’s continued commitment to genre and aligning with the best talent in the business. Warren Ellis and Gale Anne Hurd are a genre dream team – ideal visionaries to adapt Mexico’s iconic comic ‘El Pantera’,” said Dawn Olmstead, Executive Vice President of Development, Universal Cable Productions. “Comic-Con has been fertile ground for mining great content – it was there five years ago that I first heard about ‘Kill Shakespeare’ and have been chasing it since. They had me at a love triangle between Romeo, Juliet and Hamlet. Set in a world where all of Shakespeare’s villains are seeking to find their creator and destroy him, is well, very Shakespearian. ‘The Machine’ is a profound story that allows us to explore a poignant and unique relationship between science fiction and humanity.”
UCP also announced this week a first-look production deal with legendary comic book publisher, Dark Horse Entertainment (“The Mask”, “Hellboy”) focused on developing and producing scripted programming from their extensive comic book library as well as new material. Initial discussions that began at last year’s Comic-Con have yielded multiple television projects with direct involvement from the comics creators – among them: “Harrow County”, based on the comic written by Cullen Bunn (“The Damned”, “The Sixth Gun”) and illustrated by Tyler Crook (“Bad Blood”); “The Umbrella Academy” created by Gerard Way (lead singer of “My Chemical Romance”, and writer of “The True Lives of the Fabulous Killjoys”) and Gabriel Ba (Daytripper); and “Concrete” from Eisner award-winning comics legend Paul Chadwick.
Other notable genre projects in UCP’s development pipeline include: for Syfy: “Channel Zero”, a horror anthology series from Nick Antosca (“Hannibal”, “Friday the 13th”) set to write the script, and Max Landis (“Chronicle”, “American Ultra”) set to produce. The first season will be based on “Candle Cove” by Kris Straub, a story that originates from the user-generated internet horror phenomenon known as creepypasta; “Brave New World”, based on the classic novel by Aldous Huxley (“Ape and Essence”) published in 1932 with Les Bohem (“The Alamo”) set to write, and Amblin (“Jurassic World”) attached to produce; “Hyperion”, based on the Hugo Award-winning science fiction novels that form “The Hyperion Cantos” by writer Dan Simmons (“Summer of the Night”) with Bradley Cooper (Executive producer and actor in “American Hustle” and “Silver Linings Playbook”), Graham Kin (“Space Truckers”), and Todd Phillips (The Hangover”, “Project X”) attached to executive produce and Itamar Moses to write the script and serve as co-executive producer.
UCP is also developing “Dreadstar”, based on the classic 1980s character from the Marvel-owned Epic Comics imprint by iconic Marvel comic book writer Jim Starlin (“Amazing Spider Man” and “Captain Marvel”) with Evan Daugherty (“Snow White and the Huntsman”, “Divergent”) attached to adapt, BenderSpink (“Horrible Bosses 3”, “Leap Year”) attached to produce, and Starlin and Ford Gilmore set to executive produce.
At this year’s Comic-Con, events, panels and screenings featuring Universal Cable Productions TV series include:
Thursday, July 9
8:15PM – Room 6DE, San Diego Convention Center
Dominion on Syfy: EP Vaun Wilmott hosts an exclusive screening of the first two episodes of Season 2.
Friday, July 10
4:30PM – Room 6BCF, San Diego Convention Center
Colony – a co-production with Legendary Television coming to USA Network this fall. Expected to appear: Carlton Cuse, Ryan Condal, Josh Holloway, Sarah Wayne Callies and Peter Jacobson.
6:00PM – Omnia Rooftop, San Diego
Universal Cable Productions Comic-Con Cocktail Reception (by invitation)
Saturday, July 11
11:00AM – Indigo Room at the Hilton Bayfront Hotel
Childhood End coming to Syfy in 2016: Based on the Arthur C. Clarke classic novel. Stars from the upcoming six-hour miniseries expected to appear: Julian McMahon, Daisy Betts, and Yael Stone, director Nick Hurran and screenwriter Matthew Graham.
12:00PM – Indigo Room at the Hilton Bayfront Hotel
12 Monkeys on Syfy: EPs Terry Matalas and Travis Fickett, and stars expected to appear: Aaron Stanford, Amanda Schull, Kirk Acevedo, Barbara Sukowa, Emily Hampshire and Todd Stashwick.
12:00PM – Horton Grand Theatre, 444 4th Ave., San Diego
Colony Premiere Pilot Screening & Q&A
Sunday, July 11
11:00AM – Room 7AB, San Diego Convention Center
Spotlight on Lev Grossman: Author of The Magicians, adapted into a 2016 Syfy series from Universal Cable Productions. Expected to appear is Lev Grossman with moderators Sera Gamble and John McNamara, executive producers of the “The Magicians” TV series.
Midnight Mass: The Blood of Life
The isolated island community of Crockett receives a mysterious new head priest, full of secrets and a brand new testament under a very unusual Messenger of God.
Meet poor Riley Flynn (Zach Gilford), freshly released from prison and wracked with guilt over what got him there, a stupid drinking accident that caused the death of his ex-girlfriend. The last thing he wants to do is go back to Crockett and the judgment of the mostly religious community there, his disappointed family, and the nightmares of his ex’s death that plague him. But where else would have him? Resignedly on the ferry, he goes.
Riley’s dad Ed (Henry Thomas) isn’t the kind of man who talks very much at all, much less about his feelings, or his very real disappointment in his elder son. Riley’s teen brother Warren (Igby Rigney) has no idea what to say to him either, and just generally keeps mum. Riley’s mom Annie (Kristin Lehman) is accepting and loving, hesitant in how to help her eldest son but never wavering in her faith in the help of our lord Jesus. Mom seems to think a good heaping dose of the Church would set Riley right but is surprised to learn that the old priest of the Parish, Pruitt, has taken an extended leave of absence from the island, and his newcomer replacement Father Paul (Hamish Linklater) is young, charismatic, and bursting at the seams to tell the whole island about the gifts he brought them, most especially what he claims as a new testament under a messenger of God.
We’ll get back to that whole ball of issues in a moment, the other interesting characters of Crockett Island. Bev Keane (Samantha Sloyan) is the nightmarish overly polite and gently, almost lovingly condescending neighbor Christian woman you’ve ever loathed, the kind of person who explains away every last thing her Church may do wrong or contradictory because, after all, God works in mysterious ways. Pfft. Of course, Bev immediately ingratiates herself as the second to the new Father Paul in their services and is the first to start covering up his transgressions as they become more rampant.
Newcomers to Crockett Sheriff Hassan (Rahul Kohli) and his son Ali (Rahul Abburi) present a burgeoning problem to the plans of Father Paul and his shadowy companion, for they are both practicing Muslims. The practical side of investigating these so-called ‘miracles’ and strange happenings falls on Hassan’s shoulders, as he already struggles with barely-concealed racism and suspicion from his fellow islanders, and of course his son is being wooed away from him by the promise of actual, tangible miracles, but from a different whole faith and God. Father Paul definitely does not practice a traditional Christian faith and relies far too much on making use of the eucharist, the ceremony of the blood and flesh of Jesus Christ turning into bread and wine and, well, consumed.
Wade (Michael Trucco) and his wife Dolly (Crystal Balint) are lifers of the island and both in general interested in one thing, the advancement of their own family, specifically their daughter Leeza (Annarah Cymone), who happens to be in a wheelchair. And that happens to be the canny Father Paul’s first real miracle-with-a-cost that he demonstrates to the astonishment of the parishioners, after a heartfelt and rousing sermon, Father Paul commands Leeza to rise, to stand, and to walk. And lo, she does. What parents wouldn’t wholly dedicate themselves to a cause after seeing this happen to their beloved precious daughter? The fringe benefits of healing, and power, the ones that come at a mighty, currently unnamed, cost, are simply a nice bonus.
Joe Collie (Robert Longstreet) is the town drunk, and while his reasons for drowning his sorrows in the sauce might be understandable, absolution wears a very different face when it comes from Father Paul. While Leeza might be willing to forgive Joe, and even as Joe begins attending the newly-formed Al-Anon meetings on the island of course hosted by Father Paul, redemption might’ve been better sought from medical professionals, and not this newfound method of religious worship.
Dr. Sarah Gunning (Annabeth Gish) is the islands’ kind of all-around medic, and this is how she and Riley’s old friend Erin (Kate Siegel), also newly returned to the island, a few months pregnant but traveling quietly alone, met when Erin comes to the Doc for obstetrics. Sarah’s older mother Mildred Gunning (Alexandra Essoe) has many medical and mental issues, and Sarah struggles in their shared home, to take care of her addled mom and balance her own life. Then Father Paul takes it upon himself to visit one of his oldest parishioners, bringing the sacred host and wine with him to give directly to Mildred, who starts looking and acting so much better under his loving care.
The show is very much a slow slow burn, with a lot of the actual action taking place in the last two episodes. Much of the beginning and middle episodes feature two people just sitting alone, having quiet and seriously in-depth conversations about heavy subjects – grief and repentance, what happens when we die, the disasters that come as a result of addictions, how our actions’ consequences reverberate to those we love around us, faith and the foibles of man, and of course, the giving of oneself over to a higher power, for strength, and guidance, and love.
Except, for the higher power that Father Paul brought back with him, to share with his beloved flock of Crockett Island, while it may be extremely powerful and full of what could be considered miraculous magic, everything comes at some kind of a cost. And when the Messenger of God is finally revealed to the shocked denizens of Crockett at Easter Mass, with Father Paul rapturing on about rebirth as the bloody massacre begins in earnest, it’s faith, not in any kind of God or religion, but faith in each other, that may save a few hardy souls.
Question the wisdom of your religious leaders along with the rest of us in a fine slow-burn addition to the Flanaverse, Midnight Mass is on Netflix now!
Saw X: It ain’t brain surgery!
Legendary executioner Jigsaw returns to exact revenge on a cadre of scam artists who promised him a bogus cure for his cancer!
First off, be aware, that this is what I call an interleaved sequel, a movie set between previous films in the franchise. In this case, Saw X occurs after the events of the very first Saw film, and before Saw II. Everybody got where we are? Good! Into the madness, we dive!
So, as we all know, John Kramer’s been diagnosed with cancer, very aggressive brain cancer, and likely doesn’t have much time left. And he’s tried everything under the sun, doing a ton of meticulous research, we’d expect nothing less from our master of the art of murder, and not one thing has worked. Yet one man from the support group for cancer sufferers, Henry (Michael Beach), offers an off-the-books supposed miracle cure, and John jumps at the chance.
Why does this nonsense always sound too good to be true? Because it is. Deleted scenes from the first Deadpool movie already told us why traveling to Mexico for any kind of medical cure is a sublimely stupid move, but Kramer is desperate. And while he might be sick and dying, John Kramer has never been what anyone could call stupid. So the villa out in the Mexican countryside, the affable cab driver Diego (Joshua Okamoto) professes surprise at Kramer being highjacked for his good, the nervous muttering from assistant Valentina (Paulette Hernandez), the side-eyeing from little housekeep Gabriela (Renata Vaca) and her tequila, and most especially the smooth and smarming reassurances of head “doctor” Cecilia Pederson (Synnove Macody Lund), all leave a kind of sour taste in John’s mouth.
The whole cluex4 scene is done in the style that the Saw films are known for, where we the audience are treated to cut-together explanatory scenes in a flip-flash fashion of usually about two minutes, for poor John when he realizes he’s been hoodwinked and just how badly, seems a little contrived. But then it’s entirely possible that we the audience truly expected our genius mastermind of the infamous Jigsaw murders to have realized what was happening sooner, and got enraged along with Kramer. And cheered as he prepared to take his bloody and ultra-violent revenge!
First up in our grand guignol of executions is the return of Jigsaw’s first protégé, Amanda (Shawnee Smith). And despite her avowed reverence for Jigsaw and his proven “therapy”, Amanda does waver a bit when the scammers are put through the paces of their specially-made Saw traps, and they shriek and blubber and bleed out. The appearance of the ringer of the bunch, Parker (Steven Brand), doesn’t even slow our beloved engineer of the damned down, because we knew Jigsaw would have his other apprentice waiting just off stage, the deliciously vicious Detective Hoffman (Costas Mandylor). Even the monkeywrench of involving little-boy soccer fan Carlos (Jorge Briseno) in the traps, is just another cog in the machine that is the brilliantly plotting mind of John Kramer.
A fine addition to the Saw legends, showcasing a return to the beloved style and panache of the original Tobin Bell-starring Jigsaw films, Saw X is splashing gore and gallons of blood in theaters now!
Scott Pilgrim Takes Off
“Scott Pilgrim Takes Off,” Netflix’s latest series, is a rollicking journey through the world of video game culture, blending nostalgic references with a fresh narrative twist. Centered around Scott Pilgrim, portrayed with magnetic charisma by Michael Cera, the show skillfully integrates gaming elements into its storytelling, creating a delightful homage to the video game subculture.
The series cleverly employs pixelated graphics, power-up animations, and game-like sound effects to bring the virtual world to life. These visual cues, reminiscent of classic video games, enhance the storytelling and resonate with audiences familiar with the gaming landscape. The attention to detail in recreating iconic gaming moments is commendable, creating a visual and auditory treat for enthusiasts.
The exploration of video game culture goes beyond mere aesthetics; it becomes an integral part of the characters’ identities and interactions. The script intelligently weaves gaming terminology and tropes into the dialogue, effectively blending the real and virtual worlds. The series navigates the challenges and triumphs of the characters through the lens of gaming, making it a unique and engaging experience for both gamers and general audiences.
The ensemble cast, including standout performances from Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Ellen Wong, and Chris Evans embraces the gaming theme with infectious enthusiasm. The chemistry between the characters is palpable, adding emotional depth to the series.
“Scott Pilgrim Takes Off” successfully taps into the zeitgeist of video game culture, offering a nostalgic yet contemporary take on the gaming phenomenon. It’s a must-watch for those who cherish the pixelated roots of the gaming world while providing an accessible and entertaining narrative for a broader audience. The series takes off not only in its title but also in its ability to soar within the ever-expanding realm of Netflix originals.