Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life: What the Fudge, FOX?

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Before looking at episode 13 of Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life; “How to Survive Your Birthday,” let us take a moment to ask FOX a quick annoyed question.  What the fudge?  We understand that you do not think too highly of your series.  Moving the time slot, weeks going by with no episodes and then slapping two together in what looked like a season  one finale, meant that finding the show was beyond difficult.

Is it any  wonder that the viewing figures dropped?

(It was even hard to find an episode guide on IMDb to see what segment  was scheduled next.  Right now it appears that FOX could be  even worse than NBC in shafting the hell out of their own shows. Re: The Player…)

In what could really be the season one finale, which last Sunday’s double episode obviously was not, episode 13 proved that the writers could dig deep and come up with a ending installment that rocked.  They  provided  multiple sets of whammies  in the storyline.

Romona (Victoria Justice)  yanking Cooper’s trousers down to his ankles, whilst on her knees,  in front of an apartment full of people. Food poisoning. Almost getting eaten by a bear. Being saved by a “mountain man” they believe to be a baby-faced bank robber and that they kidnap. And last but not least;  Josh (Justin Bartha) and Leslie (Liza Lapira) getting stuck with “meth-head” Arvid in the mini-van. 

(On a sidenote here. Who knew that “The Swede” aka Christopher Heyerdahl could do so well at comedy. The actor was truly funny and fit right in with this talented crowd of actors.)

In terms of wrapping things up “How to Survive Your Birthday” at last answers the question of “will they, won’t they?” Romona does make her play though actively seducing Cooper (Jack Cutmore-Scott). That little slice of lust on the carpet is cut short although later on she does move in again on Cooper. 

Kelly too makes her feeling known with planning Cooper’s party for three weeks and splashing out some serious moolah on entertainment and a party bus.

Regardless of intent, we finally  have the Cooper and Kelly (Meaghan Rath) connection that has been hovering around since the first episode.  Sure we knew these two were fated to be together but the fact that is has transpired in episode 13 probably means that there will be no season two. 

Major kudos to the writers who got to wrap up all their  threads in this episode. Some of the better gags in the show included the long running Neal as lesbian with glasses joke.  The entire storyline, with the Cooper disastrous birthday backstory was funny as was Kelly’s being angry with Barrett through most of the episode.

Congratulations to all the actors in the series for putting it on the line with their characters. James Earl and Charlie Saxton were two integral members of an ensemble cast who never disappointed.  

There has been no official word on Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life being cancelled or renewed. Considering how little faith the network has shown in the series  thus far it does not seem likely that the show will be renewed.

Still, at least the show ended on a high note or two. A funny storyline that has  Cooper and Kelly “getting it on” at the end while Boyz II Men plays in the background. If Cooper Barrett’s Guide to Surviving Life is shot down we can say with all honesty that, “We miss you already Ms. Rath.”

Amsterdamned (1988): Still Quite a Thriller (Review)

Monique Van De Ven and Huub Staple

Amsterdamned is a taut thriller written and directed by Dick Maas and starring Huub Stapel  and Monique van de Ven (who starred with a young Rutger Hauer in the 1973 cult classic film Turkish Delight).   Maas as a director made films that looked polished and suitable for marketing in the United States, indeed, world-wide and Amsterdamned was no exception. The film is still quite good and having aged exceedingly well provides a number of solid scares.

The story of a serial killer who haunted the canals in Amsterdam was actually edge of the seat viewing when the film came out. I watched the Dutch video when it was released in 1989, sans subtitles, and only catching around every other word, it had me watching the scarier bits through my fingers.

Huub Stapel is Eric Visser who is a single parent raising his daughter Anneke (Tatum Dagelet). Eric is also a more than capable detective on the Amsterdam police force.  A prostitute is murdered along a canal in the capital. Her body is strung upside down from a low-water bridge. The bloody body is drug across the glass top of a scenic boat full of tourists and school children.  

This traumatizing event is the start of a string of bodies left in and around the canals. Eric must catch the killer before he is taken off the case. Along the way he meets and romances Laura (van de Ven) a tour guide at a local museum.

Amsterdamned  is dark, tense and damned scary in places. There is an underwater scene in a sunken canal boat that will make you jump and the action is well choreographed and pretty thrilling.  There are plenty of twists and turns and this police drama is more horror than suspenseful thriller.

Anyone who has traveled to Amsterdam will know that the canals are full of rubbish, until they have been dredged, and bacteria that can make the hapless person who falls in very ill.  The same world traveler will recognize that some of the excellent boat chase stunts took place in Utrecht and not Amsterdam. The cafe settings are much closer to the canal than any in the country’s capital city.

Maas sets the scenes very well and manages to make the film scream by in terms of pacing. At almost two hours long the film should have a few slow spots but does not.  Even the scenes with Eric’s daughter and her “boyfriend” (which do feel a tad like filler) do not detract from the storyline. One scene, in fact, has  a lovely fillip to the proceedings that is impressive and chill inspiring.

For  a “slasher” serial killer film, there is a surprising lack of gore.  Certainly there are the odd limbs scattered here and there and, apart from the murdered prostitute at the start,  not much in the way of claret.

In many ways the film feels like a homage to every American detective movie made in the 1980s. Most of the detectives wear leather jackets and the music is evocative of most crime  films that featured heavy police work and a high body count.

It should be noted that Huub Stapel worked with Maas on the 1986 film Flodder  and its first sequel Flodder in America!.

Amsterdamned is still cracking cinema that delivers as much of a punch now as it did in 1988.  This horror/thriller continues to keep the viewer on the edge of their seat and provides enough scares to impress.

This is a 5 star film. The special effects are quite good for the time and the tight direction, excellent cast and the taut/scary storyline makes for an almost perfect film.  It can be seen on YouTube, in its entirety, with English subtitles.

Ghost Graduation (Promoción Fantasma): School’s Out Forever (Review) 2012

Poster or Ghost Graduation 2012

Having recently discovered the comedic directing abilities of Javier Ruiz Caldera via the very entertaining Spy Timeit was brilliant to find another film by this  director on Netflix; Ghost Graduation. This  fantasy/comedy offering (original title Promoción Fantasma) from Spain has a ghost busting teacher who helps some dead students get out of school forever. 

Modesto (Raúl Arévalo) learns at an early age that he can see and interact with dead people. Unlike the kid in The Sixth Sense, the departed that Modesto interacts with look like everyday people. These are normal looking and look nothing like the grim ghosts  in M Night Shyamalan’s film. 

The young man grows up to be a teacher who is fired from every school he finds employment with. His social skills are mainly to blame as he isolates himself. Modesto attends therapy sessions and is told there are no ghosts and that he is gay.

The teacher hires on at Monforte, a school plagued by inexplicable events The school has an opening after s a literature teacher is flung out an upper story window. The events are caused by a group of dead former students who have failed to move on.

The quintet of deceased “Breakfast Club” members is comprised of stereotypes that work very well for the comedy.  The school bad boy – Dani (Àlex Maruny), the Jock – Jorge (Jaime Olías),  the party animal – Pink Floyd (Javier Bódalo), the loose girl – Marivi – (Andrea Duro) and the  good girl – Angela (Anna Castillo).

The comedy begins in earnest when Modesto is hired as the new literature teacher. The rest of the film deals with his burgeoning romance with Tina, played by Alexandra Jiménez who worked with director Caldera in Spy Time. The school’s headmistress has a thorn in her side with school council president Ortegui (Carlos Areces) who has a surprising connection to one of the ghostly students. 

Ghost Graduation does what any really good comedy should do. It makes one laugh and cry. The film also shows that students are pretty much the same all over the world.  The five ghosts of the school died  during a 1990s Christmas party. The deceased were  five students who were in detention in the library and they all perished in a fire. The kids are stuck at the school until they can move on.

The comedy is contagious, from the ghostly students freaking out that the new teacher can see and hear them to  Modesto’s reactions to his surroundings, it is all good fun.  In terms of violence there is very little; a teacher thrown out a window twice is all there is. There is some partial nudity but no sex and no foul language in the subtitles.

The director show the same skillful handling of this comedic feature film that he demonstrated in Spy Time.  Ghost Graduation is fast paced and at 88 minutes speeds by with all the momentum of a bullet train.

The film looks good, in terms of CG, except for  the “vomiting” sequences where Pink Floyd spews copious amounts of pink liquid. The character died drunk and stayed drunk.

Arévalo is spot on as the social inept Modesto whose confidence grows as the film progresses. Jiménez plays the beleaguered school head very well and apart from being stunning, has comedy chops to spare. The actors playing the students were brilliant and for those who may have only discovered  Anna Castillo;  keep an eye on this one. 

Caldera has adroitly handled two comedy offering out of a possible three. The last film, Three Many Weddings is the 2013 offering from a trio of films that began with Ghost Graduation. The Spanish movie is subtitled but this takes nothing from the enjoyment of this comedic haunted school tale.

This was another 5 star film from a director who won this reviewer over on Spy Time and had now solidified a reputation of being able to effortlessly do comedy.  Streaming on Netflix watch this one. Now.

Orange is the New Black: We’re Going to Have to Kill Her (Review)

Poussey and Judy King in OITNB

Having come late to Orange Is the New Black has made it difficult  to catch up without binging. Regardless of needing a score card sometimes to learn who is who OItNB is cracking television. This is an addictive show with writing that takes the viewer through the daily highs and lows of the female inmates in Litchfield.  Lolly is a favorite and one worries for her safety after the three “body in the garden” group declared, “We’re going to have to kill her.”

All the characters in the show are fascinating and the use of flashbacks to provide backstory for the main group is compelling. Thus far in season four Lolly is a firm favorite, the fact that the uber talented Lori Petty plays her helps, and she provides a combination of comic relief and tragedy combined.

Of course most of the characters have a good bit of tragedy in their lives, as is shown in the flashback sequences.  This is, after all, prison even if it is a minimum security facility. Episode two was not as exciting as episode one but it did establish more of the characters in the show.

The new captain of the guard man-mountain Piscatella (Brad William Henke) for example is now an established character. The storyline this season has Maria organizing the Dominican population and encroaching  on Piper’s underwear business.  

Lolly keeps freaking out about the dead body in the garden and Frieda (Dale Soules) is the first to mention killing poor Lolly (Petty) to Alex (Laura Prepon). It was Lolly who saved Alex’s life by almost killing the hitman who Alex later had to finish off. 

Piper (Taylor Shilling) is still a legend in her own mind and is setting herself up for a massive fall.

Episode three sees a drone hovering over the prison and Lolly clocks it. Believing that one of the many governmental agencies has found her, Lolly freaks out again.  Soso (Kimiko Glennand Poussey (Samira Wiley) are having a few growing pains with their relationship. 

Poussey is starstruck with Judy King and Soso has a talk with the celebrity chef lying about her lover’s background. The two make up later on and Lolly has the death sentence passed on her again, this time from Kate Mulgrew‘s character.

Doggett  (Taryn Manning) is positive that Coates (James McMenamin) is raping the  new van driver Maritza (Diane Guerrero) like he raped her. Although the CO does not know that Pennastucky considers it rape. 

Another favorite Orange Is the New Black  character, who featured pretty heavily in episode one of season four is Suzanne “Crazy Eyes” Warren (Uzo Aduba).  Aduba has the polish and delivery of a Whoopi Goldberg and her eccentric character is a show stopper. 

Show creator Jenji Kohan has taken the memoirs of Piper Kerman and brought the world of a privatized minimal prison for women to living breathing life.  The issue of overcrowding and private correction facilities cutting  corners and leaving the inmates feeling unsafe is not glossed over and it adds a sense of realism to this splendid dramedy. 

Orange Is the New Black streams on Netflix and all episodes can be watched at one sitting.  It is addictive viewing and not to be missed.

Spy Time Aka Anacleto: Agente Secreto (2015): Action Comedy Fun (Review)

Anacleto and son in Spy Time

Based on a comic book that parodies the James Bond world of spies and super secret agents, Spy Time (Anacleto: Agente Secreto) is a fun action comedy that is particularly apt for this day and age. Anacleto is the silver-haired suave secret agent who has to deal with a declining budget and a list of enemies that hate him.

One, Vázquez, stages an escape as he is being transported from one prison to another (“A smaller, dirtier, prison,” says Anacleto with more than a little satisfaction.).  As he departs the escort van the secret agent’s nemesis reveals he plans to kill Anacleto and his son Adolfo (Quim Gutiérrez).

Adolfo is a Wilber milquetoast character. A security guard at an electrical shop who is afraid to approach the criminals stealing merchandise from the shop floor.  Adolfo’s girlfriend Katia (Alexandra Jiménez) is breaking up with him because he is boring and does not even have a driving license. 

The two meet up at a nightclub and after she fights with her brother, Martin (Berto Romero), who is Adolfo’s best friend,  Katia and Adolfo have break-up sex at their apartment. After learning that she still intends to leave him, Adolfo goes to sleep on the couch.

Vázquez sends his first assassin to kill Anacleto’s son and a very surprised Adolfo learns that  he can defend himself and kills the Chinaman.  The next morning he goes to tell Katia and finds the apartment is in pristine  condition and that  the dead body is gone.

Adolfo meets his father Anacleto (Imanol Arias) and the two begin to reforge broken bonds and survive the many attempts on their lives. 

Directed by Javier Ruiz Caldera (who specializes in comedy films) and written by a trio of  scribes who based the screenplay on the comic by Manuel Vázquez Gallego Spy Time is a delightful romp that has little gore but some surprisingly brutal violence. 

(The writers who crafted the screenplay are: Pablo AlénBreixo Corral and Fernando Navarro.)

In terms of violence, one character has an long allen wrench shoved into their eye. It is a tad shocking but the act does not detract from the humor. Once again because there is a lack of gore. There are no buckets of claret here;  just enough to show that violence has occurred.

There are many comical moments. Anacleto giving Katia’s entire family truth serum. When Adolfo’s soon-to-be ex girlfriend complains that Anacleto’s son did not get the serum the secret agent protests. “What do you think I am? I’m not going to drug my own son!”

A great bit on assembling IKEA-type furniture and a secret meeting in a Bingo hall (“22, two little ducks”) and some splendid comic stunts make this a very entertaining film to watch. From the ubiquitous  tuxedo and cigarette to the Walther PPK semiautomatic pistol,  the role of Anacleto screams James Bond. But on a modern day EU budget.

The two main actors; Gutiérrez and Arias, look like father and son and their chemistry together is spot on. Arias is brilliant as the calm and self assured secret agent who “Never fails.”  Spy Time was shot in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain and this helps the setting of the film feel authentic.

The Spanish shop fronts and the streets all put the viewer right  there. Viewers who have lived in Europe prepare for a light dose of nostalgia. (A quick sidenote: The fight scene in the covered market is brilliantly choreographed and quite funny.)

Spy Time is a 5 star film, virtually perfect in every way. Funny with a lot of action; shootouts and fights, with more than enough clever dialogue. The pacing is swift and flowing so that the 87  minute runtime feels much faster.  In terms of violence it is a tad severe so consider yourself warned.

The film is streaming on Netflix at the moment. It is a subtitled production so those who cannot cope with foreign films they “have to read” may want to give it a pass. For the rest, put your glasses on and prepare to be thoroughly entertained.

Wynonna Earp: I Walk the Line – Family Tree (Review) Warning: Spoilers

 Wynonna Earp - Season 1

The season finale  of Wynonna Earp raised a few questions while showing  so much about the Willa and Robert backstory.” I Walk the Line” also had at least one shocking reveal and when it ended the fates of Purgatory and Wynonna seemed pretty final.  It also seems that JC  (“Right initials, wrong fella.”) paid Willa a visit or two in the family tree house.

It turns out that Waverly (Dominique Provost-Chalkley) was right not to trust big sister Willa (Natalie Krill). Stealing back Peacemaker kept Bobo (Michael Eklund) from leaving the Ghost River Triangle area. This forced Willa to show more of her true colors although Wynonna still missed the more obvious clues (such as  big sister calling the citizens of Purgatory “meat-sticks.”).

” I Walk the Line”  was a very busy episode in terms of action and reveals. For a start, Juan Carlos is not quite the “Yoda” figure he initially appeared to be.  It is clear that he was the other visitor who “made promises in the dark” to Willa. It could not have been Constance Clootie as she only turned up when the Earp heir turned 27 and that was to wipe her memory clean.

Shocking Moments in the Episode:

Learning that Robert Svane (Bobo) and Willa were lovers.  All kinds of wrong this one, despite Bobo’s protestations that he never “touched” the 13 year old child he “saved.”

Willa shooting Nicole Haught (Katherine Barrell). Later, the Earp heir also unblinkingly went to shoot Wynonna with Peacemaker. 

Sheriff Nedley (Greg Lawson) turning out to be a decent guy after all.

Dolls shooting Willa.

Bobo telling Waverly that she is not an Earp.

Dolls (Shamier Anderson) turning out to be some sort of monster, as hinted by Lucado.(What a b*tch she is,  eh?)

And last but not least; Waverly, after being possessed by giant Hell worm blood, shooting…Who? Wynonna? Doc?

(We become privy to the news that Ward Earp was not a nice chap. He apparently beat up on his wife on top of his penchant for making deals with revenants.  It could well be that Willa was born to go bad from the start. Certainly her personality left much to be desired, although that could be blamed on her brainwashing captor Bobo/Robert.)

There were some stand out moments as well.  The big fight at Shorty’s.  Granted we do not see any of the chaos inside the building but we do get another  glance at the yellow-eyed demon inside of Dolls.

Another noteworthy event was the climatic shootout with Bobo and his telekinetic powers. Cue one middle finger moment from the rough and tumble  Earp heir (the real one).

Peacemaker not working for Willa, after she has doomed the denizens of Purgatory and her sisters, was equally impressive. She also abandons her lover in those final moments.

Thoughts: 

It turns out that, like Waverly, we were right to dislike the eldest Earp. She may well be a tragic figure (and she is to a degree, being captured and saved by a revenant “pedo” obviously changed her a lot) but Willa would most likely never have won the Miss Congeniality award in Purgatory anyway.

Peacemaker also worked on Willa, turing blue versus red, and this must mean that she was less human and more something else. Perhaps more like Juan Carlos…Or not.

And who is Juan Carlos? Or more accurately, perhaps, what is he. More powerful than Bobo and able to step outside the triangle with impunity, JC is a major player apparently. Rather interestingly, when Wynonna cocks and points Peacemaker at Juan Carlos it does not emit a color.  Willa made it turn blue and revenants are red.  No color at all for Juan…

The End:

By the end of the episode, Dolls is taken by Lucado to a black site as punishment for interfering. Wynonna shoots Bobo/Robert and sends him to hell moments after he crosses the Ghost River Triangle line. Waverly touches the worm blood and becomes possessed and then pulls a gun and shoots either her sister or Doc.

(Something  to consider: That rumbling heard by Doc (Tim Rozon) and Wynonna (Melanie Scrofano) as Waverly turns may be the tomahawk missiles ordered by Lucado prior to Wynonna shooting Bobo. If this is the case then Purgatory and our heroine are doubly damned in this huge cliffhanger ending.)

Kudos to the entire cast here. Rozon was superb as Holliday. He gave his character a truth that sold the concept of Doc as flawed hero, making him a perfect match for Wynonna who,  as we all know, is flawed as well.

Scrofano was perfect as Wynonna another case of the actor filling her role with enough humor and pathos to make it feel real. Provost-Chalkley made us love Waverly; who was a mixture of eager enthusiasm and angst.

Mad props to Michael Eklund as Bobo Del Ray/Robert Svane. The actor managed to make us feel a bit upset at his death despite his character’s very unhealthy obsession with the Earp girls.

Wynonna Earp - Season 1
Michael Eklund as Bobo Del Ray

If Wynonna Earp comes back, if Purgatory and our heroine did not meet a sticky end by the hands of possessed Waverly or Lucado, we will be eagerly looking forward to her next set of adventures.

 

Jarhead 3: The Siege (2016) Feels Like a CoD Movie (Review)

Charlie Weber as Albright in Jarhead 3

Jarhead 3: The Siege feels like a  CoD (Call of Duty) movie minus the first person shooter perspective.  The third in a short trio of films that started with the 2005 “biopic” Jarhead with Jake Gyllenhaal, this one leaves the subject of sniping and Desert Storm behind, as did Jarhead 2.

Set in the American Embassy  in Afghanistan Marine Corporal Evan Albright (Charlie Weber)  arrives  full of enthusiasm and an urge to excel. He manages to annoy  Gunny Raines (Scott Adkins) and Ambassador Cahill (Stephen Hogan) as well as head of security Kraus.

The Marine is keen and observant and he spies a familiar face in the crowds outside the Embassy. Evan does not follow the chain of command and his forewarning is disregarded. The building comes under siege from a known ISIS terrorist, believed to be dead from a drone attack and it is Albright who must save the day.

Directed by William Kaufman (The Hit List, Sinners and Saints) and written by Chad Law and Michael D. Weiss Jarhead 3: The Siege is pretty straight forward and does feel a lot like video game film.  (It does, in fact feel a lot like Call of Duty Modern Warfare 4 although there is  no embassy in the game…) 

There are no real “Hoorah” moments and overall the Marines are not doing this for the corp, it is about being overrun by the bad guy and trying to survive.  The embassy staff have an obligatory “spook” in the form of Brit actress Sasha Jackson  (who plays Olivia Winston).

There is one major annoyance in the film, meant as comic relief   but it is so intrusive and so manufactured that it is  more distracting and not amusing at all. The character of Blake (played by Dante Basco) is a pencil pushing member of the embassy staff who films everything for the “Embassy blog.”

Apart from being a nuisance, it is like Blake wandered onto the set from another film by mistake. Why the character is included in the movie is a mystery. His antics are not funny  and one  truly feels that Blake should have been taken out early on in the proceedings.

Another instance where the script wanders from the CoD formula is the apparent nod and wink to An Officer and a Gentleman. At one point Gunny Raines hands Albright his “marching orders” and the younger Marine tells his superior he has “no place else to go.”

For those who like action films with plenty of fire fights and terrorists being eliminated with extreme prejudice this will be a winner.  There is a subplot of CIA money being the real reason there is peace in the area and a predictable ending.

It is interesting to note that the character of Olivia Watson gathers new weapons and more ammunition throughout the running firefight. No one else does however as apparently the Marine’s have a never ending supply of ammo and guns that do not need reloading.

Despite the annoyance of Blake and the inclusion of the naughty CIA Jarhead 3: The Siege is entertaining.  Not in the sense of being intricate or making one think deep thoughts but in terms of action it is quite satisfying.

This is a 3.5 star film that could have stretched to 4 without the character of Blake. It is streaming on Netflix and worth watching. Be prepared to fight the urge to shoot the annoying arsehat with the  video camera yourself.

The Fundamentals of Caring (2016): Road Trip (Review)

Craig Roberts, Paul Rudd, Megan Ferguson, Gomez

The Fundamentals of Caring is yet another 2016 feel good film with a plucky young person overcoming a horrific condition. In this case Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy.  While it is all too easy to write this effort off with an unhealthy dose of cynicism, like some critics on some sites (Like, cough, cough; The LA Times.), this road trip film does deliver.

It is not just the presence of “Mr. Popular” Paul Rudd, although this does help, but the chemistry between Rudd and Welsh actor Craig Roberts seals the deal here. Rudd can, of course carry a film himself, but this odd couple pairing actually works.  

Roberts is an accomplished comic actor who has excellent timing. Just check out his other work, which includes some straight roles. (Specifically check out Submarine, a romantic dramedy which was released in 2011.) His interaction will all the principles in this film was spot on.

The real surprise here was Selena Gomez. Her role as the hitchhiking Dot was natural and believable.  The paring of veteran actor Bobby Cannavale with Gomez was perfect. Rudd gave the type of spot on performance one expects. 

The story, taken from the book “The Revised Fundamentals of Caregiving” by Jonathan Evison was adapted and directed by Rob Burnett. It stars Rudd, Roberts, Gomez and Cannavale along with Megan Ferguson as Peaches and Jennifer Ehle  as Trevor’s mum, Elisa. 

Kudos to Ehle for doing a believable English accent (based on the character living in the USA long enough to “soften” it considerably) it was a surprise to see she hails from the southern states.

Rudd is Ben. A writer who has suffered a devastating loss in his life. Traumatized, he takes carer classes and changes his career and immediate goals. He meets Elisa and her son Trevor (Roberts). Trev has Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and is in a motorized wheelchair. The 18 year-old has a set routine and a wicked sense of humor. We learn that he does not keep carers very long.

Ben is slightly pedantic and a little too serious. Trevor loves practical jokes and sarcastic jabs.  This odd couple pairing works well and eventually both will change as a result of their closeness and daily interactions with one another.

Dot (Gomez) is heading to Denver and bumps into the two men as they go visiting the lamest tourist attractions on the map.  Along their travels they run into a very pregnant Peaches (Ferguson) who completes this little merry band of travelers.

To be fair, The Fundamentals of Caring feels like another film influenced by The Theory of Everything or the more recent Me Before You. But what is wrong with that?  This film, for all its adult language and a couple of gags that were adult in nature,  is a feel good film. A road trip where we laugh at the antics of these two disparate individuals.

Burnett does his job well, as do the talented cast, and the finished product makes you laugh and cry.  A number of critics were underwhelmed by the film and that is a shame. The combination of silly tourist traps (The World’s Biggest  Bovine for instance) is amusing on its own, add the comic jabbing between Rudd and Ferguson to this and it becomes comedy and not just a pale copy of other films.

Feeling a little like screen legend Kirk Douglas* from The Ragman’s Son,  “I liked it.”

*In the book, Douglas chooses a wine that the more expert wine connoisseurs demanded be taken away. As the waiter reached for Kirk’s wineglass the three time Oscar nominee  put his hand on it. Douglas then tells the reader, “I liked it.” 

The Fundamentals of Caring may feel a little formulaic but it works well. This is down to the cast and a script that delivers as many chuckles as belly laughs.  Burnett runs the film with a deft hand and never bludgeons the audience with the disease.  He also builds on Ben’s personal tragedy slowly and the reveal  works well because of this.

Airing on Netflix from today, the film is a cracking 4.5 star offering that will make the viewer laugh, giggle, chuckle and tear up a little bit if not outright cry.  Brilliant stuff and well worth a look or two. Check it out.

Queen of the South: Alice Braga Is Fictional Queenpin (Review)

 Queen of the South - Pilot

Queen of the South is the USA network’s  newest series and it stars Alice Braga as the fictional cocaine queenpin Teresa Mendoza. This is a remake of the wildly popular telenovela La Reina del Sur (starring Kate del Castillo) which in turn was based on the 2002 novel of the same name by Arturo Pérez-Reverte.

In a nutshell, the pilot follows Mendoza’s introduction into a cartel, led by Epifanio Varga (Joaquim de Almeida) and his wife Camila (Veronica Falcón). Her lover El Guero (Jon-Michael Ecker) is murdered by Epifanio’s righthand man “Batman.”

Before he dies, Guero is ambushed by Federales  who destroy the Cessna.  He gives Teresa a bag with cocaine, money, a passport, a book he says will save her life, and a gun. 

If she needs anything else, Guero says, she just needs to ask. Mendoza picks up the gun and tells her lover, “Show me how to use this.”

Time passes and ironically Teresa is watching the 1983 film Scarface when she learns of Guero’s death. She  tries to warn her friend Brenda (Justina Machado) who fails to save her husband Chino. The two women, and Brenda’s son, flee the house in a hail of bullets. Teresa does knock the gunmen,  Gato and Pote,  down with the car. 

After getting caught in an ambush Teresa once again outsmarts the men who want to kill her, Brenda and Tony. She makes it to the safe house and grabs the bag Guero left her. Teresa starts looking at the book when Gato and Pote arrive.  Gato (James Martinez) slaps Mendoza and then rapes her. Pote (Hemky Madera) leaves the room in disgust. 

Teresa lays on the bed as Gato violates her. She sees herself in a vision. The future Mendoza tells her, “Go on honey. You know what to do.” She does, pulling the gun from the bag, she shoots Gato in the neck.

Pote renters the room and Teresa holds him off with the gun. Collecting her clothes and the bag, she flees the room naked from the waist down. She calls Epifanio, who is now governor,  and forces him to help her.

As they are driving away, something changes and Mendoza realizes that once again she must help herself. The future Mendoza returns and tells Teresa to think of something fast.

Pulling two guns and aiming  one at  Epifanio and the other at the driver, she and the Don struggle. She shoots the driver in the head and the SUV crashes. Refusing to help Epifanio, she limps off into the desert and stumbles across a gas station.

Queen of the South - Pilot

After the proprietor treats her wounds Teresa uses the restroom. She can hear a vehicle arrive so she hides the book. Two men come in and capture her. Later she finds herself in a warehouse. She is put into a caged area and before Epifanio’s wife Camila arrives to question her she cuts the ties on her wrists.

When Camila comes in, she spots the broken mirror and the blood. Retrieving the shard of glass and wrapping Teresa’s hand; Camila and Mendoza  talk. Don Epifanio did not die in the crash and Camila realizes she knows Teresa.

Mendoza is allowed to live and learns she is in Dallas, Texas, in America.

Queen of the South has Braga narrating the first episode and while this device is often overused or even distracting (or annoying) it works here. Not having seen the original telenovela with del Castillo it is not known if this was done perviously or not.

The episode starts with Braga providing narration as the future Teresa. As she snorts a little cocaine and turns to the window, a bullet comes through the glass. Mendoza flinches and the coke holder explodes.  As the queenpin lay on her back, blood flows from the corner of her mouth. Braga, as Mendoza, then narrates  us back to her humble beginnings.

Teresa Mendoza appears to be based, in-part, on real-life drug queenpin Sandra Ávila Beltrán. According to Braga Mendoza is 100 percent fiction. She also talks about how the new show is different from the Kate del Castillo telenovela;  QotS does not faithfully follow the source material from the book.

Regardless of storyline deviations, the pilot was brilliant. Fast paced, cleanly edited and it had a main character that was easy to get behind.  Braga is a personal favorite, despite I am Legend, which was not her fault.  The actress specializes in playing strong women and hopefully Queen of the South carries on as it began.

USA has a cracking series on its hands.  The show airs Thursdays and should be put on your calendar as new “not to miss”  TV.  5 stars.

 

 

Uncle Buck: Ride Along/Brothers – Out of Order Confusion (Review)

MIKE EPPS, AALYRAH CALDWELL

Uncle Buck has been a hard sell. It is difficult to not envision the late great John Candy in the role.  This is not to say that Mike Epps is not good in the part, he is just not John Candy. There seems to be some issue with the show as the producers have moved the episodes about fairly freely.   “Ride Along”  and “Brother” are out of sync (Sorry.) and it is a tad confusing.

There can be many reasons to shuffle the episodes around.  According to The Wrap Uncle Buck dropped a massive 33 percent from its debut episode. This may explain the moving around of the segments.

To be fair, “Ride Along” is funny as is “Brother.” Unfortunately the episodes focus more on the adult performers and less on the Uncle Buck/kids relationship.  It is the children who made the cinematic version with John Candy and it should be the same on this re-imagining of the tale.

The show’s pilot followed the film’s formula to a huge degree. Having Buck working hard to get the kids to accept him as well as his brother’s wife.

“L’il Scarface” came next (it was actually episode number three) and focussed once again on the kids. It should be mentioned that the child actors are all amazing. Iman Benson, as Tia, is beyond superb, Aalyrah Caldwell as Maizy is also on top form and Sayeed Shahidi as Miles is consistently  spot on as the male child with attitude. 

“Ride Along” was about mistrust and doing the school run. It was also about Alexis (Nia Long) bonding with Buck. “Brothers” was all about sibling and sorority sister rivalry. The children were part of each episode’s plot but not the focus. 

MIKE EPPS, JAMES LESURE
MIKE EPPS, JAMES LESURE

Herein lies the problem with Uncle Buck, there is too much attention paid to the parents.  The film version was all about the bachelor uncle and the kids, the “grownups” were very much in the background. Changing the format so that Buck is now a “manny” to the kids could still work but the parents, Alexis and Will (James Lesure) need to be on the periphery and  not center stage. 

Understandably this is a vehicle for Mike Epps and that is fine. (Epps is a favorite at Mike’s Film Talk and we were gutted to miss his Vegas show.) But in all honesty, without the show centering on Epps interacting comedically with the children it might as well be called “The Mike Epps Show.”

Uncle Buck is funny, not sidesplittingly so but funny nonetheless, but the move away from the kids is quite probably the reason viewing figures have dropped.  The character of Buck is also very different from the original version. Less a buffoon and more a  womanizing party animal who no one would leave in charge of their kids.

That there are problems with the show is evidenced by the episodic shuffling.  It appears that the producers are trying to up the comedy quotient without adhering to the show’s theme, “Uncle Buck” and the kids.

Nia Long and James Lesure are great performers. They bring much to the table…too much.  There needs to be less “mom and pop” and more Buck, Tia, Maizy and Miles.

Uncle Buck airs Tuesdays on ABC.  Keep an eye on the schedule, last Tuesday there were two episode, out of sequence, and slapped together.  See what you think. Is Mike Epps Uncle Buck or should the title be changed to The Mike Epps Show.