Special Correspondents (2016): Ricky Gervais Does a Remake (Review)

Eric Bana, Ricky Gervais Netflix Special Correspondents

Written and directed by Ricky Gervais “Special Correspondents” is a Netflix Original remake of the 2009 French comedy “Envoyés très spéciaux” (So not quite too original after all.).  Starring Gervais, Eric BanaVera FarmigaAmerica Ferrera,  Kelly Macdonald and Kevin Pollak (with a cameo by Benjamin Brat) the film retells the tale of two radio journalists who miss their flight to cover a war (insurgence) in Ecuador.  They decide to hide in New York, their port of origin, and cover the conflict from the loft of a friend’s house. 

Bana is Frank, a local radio “newsman” who is a legend in his own mind and has a mini following of fans in his neighborhood. Gervais is the radio sound engineer, and Englishman aboard, Ian Finch. Farmiga is Eleanor, Ian’s wife and natural self promoter and MacDonald’s character Claire has a thing for co-worker Ian.  Pollack is the man in charge of the radio station.

Finch’s wife kicks him out of the house after sleeping with  Frank and in his misery Ian inadvertently throws away the tickets, expense money and passports needed for the journey to Ecuador.

Hiding out at Brigida and Domingo’s house, the men set up and begin transmitting from the location across the street from their offices at the news station.  This allows for some funny interaction between Brigida (Ferrera) and  Domingo (Raúl Castillo) as the journalist and his technician report on a conflict they are half a world away from. 

Perhaps the only real complaint is the focus on radio news. (Although there are several instances where broadcasts are referred to as podcasts, presumably in an attempt to bring the film’s plot up to more modern times.) In this day and age of Internet coverage, even from major networks, it seems that the radio angle is a bit outdated.

While this movie is based upon the two men, Bana and Gervais, it is the women who steal the show here. Farmiga’s opportunistic and enterprising wife who writes a song about her husband’s captivity “A Dollar for a Hero,” is brilliantly funny and is a favorite character.  The other female to yank this film from under the feet of the male co-stars is “Ugly Betty/Superstore” star America Ferrera.

Ferrera is hysterically funny as the rather simplistic cafe owner who delivers her lines with an impeccable honesty that just kills comically.  Whether commiserating over Finch’s wife selling his “dollies” (his superhero collectables) or shouting out Tío Miguel (because he is deaf) America is one of the most amusing characters on the screen.

Both Gervais and Bana do well in their roles but lack the naturalistic comedy emitted by both Farmiga and Ferrara.  Bana wisely plays his role straighter than straight as does Gervais. The two work well together as reluctant colleagues in their unplanned subterfuge.

Not having watched the original French version, set against a conflict in Iraq, it is hard to compare the two films.  The American iteration includes a shootout and an escape. It is a funny sort of scene and no one appears to die.

Cinematographer Terry Stacey makes the film look brilliant.

There are moments in the feature where Gervais pokes fun at Fox News, specifically Bill O’Reilly, and clearly Benjamin Brat’s character was meant to be Brian Williams. There is also a segment where the rebel leader, made up by Frank, undergoes a sort of news anchor Chinese whispers. The last one in the chain is clearly O’Reilly and it was funny.

“Special Correspondents” is not a parody of global news coverage, although it does jab a few “American news institutions” and pokes fun at the need for “instant” news regardless of sources or verification.

Fans of Gervais will appreciate the film and his wearing of three hats for the production.  At 100 minutes the movie is not overly long and the pacing works very well. At no point does one get bored or reach for the remote to fast forward the events on screen.

As a straight to Netflix production; “Special Correspondents” garners a full 4 stars. It is funny, fast paced and while Farmiga and Ferrera almost steal the film, everyone delivers a performance that lacks nothing.  Watch this one for a giggle or two and some outright guffaws at America’s portrayal of Brigida.

Hunters: The More I See You – Family Reunion (Review)

Hunters - Season 1

After Regan’s capture, attempted re-integration and escape the Hunters are intensifying their campaign and the ETU increase their efforts to catch Musa (Serhat Caradee). Abby helped Regan escape and her return to the organization is met with suspicion by Finnerman (Sarah Peirse) and Briggs (Mark Coles Smith). Even worse  is the loss of trust between Regan (Britne Oldford) and Truss (Lewis Fitz-Gerald). There is a family reunion for Regan and Truss finds an old adversary as well.

Flynn is having problems dealing with the reality of Abby and has recurring nightmares.  He handles these with pills and alcohol. Regan refuses to pass on what she learned from Musa and Abby until the ETU tell her what really happened to her parents.

Abby meets with Musa and learns that the “Purge” is not going well.

Jules Galloway (Gareth Davies), the mole for the Hunters, was killed by the creatures in payment for his leaking of information and it was during the “great hunt” that Regan got away. Truss demands that Finnerman tell Regan about her parents and she suggests torturing her own agent for information. Jackson urges Finnerman to tell Regan the truth.

Truss and Regan swap details. She reveals that Guanos are after a human, Sterling Martinez (Christopher Sommers) and Jackson tells Regan that Finnerman has the agent’s father in a secure facility.  Regan is not happy and Truss takes her to see the man himself. 

Alison learns more about her father and Musa and reaffirms that Jackson had nothing to do with her father’s capture or torture.  Briggs and Flynn go to pick up Martinez and Abby calls Flynn to turn herself in. Briggs goes in place of Flynn, insisting that it is a trap.

Regan learns that her mother tried to kill her father and that mom  is Musa’s “right-hand.” Jackson asks Regan to create a diversion and he explores the facility. Truss finds McCarthy (Julian McMahon) suspended in mid air and being tortured.  McCarthy asks for water and as Jackson trickles the fluid into the Hunter’s mouth he overpowers the ETU agent and escapes. 

Briggs meets with Abby and McCarthy leaves a trail of dead bodies behind as he leaves the secure facility. Martinez is taken by Abby after her helpers disable everyone with sonic blasts. Truss is angry at Finnerman’s deception but agrees to continue working for her.

Flynn learns about the scars on his arm and Briggs and he fight in the locker room.  Flynn wins, barely, but whether this will knock the snotty attitude out of Briggs remains to be seen.  McCarthy returns to Musa and pledges loyalty although it is not clear whether he means it or not.

It is pretty clear that McCarthy marches to the beat of his own drum and while he may feel the need to appease Musa, one gets the idea that rebellion is in his thoughts.

By the end of the episode Briggs has been beaten down, Abby has Martinez and Regan now knows that Truss had nothing to do with her father’s  interment. It does seem  that Briggs may have, considering the antagonist attitude that Regan and Briggs display toward one another,  another beating heading his way.

Finnerman has revealed that she will do anything to learn more about the Hunters (including torturing Regan’s father) and Jackson has proven that his “goodness” is his weak point.

Flynn is still having problems dealing with Abby, who also has a connection to her husband. The reason she let Regan escape is still quite vague but it would not be surprising to learn that Alison has been turned into some sort of sleeping agent for Musa.

“Hunters” is still quite grim in its delivery but at least one scene was worthy of a chuckle. McCarthy asks Jackson what Britney Spears, Freddie Mercury and Nancy Sinatra have in common. A puzzled Truss responds that he does not know. McCarthy answers:

‘You people turn their music into a misery. Use it to torture prisoners. At least Iron Maiden made sense.”

McCarthy is the most flamboyant of the Hunters so far. Musa is powerful and a bit scary but nowhere near as “mental” as the mad bomber.  It will be interesting to see what he cooks up next.

“Hunters” airs Mondays on SyFy.

Speechless: ABC’s New Switched at Birth?

  MASON COOK, KYLA KENEDY, JOHN ROSS BOWIE, MINNIE DRIVER, MICAH FOWLER, CEDRIC YARBROUGH

“Speechless” appears to be ABC’s answer to Freeform’s “Switched at Birth.” The award winning series (SaB won no less than eight awards, including the Peabody Award twice) was cancelled by the sister network and 2017 will be its last season. ABC have taken a page from Freeform’s book and decided to up the stakes. Call us cynical, but it seems that the 2014 Stephen Hawking biopic “The Theory of Everything” may have influenced this newest addition to the network.

This is not a bad thing, but it does feel just a little too much. It is though the network decided that if a hearing problem was interesting, than something bit more debilitating would be an instant winner. Not to say that the pilot does not have a lot going for it. The cast gel brilliantly and the magnificent Minnie Driver ditches her “American” accent and reverts to her London roots and her natural mode of delivery.

Driver plays the matriarch of a small family where one of her offspring is wheelchair bound and cannot speak. It is never made clear just what the lad’s malady is, presumably it is the same thing affecting Stephen Hawking. Maya Dimeo (Driver) is the strong figure in the family who is not afraid to stand up for her son’s rights.

Newcomer Micah Fowler plays JJ Dimeo. He is a capable young actor who manages to exude a sort of cheerful aggression, where he is not afraid to tell it like it is but not in a bad way.

John Ross Bowie is Maya’s husband Jimmy and “The Big Bang Theory” actor is the perfect choice as a man who blithely follows his wife’s overly assertive push for her family’s needs to be met. No Wilbur Milquetoast, he is more of a positive reinforcement for his wife’s drive, a spiritual and physical cheerleader with a wonderfully relaxed attitude.

Mason Cook is Ray. The brother who agonizes over his mother’s aggressive, yet positive, attitude. Ray really does not want to rock the boat and while he accepts the force of nature that mom Maya is, one gets the impression he would like things to be that little less fraught.

Kyla Kennedy is Dylan, the youngest, and she is a chip off the old English block. Ready to take on all transgressors with a verbal tirade that may lack her mother’s finesse, but is impressive nonetheless. This little acorn is ready to stand up not only for her wheelchair-bound brother JJ, but anyone who raises her mother’s hackles.

Added to this mix is a “progressive” (another “I’m okay, you’re okay” facility that is more liberal than most schools) school where the head wants to do things right even when being berated by Driver’s character.

Despite the show feeling like it was that bit too manufactured the pilot is amusing and fans of Driver will adore her performance. The children are all very capable performers and Dr. Ken actor Jonathan Slavin has a role as an overly enthusiastic teacher.

“Speechless” looks interesting and Ms. Driver does very well in the pilot. She has proven that comedy is, in fact, her medium and her performance is spot on. Minnie gives this role her all and clearly is in her element here. While in real life, one gets the feeling that dealing with Maya would require copious amounts of valium, on screen, she is delightfully pushy.

ABC have a number of new shows in their proposed lineup and thus far “Speechless” and “Designated Survivor” seem to be the cream of the crop. Have a look at the trailer for “Speechless” and see what you think.

http://www.disneyabcpress.com/abc/video/1z0gntopxleb9fg5bcoyuremndpq7q9m/embed?t=191

Kindergarten Cop 2 (2016): F for Lack of Effort (Review)

Dolph Lundgren in KC2

“Kindergarten Cop 2” is not a sequel to the first one. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character does not reappear nor does the villain from the original 1990 action comedy. This one gets a F for total lack of effort or attention to detail.  Lundgren’s character is not even a cop, per se, Agent Zack Reed is in the FBI.

There is no cute kid for Dolph to bond with and he romances the other kindergarten teacher (who is roughly 30 years his junior).  Lundgren looks great; lean, mean and not much in terms of drag or sag and very few wrinkles.

Still, things must be pretty tough in Seattle if young 20 something teachers have to date a man their father’s age…

Apart from the unlikely love affairs, the plot deals with a Russian gangster whose mistress Reed infiltrated to bring the kingpin down.  One year later, a pair of brothers hack the FBI Witness Protection database and offer the information to Zogu (Aleks Paunovic), the Russian gangster. The brother who hacked the system and made a copy of the information on a flash drive is dead. The deceased was a kindergarten teacher. 

Reed goes undercover to find the flash drive while Zogu closes in.

“Kindergarten Cop 2,” unlike the Arnold vehicle, has nothing new to offer. There are changes. Gone is the female partner who falls out as the teacher substitute. Reed volunteers up front.   This version features children who are neither overly amusing nor engagingly annoying.

The humor, like the May December romance feels forced and not very funny. (Like the overbearing and bellowing FBI head who screams at Reed every time he interacts with the agent. As pointed out on IMDb, this device has been used before, most notably in Schwarzenegger’s “Last Action Hero.” Perhaps this was a homage?)

There are amusing bits here and there. Reed dropping the peanut panicking child when the teacher tells him to and the taser in the “nuts” scene were both worth a chuckle.  There were too many “gags” that just did not work however The two slow motion strolls by the kids and the Dalai Lama “I’m okay,  you’re okay” liberal school never really felt right.

The overall feel of the film was sloppy and rushed. Even continuity was lacking. In the chocolate  cookie “sugar rush” scene, Reed gets two giant blue hand prints on his shirt. (One of the kids was pouring blue finger paint every where.) By the time Reed gets home one of the blue handprints is a combination of yellow and blue and much smaller, while the other handprint disappears completely.

(Come on chaps, the film was hardly complex surely it would have been easy to get the colours  and size right.)

The film was very much a cartoon version of the original. In the first movie, the children were the backdrop and kept safe throughout, i.e. not part of the actual criminal proceedings. In this iteration, which once again has nothing to do with the first film,  the children are used to save the good guys.

Despite a complete lack of logic, the film does have amusing moments. Sadly these never cross into area of outright hilarity. There are no, “tumah” moments in this movie. There is a clever moment where the kids poem about the class guinea pig turns out to be an acrostic poem and Reed figures it out.

“Kindergarten Cop 2” is rated PG-13 and it seems a bit of overkill as there is not too much violence nor is there any gore or sex.  Presumably violent action against the family jewels is damaging to young minds. Clearly the movie is aimed at the  younger members of the audience, even younger than the first one and it may well be that this targeted demographic enjoy the feature.

The most annoying thing about the film is the clear product placement of the Twixt bars that Reed likes to snack on.  There is no mistake about the brand name as each time the name is clearly seen and even mentioned by the players.  At one point Zack is broiling a steak and it is surprising that the meat company was not promoted alsol.

It is just as well that this can be seen on Netflix.  Paying for cinema tickets would have been annoying and somewhat criminal.  “Kindergarten Cop 2”  is a 2.5 out of 5 stars.  More irritating than funny, watch this only if there is literally nothing else on Netflix. Lundgren fans may enjoy this blasé yawn fest, but not necessarily.

Designated Survivor: Kiefer Sutherland & the White House

Kiefer Sutherland

“Designated Survivor,” a title that evokes a reality based show with swimsuit clad 20 somethings competing to live on a deserted island, stars Kiefer Sutherland, aka Jack Bauer, as recently fired cabinet member Tom Kirkman. Brit actress Natascha McElhone (SolarisCalifornication) plays Tom’s wife Jessica and the pilot features Maggie Q and Kal Penn

The show solemnly informs that viewer that during any State of the Union speech a cabinet member is placed in a secret and safe place in case of a catastrophic event or a successful  attack against the president. This is known as the “Designated Survivor” program, where the “survivor” is picked at random and ensconced in a bunker or similar blast proof device.

Tom Kirkman is the survivor (possibly picked as an exercise in bad taste since the president just fired him that morning) who is shockingly thrust into the limelight as the new commander-in-chief of the United States.  Things move so quickly that his swearing in ceremony is captured on a Blackberry.

“Designated Survivor” is an interesting concept for a number of reasons.  For starters, the idea is pretty fascinating; picking a volunteer to take charge if anything happens to the proper “chain of command” and then there is the fighting off of military generals who are more than ready to “take over” in case of an emergency.

(It seems that the role model for the aggressive general who braces the new president may be based upon Gen. Alexander Haig and his Reagan assassination attempt faux pas.)

The timing for this series could not be better, it starts this fall, and there cannot be many who do not see the irony in this show appearing on American television this year.

Watching the pilot episode one feels there was a real push to keep Sutherland’s character as far away from his “24” persona as possible.   Kiefer can act, however, and there are moments that leap off the screen where the look in his eyes convey emotional ranges that impress and make the viewer forget all about Jack Bauer.

It will be interesting to see where the series goes.  The idea of a low-level politico who has no real experience wading the stinking waters of the capital suddenly being made president opens up all sorts of possibilities.

The program is real (the Designated Survivor/Successor) and this is a fascinating look at just what could happen if the entire upper echelon were wiped out via a bomb or nuclear device.

Regardless of where the show heads or how long it will last, it is nice to see Kiefer Sutherland back on our small screens.  This actor consistently knocks it out of the park in what ever project he works on.

With an impressive supporting cast, this should be one to watch, although it could be seen as pretty tame stuff compared to “24.” Until the show airs, have a look at the trailer below and see what you think.

http://www.disneyabcpress.com/abc/video/xaln9b9i4_q1o__xi45sx4qc3qrrl7l6/embed