Star: Premiere – Manufactured Pap (Review)

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Star is what television looks, and sounds, like when it attempts to use a Jackie Collins template without the author. The show premiered on FOX Wednesday evening. It has an impressive cast, Queen Latifah, Benjamin Bratt and Lenny Kravitz are the bigger names of offer.

(Kravitz is a personal favorite as he help open the new SLS Casino and Hotel in 2014 and this reviewer got to watch him perform from about 15 feet away. Electric does not quite cover it…)

Sadly, Lenny has preciously little screen time (perhaps the right word would be mercifully) as the music idol father of one of the three girls destined to become musical sensations.

Kravitz has roughly three lines and these are as snotty as his character. The man could have phoned it in.

As could Queen Latifah. Sure she gets to sing, but her character is every stereotypical “mother-figure” ever seen on TV.  Benjamin Bratt is a dodgy musical promoter who has the “hood” patter down pat but he too seems like so much window dressing.

Ms. Brown plays a has-been who now looks after a beauty parlor inhabited by the flotsam and jetsam of the neighborhood. A gay “racist” hairdresser and a daughter who is really a boy underneath all that attitude and hair.

These are just two of the tropes trotted out in order to give the show some sort of “cred.” (Some would argue that featuring a transgender may not constitute a trope but apart from the new term, blokes dressing as women because of gender issues is not new, despite what Hollywood and the LBGTQ would have the public believe.)

The plot reads like a Collin’s tale, although the setting is on the East Coast and not in Hollywood. Two talented singers born on the wrong side of the tracks. Each from a foster-home environment, one is treated as a slave and the other sexually abused, and one headstrong rich  girl whose daddy is in the business.

The rich kid believes poppa has sold out and runs away from home to team up with her musical sisters. It all feels a little like Carlton running away from home in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.

None of the main characters speaks in anything that remotely resembles real language. It is all “hood-speak” that may go far in defining who they are but says little else about the girls other than they know the slang.

This may well be the biggest failing of the new show.  All the main players sound like caricatures of people. Two dimensional cutouts posing as the real thing.

Star wants to be a musical, a’la Dreamgirls but without the excellent music and singers who can really bring it when performing. The parts and songs have not been written well enough for the actors to wow the camera or the audience.

The series comes across as a “wannabe” Dreamgirls for the mentally challenged. There is not one nuance to be found amongst the cliches, tropes and dumbed down plot.

The final verdict? Give this one a miss unless you have all the sense and sensibilities of a 12 year old.

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Haters Back Off: Napoleon Dynamite in a Skirt? (Review)

Miranda Sings

Netflix have gone to the YouTube well and dredged up one Colleen Ballinger, aka Miranda from the YouTube channel Miranda Sings.  The new series Haters Back Off features Ballinger as the untalented performer from the channel. 

The character comes across as a blend of Napoleon Dynamite in a skirt and a demented Pee Wee Herman.  While Ballinger is wildly popular on YouTube, her Taylor Swift “Shake It Off” pastiche has well over 54 million views, the series may prove to be less so.

A certain amount of fans may follow “Miranda” over from the Google owned video streaming  site.  She does have just over seven million subscribers after all.  However watching the videos, which are mostly under two minutes in duration and feature only Miranda, is a a completely different prospect from sitting through 32 minutes of so called entertainment.

Do not misunderstand, there are funny bits in the initial episode. However, anyone who is not a “Miranda Sings” fan will be hard pressed to really enjoy the performances.

The Netflix series gives faces, and voices, to Miranda’s family and provides some sort of plot rather than just  comedic videos of a performer who cannot sing, dance or, apparently, act.

Haters Back Off really does feel like an escapee from the Napoleon Dynamite universe. (“Your mom goes to college.”) But Napoleon for all his social ineptitude could dance and it made the character endearing.

Miranda, with her Mick Jagger lipstick style and screeching, overly loud speaking voice does feel more Pee Wee Herman than Napoleon.  The male teenaged protagonist was actually likable rather than mind mumblingly annoying like Miranda.

The YouTube videos are funny and popular, the smallest amount of views on any of Ballinger’s uploads are around the two million mark. They do not appeal to everyone, although many are very, very funny. Her appeal may be more with millennials rather than older YouTube users.

Haters Back Off shows the “rise” of Miranda’s YouTube career. The determined wannabe famous performer has her own cheering section. Her uncle and mother believe in their tone deaf relative while sister Emily is just embarrassed by the whole thing.

Miranda’s uncle Jim helps his niece to work on her YouTube career  and has her shoot a commercial at his place of work.  With all the hot lights and repeated takes, Jim kills every fish in the place with the exception of a bagged goldfish.

Jim is, unsurprisingly, fired. He declares that this will allow him to manage Miranda Sings’ career full-time.

The series is annoyingly simplistic in its delivery and the characters, with the exception of Emily, are all two dimensional and thick as two planks. Clearly the younger sister in the family was adopted.

Haters Back Off  has attempted take a minute and a half of YouTube comedy and stretch it by 30 minutes.  It needs work to bring it off successfully however. Having just watched the pilot episode mere minutes ago it is difficult to remember one single “gut busting” comedic moment.

Netflix launched the new series on 14 October. All eight  episodes are available to stream in one sitting, or two. The episodes may get better as the series progresses. Certainly Ballinger is funny on YouTube but the stretch to a half hour puts pressure on the comedy and her performance.

To see just how funny Colleen is away from Haters Back Off check out her Taylor Swift:

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Quantico Season Two Premiere: Kudove – Spook School (Review)

PRIYANKA CHOPRA

It seems that the more things change the more they stay the same. In Quantico, in order to follow the same template as season one, Alex and Ryan are both sent to spook school, aka The Farm.  The CIA training camp where both Booth and Parrish are going “undercover.”

The opening episode sticks with the time jumps. Last year the series moved between the academy and present day. Now, in “Quan2co” we are taken from The Farm to “one year later” and back again.  It is a little more confusing than the first time around.

There are a new cast of characters as well as some familiar faces. Shelby Wyatt makes an appearance or two as does Raina.  Once again it seems that Ryan and Alex are on rocky ground, she returns an engagement ring, and then action moves to a year earlier.

Booth and Parrish are reluctant counter intelligence trainees. Nether of them knew before hand about their mutual CIA connection.

One year later, Booth is attending a world summit; the G20, when the meeting of world leaders is taken hostage by terrorists. This time around Alex is present when a whole load of explosions rock the city in a circular pattern.

She moves to the summit venue as Ryan lies in order to get close to the US president. The goal of the terrorists is to have one of their own pardoned. If the president does not comply they will execute his wife.

Back at The Farm Ryan and Alex learn to lie and how to get information from  the other trainees. Alex gets close to the only other female candidate, Lydia.  Booth scores 100 percent at lying among other things and Léon comes a close second.

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Harry Doyle

Harry Doyle, a candidate who sounds very English, seems to be a natural.

The group head off to jump from a plane and Alex saves Lydia’s life, with a little help from Ryan. Except Lydia was never in any real danger. It was a test  and Alex failed. Unlike the FBI academy training, the CIA does not, apparently, teach team work.

What is clear from the very first day is that the trainees cannot really trust anyone. Lydia, it seems, is Hall’s daughter. She is also a co-intructor.

At the summit, the president agrees to the terrorist’s demands to save his wife’s life. Alex tries to work out what is going on and gets into a knock down, drag out fight with one of the group.

The man she defeats turns out to be another familiar face from her past and he jumps out the window.

Raina acts as translator for the terrorists, who are speaking Swahili, and Ryan gets close to the president.  Even after the US leader gives the terrorist’s what they want, it looks like his first lady is still going to be killed.

Alex watches on in horror.

The episode ends with that machete swinging down toward the first lady’s neck as a group of CIA “Case Agents” look on.

Initially the whole thing looks pretty amped up from last year’s action. However with all those classmates in the summit venue something smells rotten in that little scenario.

Could it be an exercise of some sort?

For instance, why are there three boxes with terrorist gear in them outside the room?

Regardless of whether the president’s wife is in for the chop or not, this looks an awful lot like the first season.  Training and “after-training”  being shown as a “before and after” with personal issues cropping up for Alex and Ryan.

It is close enough to season one that one wonders what sort of training Parrish and Booth will undertake if Quantico gets a third season.  Hopefully this sameness will not continue as season two progresses. Thus far the whole thing feels a little “Been there, done that, got the t-shirt.”

Although to be fair there is none of the cutesy business between trainees like there was last year.

PEARL THUSI
Alex’s tearful roomie…

Quantico airs Sundays on ABC. Tune in and see what you think. Is season two,  like Yogi Berra used to say, “Deja vu all over again?”

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The Exorcist: Season One, Ep One – Scary but Different (Review)

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Show creator Jeremy Slater has delivered a small screen version of The Exorcist that is damned scary but different from the 1973 iconic horror hit. This time around the younger priest does not have a crisis of faith and the older one is suffering a sort of PTSD after a Mexican exorcism goes bad. 

We learn that Father Tomas had (Has?) an eye for the ladies and is a more modern priest. One that believes the dogma that teaches demons are not real but metaphors.

Father Marcus, on the other hand, is old school, albeit a bit on the rough side of it. A priest who is willing to shoot a superior who attempts to stop an exorcism.

Tomas seems to be a nice parochial priest who cares about his flock. He can get stressed but tries to overcome his shortcomings.  Parishioner Angela Rance comes to him and explains she believes a demon is in her house.

The woman has heard noises in the walls and things are being moved about in the house. At first it seems that the eldest daughter Kat may be the focus of this entity. Later it is revealed to be Kat’s kid sister Casey.

Angela’s  father Henry has either Alzheimers or dementia but seems to be in the early stages of the disease.

Father Tomas begins to have dreams, or visions, about Father Marcus performing an exorcism on a young Mexican lad.  The scenes are disturbing. The youngster is covered in boils and spews his teeth out at one point.

Tomas witnesses the battle between Marcus and the demon inside the boy until it reaches a deadly conclusion. The entity twists the child’s head around until his neck snaps. Marcus is beside himself with grief at the boy’s death and his failure.

The two men are obviously meant to work together.  Tomas is given directions on where to find the recovering priest by Henry. The older man enters a trancelike state and tells Ortega the address where Marcus is staying.

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Geena Davis as Angela Rance

Angela Rance urges Father Tomas to visit her home and address the issue of the demon. While he is there he and Angela hear noises from upstairs. Tomas goes to investigate and the ladder door leading to the attic falls open.

The priest goes up into the attic to see who is there. Predictably, the light bulb breaks when he turns it on. Tomas then uses his cell phone light to search the attic. The first thing he sees is a silhouette of a young girl.

He calls out Casey’s name and then trips, falling down and dropping his cell phone. He looks up and the shadow is gone.  A rat moving a pile of clothing goes to run off and is killed by something invisible.

A hand shoots out and grabs the dead rodent and Casey then appears. She is pale and floating  and her body acts like a marionette with tangled strings.

The sequence is close to terrifying.

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Father Tomas

Angela climbs up into the attic and Casey returns to normal.  When Tomas leaves he house, the girl is watching him from her room.

English director Rupert Wyatt (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Escapist) and show creator Slater deliver some creepy and truly frightening moments in that attic.  They also do a fine job building up the story and creating a feeling of dread.

Daniels and Herrera are perfect in their respective roles and Kasulka, with her morphed facial features and odd movements is scary as hell.

The Exorcist delivers some intense scenes. The sequence where Father Marcus battles the demon is horrific. It is clear that the room reeks of blood and sweat and fear.

Later, in the attic, Casey’s appearance and actions are so disturbing that if the scene had gone on any longer, viewers would be having nightmares afterward.

FOX are to be congratulated for creating a series that is guaranteed to scare the dickens out of anyone. Believing in God or demons is not necessary as the creep factor works on the viewers imaginations brilliantly.

It was interesting, and a nice touch,  having the tubular bells play at the end of the episode.

The Exorcist airs Fridays on FOX. Stop by and check it out, but leave the lights on while watching it.

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‘Narcos’ Season Two, Ep 1: Free at Last (Review)

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Having watched the first two episodes of Narcos, season two, it is easy to see what all the fuss has been about. Wagner Mauro as Pablo Escobar is mesmerizing and in the first episode, “Free at Last” the man’s performance proves that charisma on the run, “is a thing.”

For those who did not watch the first season and do not have the time to binge the whole thing, the show’s makers offer a Narcos Season 1 recap. A Pablo Escobar 101, so to speak.

This “bio-drama” is following the real life crimes and life of the wealthiest drug cartel boss in the world. There has been an amount of poetic license taken  but that is to be expected. Escobar died back in 1993, along with his second in command, mown down by a hail of bullets delivered by the Colombian Police.

Season one saw him at his most powerful. Season two will, somewhat unsurprisingly, see the man die. (As with most biopic properties the subjects fate is a forgone conclusion.)  IndieWire spoke to the show’s creators and Mauro about this season and revealed that while Escobar was the centerpiece of season’s one and two, he was not the show’s focus.

As executive producer Eric Newman says in the interview, “the show is not called ‘Pablo Escobar’ it is called Narcos.” The title is Spanish meaning drug traffickers ergo there will be more cartel leaders featured after Escobar’s death.

In the first episode of season two, the authorities attack the prison where Escobar is being held and the cartel leader literally walks out.  He escapes and then walks through the Army team sent to find him.

Escobar now has everyone looking for him. The president assigns one general to head up a special task force to bring Pablo in. The cartel leader has to travel in the boot (trunk) of a taxi to conduct business.  While he is still popular with the poor of Columbia, a hooker calls the police and turns him in.

Pablo’s business is mostly comprised of bringing gangs back in line and punishing those who work against him. A number of competitors are killed as are a whole house full of hookers.

As Escobar is reasserting control over the business, Steve Murphy becomes extremely stressed out when his wife Connie (Joanna Christie) packs up their child and heads out to Miami. She will stay with her mother and does not wish to discuss the decision with her husband. 

Murphy is angry and attacks two Miami businessmen who are using cocaine in the airport men’s room.  The DEA agent is arrested for his efforts. Javi gets him out of jail and they head to the house where La Quica is busily killing hookers who he believed tipped off the police about Escobar.

The DEA and two Army soldiers chase the killer and his friend Limon (Leynar Gomez but lose them in the market. La Quica wants to kill Maritza (Martina Garcíanext as he also suspects her of snitching.

The episode ends with the Columbian president stating that he will not negotiate with Escobar.

Narcos is an impressive recreation of the rise of Columbian cartel super bosses. Escobar, with his Robin Hood image, carefully fostered,  was a force to be reckoned with and despite there being some “fictionalization” the story of the hunt for the man is fascinating.

The series looks stunning. All bright colors and scenic locations.  The acting is top notch and Boyd Holbrook, Pedro Pascal and Wagner Moura have become new personal favorites.   Martina Garcia is unbelievably beautiful and can act as well.

Narcos is a Netflix production and as such is available to watch “in one go.”  It is mesmerizing stuff, filled with real characters and offers “real life” recounting of the struggle to catch Pablo Escobar.  Watch this one, if you are not already.

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