Jean-Claude Van Johnson – Amazon’s One Trick Pony?

Logo for Jean-Claude Van Johnson

Amazon’s pilot season is here and first up is “Jean-Claude Van Johnson” starring JCVD as himself, but not in his usual role of action hero.  In this outing Jean-Claude has a hidden side, a “black-ops” side.  Both JCVD and JCVJ are retired. Van Johnson, however steps out of retirement, which in turn brings Van Damme back into the business.

In some ways, this all feels too Confessions of a Dangerous Mind. While Jean-Claude  Van Damme is not Chuck Barris  in disguise, the premise is very much the same as the memoir. A famous figure has a double life as a trained wet work operator (or on Barris’ case a CIA agent.)

The pilot and its star are funny.  Although it is disturbing to see Jean-Claude looking “rough as old Harry.”  The muscles from Brussels may only be 56, and his physique looks years younger, but his visage looks more than a little worn.

Still, JCVD carries off his comic role with aplomb regardless of his battered features.

The storyline has Van Damme at a low point in his life.  He may live in a mansion and have coconut water coming out of the taps (faucets) but the man is clearly depressed.   He decides to un-retire when he bumps into old flame Vanessa (Kat Foster) who is leaving for a mission in Bulgaria. 

Jean-Claude meets with his agent Jane (Phylicia Rashad).  After going through a pile of Paramount scrips,  she learns that he is returning as “Johnson” not Damme. He gets sent to Bulgaria to work on a film as JCVD but has a black ops mission as JCVJ. 

The pilot is chock full of gags.  A lot of these poke fun at Jean-Claude and his getting older. Although we never believe for an instant that the man known for his splits suddenly has a problem.

“Jean-Claude Van Johnson” has a number of jokes aimed at the industry and society’s preoccupation with all things “PC.” The film in Bulgaria is a re-imaging of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.  The gag, apart from Tom being a buxom blonde female, is “N” word Jim. (This will only mean something to fans of the Mark Twain books.)

There is an amusing reference to Timecop.  Van Johnson says it is comparable to Bruce Willis’ Looper “but a thousand times better.”  At his assignment, JCVJ is in disguise and everyone calls him, “Philippe.”  A nice build up to a funny moment.

The basic premise is that Jean-Claude is following his former lover Vanessa into the business.  Never mind that Kat Foster is 18 years younger than JVCD…

None of this is to be taken seriously however. It is a giggle, a lark for the fans of Van Damme.  Although exactly how it can be stretched for a weekly format is unclear. JCVD as an unrecognizable retired action star is funny. But how are they going to maintain the “out of shape” bit?

Still, the pilot is amusing. There is a bit with a flexible baton and Jean-Claude’s face that is very funny. A few other sight gags work well also and while the entire episode is not exactly “laugh out loud” funny, it does provoke many a chuckle.

(In terms of jokes, the “one at a time” gag is quite good as well.)

“Jean-Claude Van Johnson” may not really take off as a series.  Amazon may have some brilliant ideas but it does seem too much like a one trick pony. (Or a one joke show.)  In the pilot  Van Damme is good with his comedic role, opting to play it straight for all intents and purposes. And this works brilliantly.

Fans will definitely want to give this one a look. It is streaming on Amazon right now as part of their Pilot Season. Check out the trailer below and then check out the show. It is free as part of the “pilot” promotion.

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.

 

 

Dead of Summer: Freeform Friday the 13th Sort Of (Review)

ELIZABETH LAIL

On June 28 this year Freeform is joining other networks in bringing horror to the small screen with “Dead of Summer.” A sort of Friday the 13th homage where the camp is not Crystal Lake but Stillwater and there is no Jason, but there is a Tony Todd.

The pilot, still a work in progress, shows Todd at the very beginning. A move meant to convey the creator’s serious intent to delve deep into the horror genre. Like the camp in Crystal Lake, Stillwater was closed, in this instance  in 1984, for an, as yet, unknown reason, and the place has been purchased and rejuvenated by former camp counselor Deb Carpenter (Elizabeth Mitchell). 

The place reopens five years later at the tail end of the ’80s; 1989.

A new group of camp guidance counselor’s arrive, including new girl Amy Hughes (Elizabeth Lail). Amy has never been to camp nor has she ever worked at one, this young heroine is clearly the “virgin” in this slasher scenario. 

All of the counselors, apart from Amy, are former campers at the lake and all know one another. The only other “outsider” to the group is Drew; a quiet withdrawn individual who speaks to no one not even his bunkmates.

While there is no Jason, or Mrs. Voorhees, there is a  creepy old caretaker, who warns our virginal character to leave and the lady who owns/runs the camp is named Carpenter (a huge nod and wink to the genre) who has a secret…or two.

In terms of nods and winks, there is even an allusion to the iconic 1981 horror film “Sleepaway Camp.”

As this is the pilot, titled “Patience”  “Dead of Summer” does not go overboard on plot specifics or gore. The body count is rather low and in terms of  viscera, the series is pretty lightweight in that department as well.

The action is not fast paced, the word plodding comes to mind,  and the story moves along at a snail’s pace. We are not given much insight into each character, although this may come later. However, if it takes too long, we may never learn of backstories for these new counselors.

The main problem with the pilot is that it is slow. With a targeted demographic of the younger members of the audience, “Dead of Summer”  looks likely to lose a huge amount of its viewers before “Patience” is halfway through.

Mitchell is suitably uncomfortable as the passionate camp owner and Lail is a perfect combination of gormlessness and timid assurance.  (Interestingly enough, both women have “Once Upon a Time” in common which should be no real surprise as the show’s creators also come from this ABC series.)

Ian B. Goldberg, producer from “Once Upon a Time,” and that series’ showrunners Adam Horowitz and Edward Kitsis have left the land of fairy tales to dip into the slasher genre, a’la Friday the 13th.  With no hockey masks, or murderous mum’s on-hand, this lake campground will have a sinister backstory of murder, that goes back much further than 1984. 

Thus far, in terms of interest, “Dead of Summer” lacks anything to make it stand out. Granted, this is just the pilot and things can improve, but in reality one would have thought that a bit more speed and a higher body count would not have been a bad thing.

ELI GOREE, MARK INDELICATO, AMBER CONEY, ELIZABETH LAIL
ELI GOREE, MARK INDELICATO, AMBER CONEY, ELIZABETH LAIL

This nostalgic look at ’80s horror could work well, but in terms of anachronisms, the camcorder Joel is using looks a bit out of place. At one point the thing is plugged into a television and played back directly. In 1989 there could not have been many, if any, (Even a Hi8) capable of doing that.

(We could be wrong and if anyone can remember a minicam, like the one Joel uses having that capability, please let us know and we will stand corrected.)

“Dead of Summer” looks to be a slow starter and like the title of the pilot seems to indicate, patience may be required before the new series “comes to life.”  The Freeform summer replacement show airs June 28. Watch it and see what you think.

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

Preacher: AMC & Tom Cruise Explodes (Review)

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It is interesting to note that two of the stars of “Preacher,” the new series  based on the uber violent western comic, both come from the Marvel-verse; Dominic Cooper and Ruth Negga both have connections with SHIELD.  For those in the know about British telly, it is pretty cool that Cassidy the Irish vampire is being played by a “Dingle from Emmerdale” Joseph Gilgun. In a show  that dares to explode Tom Cruise off camera the humor is high and international.  

For this particular AMC offering, co-written, co-directed and co-produced by “Preacher” comic fan Seth Rogen  it almost feels like a case of the British taking over Hollywood.  Cooper and Gilgun are both from England and Negga, despite being born in Ethiopia, was raised in Ireland from the age of four.  Lucy Griffiths (Emily) hails from Brighton, Sussex and  Tom Brook (Fiore) is from London. 

One of the only “home grown” actors in the regular cast is that versatile and prolific character actor W. Earl Brown who plays Sheriff Hugo Root. Although Donnie actor Derek Wilson is also a “local lad.” 

“Preacher” is easily one of the most eagerly anticipated new series to air this year.  The violent western comic with protagonist Jessie Custer (Cooper) who wants to be a “good man” despite his inherent love for violence and his ability to deal it out almost lovingly.

The pilot contains some brilliant set pieces. Something big and powerful has beaded to earth. A preacher in Africa talks about a huge war and the big power from space invades his body. The results, after he declares himself the chosen one, are visceral and far reaching.

Custer presides over the local All Saints Congregational Church. (There is a gag with the church sign that will be familiar to anyone who has ever watched Fawlty Towers or YouTube.) The Texas setting is as country as ticks and chigger bites on one’s ankles, and redneck enough to evoke a slight feeling of revulsion when getting too close to the local populace.

“I just Abe Lincoln’d that squirrel.”

Negga is Tulip, Custer’s squeeze from the comic world, and she is tough, deadly and possibly psychotic.  She also has a touch of MacGyver in her, with the help of two farm kids, one being the boy who thinks dead bodies are “Awesome! Awesome!” Tulip manufactures a bazooka with tin cans, tape, corn-shine and and metal toys.

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Tulip; “Awesome! Awesome!”

(Purists may grumble that the AMC version has made Tulip black, but seriously?  Negga is not only an actress with an excellent pedigree she is gorgeous as well. Who really cares?Ruth was convincingly dangerous and lovelorn in seconds. Live with it, the best actress won over the comic’s origin.)

Gilgun is brilliant as Cassidy.  The actor, who  got his start on the long running English soap Coronation Street and learned all about onscreen violence in This Is England  (both on the big screen and small) proved to be a convincing “stunt” artist in his mile high fight on the air liner. (A highlight in the pilot.)

The fight choreography is spot on in “Preacher.” The fight scene in the bar, where the preacher manages to despatch a wife beater and his snotty henchmen with a small, self-satisfied smile, is almost as magical as that high in the sky uneven battle between Cassidy and his would-be killers.

So too is the desperate struggle in the racing car between Negga’s character and the man who wants the map.  Those not familiar with the comic may be surprised at the level of violence in the show. It is, however, not overly visceral nor is it in your face. At one point a limb is broken but the camera does not linger. It does not have to, the solitary glimpse is much more effective when combined with the victim’s drooling cries of pain.

Every thing about this series pilot screams comic or graphic novel. The framing of each shot, the colors and the scenarios all bring the viewer right into the world of “Preacher.”  The humor is addictive. Cassidy’s  landing after the fight on the jet, even after taking the precaution of grabbing a brolly  and putting some blood in a bottle,  leaves him the worse for wear and a curious bovine visitor pays the price.

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Cassidy kicking arse and taking names.

That Seth Rogen’s hand is in the mix for this adaptation of “Preacher” is evident. The mixture of sly and overt comedy is there for all to see. The Tom Cruise explosion (One imagines hearing the superstar yelling “I am the Chosen One,” like the poor sod in Africa.) The battle between the politically incorrect former school mascot and the new PC one and the mayor being punched  by a woman.

This is not, however, all about the “yuks.”  It is the darkness, the violence and the innate western feel to this comic being brought to life. How can one not be enamored of a hero who gets a sense of relief when he beats the literal hell out of a few miscreants.

Tulip, Cassidy and Custer all live by the sword, so to speak, and there are a few others in the town of Annville (Anvil?Get it?) who look as though they all drink at the same trough, Hugo Root (Brown) for one and of course wife abuser Donnie is not bashful about beating someone he is not married to.

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Cooper about to put the bunny in the bear trap…

Dominic Cooper may be better known as Tony Stark’s poppa in the world of Marvel, but   he looks to be right at home in those black cowboy boots, dog collar and rumpled hair.  “Preacher” airs Sundays on AMC and the pilot can be watched right now on their site.  Everything about this new series screams comic from the logo to the framing of each scene, tune in and bliss out.