Now on Blu-Ray: Taken 3 Goes Where Previous Films Have Gone Before

Blu-Ray Cover Art for TAKEN 3, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015
Blu-Ray Cover Art for TAKEN 3, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Owner of a Particular Set of Skills

Listen: I’m all about the sequels. By that of course, I mean the worthwhile ones, the type that actually add to the original, in that they push the story forward without seeming gratuitous or exploitative.

Think The Godfather II, Aliens, The Empire Strikes Back, and Captain America The Winter Soldier, to name a few. There are some times, however, when a studio opts to bring back the star of a successful film in the hope that name recognition and franchise potential alone helps earn big bucks at the box office, to hell with quality or relevance.

Taken 3 is one such example, an effective enough action piece, but one that shows signs of wear and tear, redundancy and age.

 

Liam Neeson in TAKEN 3, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015
Liam Neeson in TAKEN 3, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015

 

In this latest, mostly predictable installment, Liam Neeson returns as former CIA operative Bryan Mills, the dangerous “man with a particular set of skills” who made life a living hell for those who wished to harm his daughter and ex-wife in the previous two movies.

This time around, Mills is on the run when he gets framed for murder after finding ex-love Lenore (Famke Janssen) dead in his apartment, the result of some mysterious payback that may originate from some old enemies.

As Mills seeks to protect his daughter from the same fate while running all over Los Angeles to clear his name and find his wife’s true killers, the old secret intelligence veteran will have to rely on all of his knowledge and skills to stay one step ahead of the authorities, a determined detective (Forest Whittaker) and Lenore’s husband (Dougray Scott), a businessman who may have gotten himself into hot water with some shady business people.

Rest assured, however, that Mills is on the job, and he will look for the bad guys…and he will find them….and he will kill them…..again.

 

Liam Neeson and Maggie Grace in TAKEN 3, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015
Liam Neeson and Maggie Grace in TAKEN 3, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015

 

What is there left to say? The formula for this franchise is as predictable as they make ’em, like expecting a new Fast and Furious sequel and wondering whether there’ll be fast car chases and scantily clad bikini girls.

Granted, it’s still fun to watch the towering Neeson walking and scowling while taking names and kicking some asses for another hour and a half, but seriously, how long before we head out to the movies to watch Just Take Them Already or Miss Taken?

(Paging Maggie Grace: Consider that last title, could be a decent spinoff…)

Taken 3 has all the elements of the various iterations of The Wrong Man and The Fugitive we’ve all seen over the years, the type of script where an honest man gets wrongly accused and must defy the law in order to find the real culprit.

Thankfully, the bad guys aren’t so focused on kidnapping the Mills women this time around (well, almost), so we get to see the hero call on his old agency buddies to assist in a little search and rescue, providing what little variety there is in this, hopefully the last installment.

Janssen and Grace are blessedly rare in this film, popping in for obligatory scenes of exposition, or in this particular instance, the aforementioned pivotal murder. Not to impugn the actresses’ work, but we’re really hoping to see Neeson in action, and that’s exactly what we get.

The acting isn’t much to write home about, with timely chase scenes and hand-to-hand fisticuffs galore. Even Forest Whittaker, as the L.A. detective slowly piecing together Mills’ actions, doesn’t seem that much into it, operating with the motivation and drive of a passerby.

 

 

The Blu-Ray set comes with an unrated version of the film that adds roughly seven minutes to the story, has your usual trailers and teaser material and a few bonus features that show imagination and initiative.

One particular feature, called “Sam’s Bunker, AKA The Rabbit Hole”, allows you to visit an animated version of the secret lair seen in the film, where Mills and his fellow CIA veteran cronies operate from to help him clear his name and protect his daughter. A cool feature, albeit a little silly, but a refreshing alternative to the usual stuff.

Take what you will from Taken 3. I found it to be a very bland episode of well-worn material, a last ditch attempt to milk a formerly profusive cash cow that has shown it is clearly time to be put out to pasture. For all of our sakes.

2 out of 5

Dominic Messier is a media veteran who’s written and discussed movies for almost 20 years, from entertainment radio shows to newspaper columns to websites. Follow him on Twitter via @dommessier or join the Pop Culture Landscape with Dominic Messier page on Facebook.

 

 

Now Playing: Kill Me Three Times a Funny Comedy of Criminal Errors

Theatrical Poster for KILL ME THREE TIMES, courtesy Magnet Releasing, 2014
Theatrical Poster for KILL ME THREE TIMES, courtesy Magnet Releasing, 2014

 

Theatrical Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Fan of Clever Dark Comedies

(Note: This film was screened at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival)

 

In my book, as far as crime movies go, the only thing better than a violent film with dark undertones and gun play is one where the criminals are so inept or riddled with bad luck that the entire process goes from a Scorsesian masterpiece to a Tarantinoesque tragicomic tale of double crosses, torrid love affairs and attempts at redemption.

In the pleasant Australian indie flick Kill Me Three Times, filmmaker Kriv Stenders gets inspired by Quentin Tarantino in setting up a comedy of criminal errors set in a small coastal burg of the Oceanic land Down Under. 

 

Simon Pegg in KILL ME THREE TIMES, courtesy Magnet Releasing, 2014
Simon Pegg in KILL ME THREE TIMES, courtesy Magnet Releasing, 2014

 

Set over the course of a few days, Kill Me Three Times explores a multitude of crimes crossing paths when a hired hitman (Simon Pegg, having serious fun in the role) is sent by a local bar owner (Callan Mulvey) to kill his unfaithful wife (Alice Braga), who’s having an affair with the local mechanic (Luke Hemsworth).

If this pickle wasn’t enough of a bad situation, a local dentist (Sullivan Stapleton) over his head in gambling debt is also plotting to use the cheating wife as a body double for the accidental death of his own wife (Teresa Palmer), so the two can claim the life insurance against the latter and live a rich life of leisure. This plan would be foolproof, were it not for the intervention of the local corrupt constable (Bryan Brown), who’s just looking for his taste of the action.

When the dentist/wife pair end up getting to the cheating wife first, cutting off the hitman at the pass, this mishmash of half-baked crimes turn into a veritable farce of ineptitude leading to a conclusion of blunderous proportions.

 

Bryan Brown and Sullivan Stapleton in KILL ME THREE TIMES, courtesy Magnet Releasing, 2014
Bryan Brown and Sullivan Stapleton in KILL ME THREE TIMES, courtesy Magnet Releasing, 2014

 

There is a definite Tarantino vibe to Kriv Stenders’ work here that evokes shades of Pulp Fiction, especially in terms of its shuffled timeline which approaches events from multiple viewpoints, often overlapping to provide additional perspective to an already messy situation.

British comic actor Simon Pegg steals the show as cynical and acerbic hitman Charlie Wolfe, co-starring with a who’s who of Aussie names, including Teresa Palmer (Warm Bodies), Bryan Brown (F/X, Cocktail), Sullivan Stapleton (300: Rise of an Empire), Callan Mulvey (Captain America: The Winter Soldier), Alice Braga (Elysium) and Luke Hemsworth (Australian TV’s Neighbours, also the eldest Hemsworth brother).

Shot on a modest budget, the film is overly familiar, and you may not realize there are no extras in any scene until the film is almost over. The cinematography compensates for this by providing of the nicest Western Australian vistas the continent offers.

While the dialogue isn’t exactly inspired, nor is the story, the premise is just goofy enough to allow Pegg to do his thing, fire guns and crack wise with his co-stars, though Palmer gets very little to do except complain and yell at every man on the screen. All five of them.

Granted, many of this film’s techniques and tools are borrowed from bigger, more high-profile films of years past, but they do say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. If so, let’s hope Quentin watched this in his Hollywood home with buddy Robert Rodriguez and gleefully smirked a few times.

 

 

Though nowhere as polished and popular as its Oscar Nominated American cinematic cousin, this Aussie indie still makes a valiant effort to  convey crime gone wrong, all while providing a few laughs for the audience.

I like to think of Kill Me Three Times as the Little Crime Film That Could, a simple tale about simple people hoping for great things, but turning up empty in both luck and talent.

3 out of 5

Dominic Messier is a media veteran who’s written and discussed movies for almost 20 years, from entertainment radio shows to newspaper columns to websites. Follow him on Twitter via @dommessier or join the Pop Culture Landscape with Dominic Messier page on Facebook.

Now on VOD: Lost River a Messy, Blurry Debut to Ryan Gosling’s Directorial Career

Theatrical Poster for LOST RIVER, courtesy Warner Brothers, 2015
Theatrical Poster for LOST RIVER, courtesy Warner Brothers, 2015

 

Theatrical Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Man Averse to Poor Lynchian Copycats

(Note: This film premiered in North America at the 2015 SXSW Film Fest)

 

I’ve never been one to knock down an artist’s experimental efforts, especially when it comes to actors who eventually make their way into a director’s chair.

Hollywood is full of them, from Clint Eastwood to Angelina Jolie to Robert Redford and others in between. Results will vary, of course, and odds are that a neophyte director may find himself inspired by his peers and wish to, subconsciously or otherwise, pay tribute to them by borrowing style and themes.

In the case of Tinseltown hunk Ryan Gosling, his first effort results in a moody noir tale with such a surreal disconnect that you might find yourself whether you’d just seen an art film by a student of David Lynch’s, haunting score and all.

 

Iain De Caestecker in LOST RIVER, courtesy Warner Brothers, 2015
Iain De Caestecker in LOST RIVER, courtesy Warner Brothers, 2015

 

Set in a small U.S. ghost town driven to ruin by economic pressures, Lost River follows the life of Bones (Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.‘s Iain De Caestecker), a disillusioned teen living with his financially strapped mother (Mad Men‘s Christina Hendricks) and kid brother.

With most of the town’s house having foreclosed and been torn down due to the flooding of the local area as an artificial reservoir, times are hard and Bones tries to salvage some valuables from the ruins in order to sell copper parts to local scrap yards.

This activity becomes dangerous when the local eccentric and highly violent Bully (Doctor Who‘s Matt Smith) threatens the teen to stop stealing from his turf. To make ends meet and hopefully catch up on house payments, Bones’ mother takes up a questionable job at a local house of questionable repute, an establishment where downtrodden townspeople can go and indulge in their favorite fetishes, a few drinks and let go of a little steam.

Bones tries to find a means to escape this life of poverty and misery by trying to break a figurative curse on the town he learns about from his pretty next door neighbor (Saoirse Ronan), hopefully helping all involved. To break the curse, Bones must dive into the flooded area of town and retrieve an item that may end their misery.

 

Matt Smith in LOST RIVER, courtesy Warner Brothers, 2015
Matt Smith in LOST RIVER, courtesy Warner Brothers, 2015

 

Confused yet? You should be. The narrative is all you’d expect from an art film with shades of Twin Peaks thrown in, with eclectic night club scenes, subtext of fetishistic exploration and a mysterious setting that sees streetlights disappearing into a nearby lake.

The problem here is that the script seems inadequate to support the stylish decisions made onscreen by Gosling. The actor-director certainly has an eye for the visual, but the various elements patched together to form the  story seem like quasi non-sequiturs, from the loud, manic bully (Smith) whose motives are anything but clear, to the pretty neighbor’s relative stuck in front of the TV in a catatonic state reliving her wedding day on old film stock.

Let’s not even get into the gory nightclub evening shows led by Eva Mendes’ impresario madam, offering everything from bloody face peelings to stabbings, and so on.

 

 

Not everyone bats a thousand right out of the cage. While this may not be the clearest, most linear effort by a first time director, it’s not the worst either. Gosling sought out Drive collaborator Johnny Jewel to provide a soundtrack just as eerie as the tale it supports.

This film isn’t recommended for fans of concise, dialogue-heavy Hollywood dramas. It’s as neo noir an artsy film as one could expect, one which will get some screen time thanks to the marquee value of an established director who got his feet wet by indulging his artistic side rather than cater to commercial success.

2.5 out of 5

Dominic Messier is a media veteran who’s written and discussed movies for almost 20 years, from entertainment radio shows to newspaper columns to websites. Follow him on Twitter via @dommessier or join the Pop Culture Landscape with Dominic Messier page on Facebook.

 

Now on Blu-Ray: Reese Witherspoon Finds Herself Again in Wild Biopic

Blu-Ray Cover Art for WILD, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015
Blu-Ray Cover Art for WILD, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Walker of Many Miles

 

When I was first tasked with writing up this filmed adaptation of Cheryl Strayed’s popular non-fiction tome about her trek across the 1,800 km long Pacific Crest Trail, I was forced to admit that the topic couldn’t have interested me any less.

“Great, another film about a long walk fraught with logistical issues, peril and injuries”, I told myself, “didn’t the same happen in Lord of the Rings?”

As it turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong. In the extremely capable hands of Quebec director Jean-Marc Vallée and screenwriter Nick Hornby, Wild takes the audience on a roller coaster journey of intense emotional highs and lows, set in flashbacks and an ongoing quest to an invisible finish line that is both symbolic and very real.

 

Reese Witherspoon in WILD, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015
Reese Witherspoon in WILD, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015

 

Cheryl Strayed is a frustrated 22-year old who has had to deal with life challenges which led up to but were not limited to her free-spirited mother’s illness at a young age. While the two often sparred over life decisions, Cheryl’s stoic and cynical view of life often clashed with mother Bobbi’s (Laura Dern), whose glass half-full approach to all things drove Cheryl nuts, while younger brother Leif (Keene McRae) remained aloof and unaware of hardships to come.

When her mom dies without giving Cheryl a chance to say goodbye, the angry young woman begins a self-destructive path of drugs, anonymous sex and self abuse that destroys both her personal life and marriage.

Four years later, at the age of 26, after glancing at a book on the subject and without any prior training or preparation, Cheryl decides to challenge herself and hike the better part of the Pacific Crest Trail, an 1,800 km long hiking path from the Mohave Desert to the Oregon/Washington border.

Though she may not physically and mentally survive the trek, the young woman is determined to find herself, the qualities she so dearly misses about herself and her mother and the will to start life anew.

 

Laura Dern in WILD, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015
Laura Dern in WILD, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015

 

The key to making this film less about continuous walking and more about Witherspoon’s insights as Cheryl Strayed lies in its editing, meticulous balance of flashbacks for context and a minimal use of a soundtrack.

By keeping a healthy to and fro between key traumatic moments from her early life as well as her perilous journey through her own version of terra incognita, we can start to associate with the sort of free floating thought patterns one experiences when enjoying serene moments of solitude.

Reese Witherspoon earns her Oscar nomination portraying the conflicted Strayed, offering a layered performance in a role that could otherwise have come off as flat. Instead, the Academy-lauded actress delves into Strayed’s life feet first, not only making the audience understand the motivation behind such a momentous act, but its reasoning and emotional triggers.

Laura Dern is equally gifted in the role of Strayed’s mother, offering herself as an opposite spirit to her daughter’s “angry at the world” defeatism with remarkable ease.

An unsung role in the film is the Trail itself. If this film doesn’t make you want to try at least some of it, you may very well be missing out on life in general. Mind you, try shorter distances, but get out there and find peace of mind, if only for a few hours.

 

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As is expected, look for the Blu-Ray’s bonus features to include a commentary by the director and a few contributors, a few pieces regarding filming on location along the trail, and a few nuggets of bio about Strayed herself. My two favorite features were a mini essay by the author called “Life after Wild” as well as an interactive map of the Pacific Crest Trail, allowing viewers to see highlights of the real Strayed’s adventure up the hiking path.

See this film for two reasons: for the emotional reminder that life isn’t all about stresses and sweating the small stuff, but also that one much find challenges to overcome in order to find added value to said life, less complacency sets itself in and allow it to ruin your life.

4.5 out of 5

Dominic Messier is a media veteran who’s written and discussed movies for almost 20 years, from entertainment radio shows to newspaper columns to websites. Follow him on Twitter via @dommessier or join the Pop Culture Landscape with Dominic Messier page on Facebook.

Now in Theatres: Furious 7 Keeps Upping the Fast Car Ante

Theatrical Poster for FURIOUS 7, courtesy Universal Studios, 2015
Theatrical Poster for FURIOUS 7, courtesy Universal Studios, 2015

 

Theatrical Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Wearer of Seatbelts

 

There is very little argument that the Fast and Furious film franchise has been one of the most successful and popular series of the 21st Century thus far. With a new release every couple of years or so, its roster of directors have managed to turn in racing and chase scenes the likes of which we hadn’t seen since Bullitt in the old days.

Granted, said filmmakers have had a tendency to turn these films into pseudo music videos with the prerequisite, mostly useless cutaways to scantily clad nymphs dancing away to phat beats, but that has mostly been forgivable given the stunt work that followed.

Now, with this latest (and probably not last) installment, the cast takes it up another notch while offering a bittersweet goodbye to Paul Walker, who died during production in late 2013.

 

Tyrese Gibson and Paul Walker in FURIOUS 7, courtesy Universal Pictures, 2015
Tyrese Gibson and Paul Walker in FURIOUS 7, courtesy Universal Pictures, 2015

 

The plot for Furious 7 makes excellent use of continuity by picking up from Fast and Furious 6 as well as bringing The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift into the fold, so to explain Han’s (Sung Kang) reappearance and disappearance from the franchise.

In this latest, a deadly former British Special Ops hitman (Jason Statham) named Deckard Shaw seeks out the crew led by Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) to get revenge for their taking down his brother Owen (Luke Evans), the baddie from the previous film.

The older Shaw sibling tracks down the racers’ identities through the DSS Office run by Hobbes (Dwayne Johnson), after taking the muscled agent out for the count in his own headquarters.

If being chased by a deadly operative wasn’t enough (every action film needs a MacGuffin), the gang is approached by a cynical U.S. Government operative (Kurt Russell) and tasked with retrieving a piece of software called God’s Eye and its programmer (Nathalie Emmanuel), a program enabling the user with the ability to track down anyone on Earth using real-time cameras and smartphones.

This mission, paired with the ever present threat of being killed by a vengeful brother with lethal skills , makes for another non-stop adventure filled with thrills, adrenaline-fueled chases and a handful of plot holes big enough to drive a truck through.

 

Michelle Rodriguez, Vin Diesel and Tyrese Gibson in FURIOUS 7, courtesy Universal Pictures, 2015
Michelle Rodriguez, Vin Diesel and Tyrese Gibson in FURIOUS 7, courtesy Universal Pictures, 2015

 

I’ll be the first to admit that logic and plausibility were never exactly the strong suit of these race car films. Then again, one must concede a fair bit of suspension of disbelief when imagining that any of these drivers would ever get by pulling off all of these stunts without at least suffering severe injury or life arrest.

But, as Vin Diesel’s Dom is all-too quick to point out repeatedly throughout this film, what makes the film and its predecessors work is the chemistry of the group, a tight knit “family” that never leaves a man behind, fights for the right to raise a family in safety and is willing to compromise with the government if it means clearing their names and moving on with life.

The movie tastefully uses some CGI effects and editing to work around Walker’s untimely passing, all without disrespecting the actor’s memory. The resulting illusion is seamless and offers a proper sendoff for the late actor without the need to kill off or write-off the role off-camera.

Jason Statham doesn’t quite get to act out as much as he’d want, being relegated to a series of close-up shots of his mugging face seething with rage, or with repeated sequences of hand-to-hand combat, most of them with either Johnson or Diesel. Still, the Transporter star provides enough of a plausible threat to make the danger seem relevant without being gratuitous.

Fight fans will want to keep an eye out for an enjoyable brawl between Michelle Rodriguez and MMA star Ronda Rousey, who plays bodyguard to a billionaire Arab prince.

 

 

As a standalone feature, the movie could work as an extension of Jason Statham’s brand of brawler action films. As a continuation of the Furious series, it’s a worthy, action-packed addition which benefits from director James Wan’s attention to detail and willingness to stick to Justin Lin’s film technique. As a swan song for Paul Walker, the movie is a “thank you” to legions of fans who’ve stuck by the franchise for over a decade, and who’ll keep watching for years to come.

Perhaps the next one might be called “Supersonic and LividI’m guessing not, but you can only be so fast and so furious after a certain point…

3.5 out of 5

Dominic Messier is a media veteran who’s written and discussed movies for almost 20 years, from entertainment radio shows to newspaper columns to websites. Follow him on Twitter via @dommessier or join the Pop Culture Landscape with Dominic Messier page on Facebook.

About Last Knights (Not the Rob Lowe Kind)

Theatrical Poster for LAST KNIGHTS, courtesy Lionsgate, 2015
Theatrical Poster for LAST KNIGHTS, courtesy Lionsgate, 2015

 

Theatrical Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Hater of Half-Assed Schlock

 

Ever wondered what Game of Thrones would look like if it were released in theatres, starred much higher profile actors and yet, were completely devoid of sex, harsh language, interesting plot or even good dialogue? If so, you may have discovered what Last Knights is all about.

By following the tested and true process of locating old European buildings in Baltic states and setting them up as fictitious lands from untold time, a few hundred extras and a bunch of horses can perhaps convincingly convey to you a tale of untold betrayal, honor and blah blah blah.

Alas, the film skips a few steps and turns what could have been a powerful revenge adventure tale into a lo-fi GoT wannabe. Minus dragons and magic, of course.

 

Clive Owen, Cliff Curtis and a bunch of supporting actors in LAST KNIGHTS, courtesy Lionsgate, 2015
Clive Owen, Cliff Curtis and a bunch of supporting actors in LAST KNIGHTS, courtesy Lionsgate, 2015

 

The premise is fairly King Arthur’s Court meets First Knight without the adultery: in a time when an emperor ruled over the entire world and lords governed provinces for said ruler, an aging governor, Lord Bartok (Morgan Freeman, making a brief appearance), is summoned by the Emperor’s petty and greedy First Minister (Aksel Hennie) to discuss further acts of bribery in order to avoid further tax levies.

When Bartok refuses such an offensive act of dishonor, he is charged with assaulting the Minister in a heated skirmish, and is sentenced to be beheaded by his own loyal retainer, Raiden of the Seventh Rank (Clive Owen, in brooding knight mode).

After being forced to perform this act Raiden and his men are disavowed and forced to flee Bartok lands, but not without discussing the possible means to get back at this tyrannical Emperor’s lackey in order to regain their Lord’s honor and good family name.

 

Morgan Freeman and Clive Owen in LAST KNIGHTS, courtesy Lionsgate, 2015
Morgan Freeman and Clive Owen in LAST KNIGHTS, courtesy Lionsgate, 2015

 

I wish there was much to praise when discussing this film, but it sadly has all the feel of high profile actors turning up for a quick payday, despite a well-meaning script and concept that tried for a shortcut to familiar tropes without really considering how it all connects into a tangible tale anyone would want to see. The result is half a movie without much in the way of backstory, kind of like watching the middle film of a trilogy without really knowing what came before or after.

While the movie’s setting, a world which accepts and embraces multiculturalism, could prove a worthy example for other genre films of its ilk, the premise is so devoid of heft and meaning that you’re likely struggling too stay interested past the moment Morgan Freeman stops showing up for scenes.

Clive Owen provides a variation of his character in King Arthur, albeit less noble, but the stubbly and chiseled Brit elevates what little prestige this film had to begin with.

The story fails to provide any background detail as to its time and its place, nor why the figurehead of Emperor, played with soporific abandon by Peyman Moaadi, comes off as toothless and unthreatening. Even his advisor, the film’s main villain Gezza Mott, is unfortunately downplayed by Aksel Hennie, a capable Norwegian actor who’d stolen many scenes alongside Dwayne Johnson in last year’s Hercules as a mute berserker. Here he lurks in dark rooms moaning continuously about fear of reprisal for his treacherous deeds. Le sigh.

The rest of the supporting actors, including Cliff Curtis as a loyal lieutenant, seem content to provide diversity while acting as yes men to their noble commander, then rinse and repeat endlessly until the end credits.

 

 

If you’re desperate for some swordplay and bland tales of nobility and revenge without any real substance or characters you can root for, then indulge yourself in the muddled vagueness that is Last Knights. I myself am content to wait a few more weeks and binge on some HBO Game of Thrones, a much better layered concept with dialogue and content to boot.

1 out of 5

Dominic Messier is a media veteran who’s written and discussed movies for almost 20 years, from entertainment radio shows to newspaper columns to websites. Follow him on Twitter via @dommessier or join the Pop Culture Landscape with Dominic Messier page on Facebook.

Now on Blu-Ray: Interstellar Offers Great Storytelling, Semi-Plausible Science

Blu-Ray Cover Art for INTERSTELLAR, courtesy Paramount Home Video, 2015
Blu-Ray Cover Art for INTERSTELLAR, courtesy Paramount Home Video, 2015

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and All Around Sci-Fi Fanatic

 

Long has it been since we the film audience have seen a space-based film worthy of our attention, a story which could captivate our minds, our hearts and our social responsibility to better care for the minuscule mudball we have come to call home.

Through the use of eye-popping visual effects, a catchy plot and actors game enough not to let themselves overact in the face of such overwhelming philosophical concepts, Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar becomes a thought-provoking discourse on the future of humanity and whether sustainable life exists out there.

 

Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Wes Bentley in INTERSTELLAR, courtesy Paramount Home Video, 2015
Matthew McConaughey, Anne Hathaway and Wes Bentley in INTERSTELLAR, courtesy Paramount Home Video, 2015

 

Last year’s Oscar winner for Best Actor Matthew McConaughey plays Cooper, a former NASA pilot turned farmer in a near-future where blights have turned Earth into a slowly scorched world with dwindling resources and an uncertain outlook for the survival of humanity.

With sand and dust storms threatening the population on a frequent basis and little hope remaining for mankind, Cooper starts to notice some strange lines in the dust of his daughter’s bedroom, patterns caused by gravitational waves which could signify a message for a higher intelligence. Is is alien communication? Ghosts with a need to talk? Mysterious beings with hopes to help us survive as a species?

When Coop and his daughter Murph (Mackenzie Foy) decipher the messages and detect coordinates to a secret base, they head to it and encounter a group of scientists, including Cooper’s old mentor (Michael Caine) and his daughter (Anne Hathaway) who are working on a plan to send humanity out into space through a newly formed wormhole near Saturn, one which could help humanity travel to a new, clean planet.

With mankind’s fate in their hands, astronauts Coop, Amelia Brand (Hathaway), Romilly (David Gyasi) and Doyle (Wes Bentley) head out aboard a newly-built long-term spacecraft in search of previous colonists who’ve checked out three potential planets as an eventual home for the rest of us.

 

Mackenzie Foy and Matthew McConaughey in INTERSTELLAR, courtesy Paramount Home Video, 2015
Mackenzie Foy and Matthew McConaughey in INTERSTELLAR, courtesy Paramount Home Video, 2015

 

As a form of filmed entertainment, Interstellar has a few points going against it. For one thing, the movie is a tad long for such an ambitious story. Despite this, there are enough themes and scientific concepts thrown into the mix, like general relativity, temporal mechanics and physics, to keep your mind occupied long enough not to make you look at your watch.

The other issue I’ve found as a hindrance is the movie’s sound mix. While Hans Zimmer’s emotionally charged musical score feels apt and justified given the scope of this story, it often felt extraneous on top of loud vehicular travel (i.e. ship’s rockets firing, etc…) and made dialogue barely audible in some scenes. Perhaps realistic had we been on board the ship Endurance, but otherwise difficult for an audience slowly growing deaf in the process.

The movie does evoke memories of prior films like 2001: A Space Odyssey and Contact (which also co-starred McConaughey) which also dealt with the possibility of other worlds and other planes of existence. While this film isn’t quite so trippy in its metaphysical approach to life, the universe and everything, it still has that Christopher Nolan touch which grounds the film in some semblance of realism, allowing for over two-and-a-half hours of discovery and adventure, including some nuggets of self-reflection as to our own fate on Earth, what with global change making our future uncertain. Message received.

 

 

In the end, Interstellar is an ambitious film with such a large scale design that the interpersonal relationships within the story become somewhat secondary, another notch in the negative column. Lead star McConaughey manages to keep us tethered to the main goal of the film (that of maintaining sight of what’s most important in life) while still steering the story in the right direction so we’re not left in a void of incomprehension.

The Blu-ray set’s extensive bonus features may help you get a better grasp on concepts like tesseracts, five dimensions and other scientific precepts, but be ready to get comfy…as with all things in his own work, Nolan and his crew go all out and provide you with enough material to perhaps make your own version of the film.

This movie is best seen on a large TV screen, so if you can save up a bit longer and get the right gear to enjoy the film, please do so. You’ll be glad you did.

3.5 out of 5

Dominic Messier is a media veteran who’s written and discussed movies for almost 20 years, from entertainment radio shows to newspaper columns to websites. Follow him on Twitter via @dommessier or join the Pop Culture Landscape with Dominic Messier page on Facebook.

 

Now on Blu-Ray: The Hobbit Battle of Five Armies a Redundant, Repetitive Conclusion to Prequel Series

Blu-Ray Cover Art for THE HOBBIT BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES, Courtesy Warner Home Video, 2015
Blu-Ray Cover Art for THE HOBBIT BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES, Courtesy Warner Home Video, 2015

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Shorter Saga Enthusiast

 

Sometimes, you just have to know when enough is enough…

As enthused as I was by the idea of Peter Jackson revisiting familiar fantasy lands we all partook of a good decade ago, I still shook my head at the concept of turning a moderately sized novel into an eight-hour plus trilogy, one padded with so much appendix and index-borne filler that the whole affair reeked of exploitation and profit.

Sadly, despite two relatively stronger installments, namely An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug, this final chapter (thank the Gods of the North) is so stretched out it feels cartoonish in comparison.

 

Evangeline Lilly and Orlando Bloom in THE HOBBIT BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES, Courtesy Warner Home Video, 2015
Evangeline Lilly and Orlando Bloom in THE HOBBIT BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES, Courtesy Warner Home Video, 2015

 

To start off, it’s fair to say the title doesn’t mislead: hordes of armies, with Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, humans and other species converging onto the battlefield set between the town of Dale and the gold repository of Erebor, kingdom of the Dwarves of old.

The film briefly deals with the threat of the Wyrm Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) before setting itself to the task of creating the conflict between the Middle-Earth races.

With Thorin (Richard Armitage) quickly laying claim on his birthright, it becomes apparent to Bilbo (Martin Freeman) that the exiled king is becoming sick with the same greed and paranoia that afflicted his forebears in ages past.

Meanwhile, all parties approach the mountain asking for their share of the loot, or at least what was owed to them in previous bargains and pacts designed to unite and defeat the dragon in the mountain.

When Thorin decides to snub them and barricades the front entrance, a battle begins that pits formidable adversaries against one another, with a plethora of creatures attacking in the most creative of ways. Think of Return of the King‘s decisive battle in the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, only with more oomph.

Whether any major characters remain standing once the smoke clears is a surprise to the audience, but not to the seasoned readers of Tolkien’s works.

 

Ian McKellan and Billy Connolly in THE HOBBIT BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES, Courtesy Warner Home Video, 2015
Ian McKellan and Billy Connolly in THE HOBBIT BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES, Courtesy Warner Home Video, 2015

 

At one point during the screening of this film, I absentmindedly found myself wondering why, at this juncture in the overly crowded narrative, the film should even be called The Hobbit, given this third chapter’s habit of relegating major characters to the sidelines. Barely seen are Ian McKellen’s Gandalf, Martin Freeman’s Bilbo and other familiar staples the likes of Galadriel, Elrond and Saruman. Despite their might and relevance to the overall mythic arc of Middle-Earth, their inclusion here feels shoehorned and superfluous, given the lead conflict between Thorin, Thranduil and the human leader Bard (Luke Evans).

Many subplots are wedged in only to be dismissed out of hand or underused, such as the Romeo & Juliet tryst between dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner) and She-Elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), Legolas’ (Orlando Bloom) scouting mission to the Orc ramparts or the all-too brief “Sauron is Coming” subplot, an obvious nod to the later story, or in this case, the previous cinematic trilogy.

Despite this hodge-podge of characters and places, one thing is for certain: if you’re into copious battle scenes running for what feels like hours on end, well Merry Christmas to you, ladies and gents.

It’s incredibly difficult not to criticize the robotic, generic way in which CGI-battles start to look, at least when it comes to thousands of bland yet detailed figures vying for attention within an anamorphic movie screen.

Is the action, swordplay and carnage worth the cost of admission? Yes. Is said action overwhelming and possibly headache inducing? Also yes.

While I’ll concede that the whole point of this final chapter was to see the major players face off for a whole lot of loot, it just doesn’t make for that exciting a story, especially when factoring in over half a dozen subplots desperately fighting for space within the film’s last act.

See below, a quick glance at some of the marvelous CGI effects for the opening scene of the film:

 

 

Altogether, does The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies make for a visual spectacle worthy of the other five Peter Jackson films of the same ilk? Most definitively. As a piece of a larger franchise, it is finely crafted and pleasing to the eye, replete with your favorite characters and actors. That having been said, despite a great landscape built as a stage for these wonderful characters, as a doomed Shakespearian prince once said, “The play’s the thing.”

Despite all the bells and whistles of a LOTR-based film, prequel or not, you just can’t keep throwing spears, arrows, swords, daggers, giant bats, catapult-wearing giants and fireballs and hope that, much like its extraneous elements, something sticks to the wall as a result.

2.5 out of 5

Dominic Messier is a media veteran who’s written and discussed movies for almost 20 years, from entertainment radio shows to newspaper columns to websites. Follow him on Twitter via @dommessier or join the Pop Culture Landscape with Dominic Messier page on Facebook.

Toronto’s 2015 Comic-Con A Geek Fan’s Modest Paradise

 

An enthusiastic Deadpool Cosplayer, photo courtesy Dominic Messier 2015
An enthusiastic Deadpool Cosplayer, photo courtesy Dominic Messier 2015

 

An Event Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Unapologetic Geek

 

It was that time again, the once or twice a year Toronto event where fans of TV, movies and all media in between got to converge at the downtown Toronto Convention Centre for a three-day extravaganza, a smaller affair than its older brother, the multi level, highly popular FanExpo which usually occurs in late Summer.

This didn’t stop a horde of enthusiastic and passionate cosplayers and fans of all ages to meet their favorite comic book artists, celebrity actors and other genre veterans for some quick — albeit costly — meet and greets.

 

Seasoned Cosplayer Debi Wong-Brennan as a Clockwork Droid from Doctor Who (with Dalek friend), photo courtesy Dominic Messier, 2015
Seasoned Cosplayer Debi Wong-Brennan as a Clockwork Droid from Doctor Who (with Dalek friend), photo courtesy Dominic Messier, 2015

 

As is my usual custom while covering this type of events, I dodged the often overcrowded, time-sensitive celebrity interview gauntlet in favour of interacting with the fans, getting a feel as to what they like out of these events, what their favorite shows are and their highs and lows of each Con they attend.

Not surprisingly, as I’d reported last summer during the FanExpo period, many of the convention goers griped at the long lineups and pricey autograph and photo sessions, while others understood that celebrities are people too, and still have bills to pay.

A fan who would only give her first name as “Jane” from Montreal, made the trip down to T.O. in order to meet her favorite Doctor Who companion, Karen Gillan. Money in hand and eager to meet her favorite cast member from Guardians of the Galaxy, Jane was most disappointed to learn that the Scottish actress had been held back by late filming in Boston, causing some distress amongst her numerous Canadian fans.

I kept a close eye on Gillan’s Twitter account during my time at the Con, and was happy to locate a downtrodden Jane in the merchandise isles, letting her know that some brilliant souls had worked out the means (not to mention copious cups of coffee) to get Gillan on a plane so she could make a late day appearance.

Whether the Montreal-based fan got to shill out her hard-earned cash to meet and pose with her idol remains a mystery, but it was probably well worth the wait.

For others, the disappointment lay with the unfortunate cancellation of Morena Baccarin, known to most as Inara from Firefly but also now appearing on Gotham.

This didn’t stop attendees to enjoy briefly speaking with the likes of Terry Farrell (Jadzia Dax from Star Trek DS9), Tony Curran, Shannen Doherty, Christopher Judge, Graham Greene, Jaime Murray and several others.

 

A group of ARCHER fans, photo courtesy Dominic Messier, 2015
A group of ARCHER fans, photo courtesy Dominic Messier, 2015

 

Aside from the restricted and heavily guarded big-ticket names at the Con, access to DC, Marvel and other publishers’ artists was a bit more accessible, with high end names like James O’Barr (creator of The Crow), Ty Templeton and Yanick Paquette eagerly interacting with their readers, ready to answer questions, providing advice to young artists and ambitious future graphic novelists alike.

Several independent artists looking to make their mark were also very open to questions and were offering their indie titles at excellent prices. This made for very pleasant encounters with new fans.

 

The cast of the Audio Play DOCTOR WHO DARK JOURNEY, (from Left to Right) Kate Elyse Forrest, Andrew Chalmers and MA Tamburro), photo courtesy Dominic Messier, 2015
The cast of the Audio Play DOCTOR WHO DARK JOURNEY, (from Left to Right) Kate Elyse Forrest, Andrew Chalmers and MA Tamburro, photo courtesy Dominic Messier, 2015

 

A few hours of browsing lead to some interesting finds for the discerning fan, such as the existence of a Doctor Who / Sherlock Holmes audio drama by the team at AM AudioMedia, whose latest project, Dark Journey, can be found on their website (amaudiomedia.com) or on iTunes.

Fans of Canadiana were able to locate a few recognizable names down the same row, with self-publisher Hope Nicholson promoting her volumes of Canadian Heroes such as Nelvana of the Northern Lights and the upcoming Brok Windsor, while Jason Loo worked away promoting his Toronto-based characters’ adventures, such as The Pitiful Human-Lizard.

An interesting development occurred during my browsing the numerous rows of vendors and comic book sellers: a buyers’ growing need for character-specific Funko bobble toys. You know, those “small-body-big-head” toys you see on store shelves, representing pop culture icons, including a dancing Baby Groot?

Well, as it turns out, this con’s Holy Grail of Funko toys turned out to be a hard-to-find Castiel (in trench coat or with wings) from TVs Supernatural. While I myself am not a collector of such toys (though I long pondered over whether to buy a The Crow Funko toy and have O’Barr autograph it), I couldn’t help but keep an eye out for the elusive Castiel item, if only to philanthropically help another attendee out.

(Note: I located three of them, but as you’d expect, rather than go for the average $13 retail price, the rare Castiel piece was a whopping $60.)

 

A zombie attacking the most uncanny David Morrissey (aka The Governor) lookalike I've ever seen, Photo Courtesy Dominic Messier, 2015
A zombie attacking the most uncanny David Morrissey (aka The Governor) lookalike I’ve ever seen, Photo Courtesy Dominic Messier, 2015

 

All in all, this year’s smaller and more densely populated Comic-Con was a roaring success in my book, though the comment I heard most often during the day was whether the admission price should be higher to account for the possibility of doing away with celebrity autograph fees. Who knows…anything is possible in the world of conventions. In the meantime, fans will always have Twitter…

 

For your pleasure, some other pictures from this year’s Comic-Con:

 

Dominic Messier is a media veteran who’s written and discussed movies for almost 20 years, from entertainment radio shows to newspaper columns to websites. Follow him on Twitter via @dommessier or join the Pop Culture Landscape with Dominic Messier page on Facebook.

Now on Blu-Ray: Exodus Gods and Kings a Visual Improvement on Classic Bible Tale

Blu-Ray Cover Art for EXODUS GODS AND KINGS, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015
Blu-Ray Cover Art for EXODUS GODS AND KINGS, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Historical Buff

 

In this age of technological advancement, a seasoned director is faced with an increasingly familiar dilemma, that of either locating new material to adapt to the screen — no small task nowadays — or revisit an existing film property, hoping to bring a new twist, or in the following case, offer better visual effects for a fickle audience looking for the latest 3-D dazzle.

As much as Ridley Scott tries, despite decades of experience and a legendary body of work, his latest piece, the Bible-inspired tale of Exodus: Gods and Kings, won’t be anywhere near the top of his list of achievements.

 

Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton in EXODUS GODS AND KINGS, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015
Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton in EXODUS GODS AND KINGS, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015

 

At the risk of repeating the details of a well-worn plot you’ve watched every Easter on TV while enjoying Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, allow me to give you the bullet points: Moses (Christian Bale) is the adopted son of Pharaoh Seti (John Turturro) and brother to Rameses (Joel Edgerton), raised as one of their own, becoming a trusted general in the Royal Army.

When the Pharaoh prophesies that a brother would save the other and become a leader, only for Moses to save Rameses during a battle against the Hittites, doubt and suspicion arises between the once inseparable warriors, with Rameses fearing his position and future might be in jeopardy.

When it is revealed through the stories of Hebrew slaves that Moses was one of their own, abandoned as a baby and later rescued as a child, the once respected general is exiled out of the City, condemned never to return.

As he makes his way through hardships and eventually settles with a small tribe and marries a beautiful woman named Zipporah (Maria Valverde), Moses one day suffers an accident up in the mountains, and witnesses a burning bush and the apparition of a boy who speaks for God. The latter sets Moses on a quest to free his fellow men from slavery, lest they find themselves the victims of God’s coming plagues upon Egypt.

Moses heads back to the Royal City to warn his estranged brother, save the slaves and lead them out of Egypt towards the Promised Land. The plagues come and cause severe damage to the city and its inhabitants, causing Rameses to track down Moses and his people, swearing vengeance upon him for the unearthly plagues afflicting his family and realm.

I could go on, but chances are you’ve either read Exodus in the Old Testament or you’ve seen Charlton Heston pull off some nifty tricks on TV as you grew up.

 

The Parting of the Red Sea in EXODUS GODS AND KINGS, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015
The Parting of the Red Sea in EXODUS GODS AND KINGS, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015

 

I’ll say this much: despite an all-too familiar story retold yet again, this one looks incredible, what with its dazzling visuals, elaborate CGI landscapes recreating the might of the Egyptian Kingdom and the awe-inspiring fury of God’s wrath upon the masses. Never has a cloud of locusts looked so threatening.

If such an ambitious plan was put into place, then why not work up a script that is up to the task? For all the efforts Bale and Edgerton put into their roles, the film has all the feel of a reheated re-run, one without flamboyant Golden-Era acting, but none of the emotion either.

Christian Bale seems too deep in thought throughout the film, causing him to lose the heroic sheen one expects from a God-sent savior of a people. As for Joel Edgerton, he plays Rameses as stoic and steely eyed, but reminds viewers of a younger Terry O’Quinn, of TV’s Lost fame. He looks the part but feels miscast.

Forget about the hype about whether Ridley Scott should have cast non-whites in the lead roles, a much debated point in the media. While I respect and understand the ire of certain groups who question the decisions by Hollywood not to be more discerning while planning films of this type, I also won’t tell Van Gogh what type of paint or brush to use, and will be content to enjoy “Starry Night” as a result.

The star here is truly the state-of-the-art visual effects, though many won’t be as thrilled to see the Red Sea humbly recede off camera, rather than majestically split, à la Commandments.

Blu-Ray features enthusiasts will no doubt be seeking a plethora of goodies on this home release, however aside from an overly philosophical audio commentary by Ridley Scott and screenwriter Jeffrey Caine, as well as about 15 minutes of excised unpolished scenes, there isn’t much to rely on, though the “trivia track” does offer some nifty tidbits throughout, if that’s your thing.

 

 

Look for a handful of supporting actors, many of whom barely have a chance to prove themselves on the screen. Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul plays one of the freed slaves, as does Sir Ben Kingsley as a wise Hebrew elder. Sigourney Weaver appears briefly, clad in robes and Egyptian-style makeup, only to have two scenes or so before disappearing altogether, almost as an afterthought.

If you are indeed a big fan of DeMille’s timeless epic, then watch this film for comparison’s sake, and enjoy what could have been done half a century ago, with better technology and production values. Then again, try to ignore the wooden delivery of this latest version, a pale imitation of an already great tale well told, unnecessarily repeated for modern audiences.

2.5 out of 5

Dominic Messier is a media veteran who’s written and discussed movies for almost 20 years, from entertainment radio shows to newspaper columns to websites. Follow him on Twitter via @dommessier or join the Pop Culture Landscape with Dominic Messier page on Facebook.

 

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