Now on Blu-Ray: X-Men Days of Future Past Rogue Cut Adds New Layers to Best Installment Yet

Blu-Ray Cover Art for X-MEN DAYS OF FUTURE PAST: THE ROGUE CUT, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015
Blu-Ray Cover Art for X-MEN DAYS OF FUTURE PAST: THE ROGUE CUT, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Long Time Mutant and Proud of It

 

In the age of film marketing, it’s no surprise that a studio will want to bank on a product more than once, if there is demand for additional footage of an already popular film so to satiate the masses, not to mention earn extra coin in the studio coffers.

Very much like the special features associated with a home video release that made DVDs and Blu-Rays so popular, the Director’s Cut has been around for years and often conveys a closer vision of what a filmmaker intended, before the studio heads made judgment calls on the final cut.

In the case of the profitable summer box office hit X-Men: Days of Future Past, the additional bits only serve to improve an already solid storyline drawn right from the Marvel Comics it’s based on, adding layers of character to existing roles on screen, not to mention more screen time for Anna Paquin’s Rogue, hence this version’s clever moniker “The Rogue Cut.”

 

Shawn Ashmore and Anna Paquin in X-MN DAYS OF FUTURE PAST THE ROGUE CUT, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015
Shawn Ashmore and Anna Paquin in X-MEN DAYS OF FUTURE PAST THE ROGUE CUT, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015

 

The excellent premise hasn’t changed: the film starts off in a grim future where most of the planet’s been ruined, overrun by large adaptable robot Sentinels designed to hunt down and destroy any mutant life that survives, along with the humans who help them.

Having managed to escape up to this point, the remaining members of the X-Men have devised a plan in which they will use Kitty Pride’s (Ellen Page) nascent mutant ability to send a person’s consciousness back in time to their earlier body (Huh? This is new…), thus using Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) to go back to the year 1973 in order to change a pivotal moment in history: the day Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) assassinated the Sentinels’ inventor, Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), thus justifying the need to build these robots and spelling doom for all mutantkind.

With the help of a disillusioned Charles Xavier (James MacAvoy), Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) and a recently freed Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Wolverine needs to convince everyone of the need to change events in order to save the future.

 

Nicholas Hoult and Jennifer Lawrence in X-MEN DAYS OF FUTURE PAST THE ROGUE CUT, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015
Nicholas Hoult and Jennifer Lawrence in X-MEN DAYS OF FUTURE PAST THE ROGUE CUT, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015

 

At first glance, the changes to the storyline are cosmetic at best: an additional line here, an extra scene there, a whole lotta Anna Paquin added.

Personally, I prefer this version better. Usually, a studio will scrounge up whatever salvageable footage off the editing room floor in order to rush out a different version of a film just for the hardcore fans.

Here, meticulousness was key, and the additional scene between Hank and Raven feels right, as does the side mission to head back to a Sentinel-infested X-Mansion to rescue a captive Rogue (Paquin), whose ability to absorb powers can help replace Kitty (Page) after being badly wounded by an agitated Logan (Jackman.)

Out of respect so to not lose focus of the worth of this version of the film, I’ll opt out of ranting against the plot holes and reinvented powers shown on screen, but try to get past the whole Kitty Pride “mental time travel” bit and you should be fine.

I’ve always found that if you’re having trouble locating the additional content in an alternate version of a story, then the producers are doing it right. This is definitely the case here.

 

 

Is this a frivolous purchase? Well it depends on who you ask…if you’re a serious X-Men fan and wish to own this arguably much better version of the film, then you owe it to yourself to add this to your collection.

Concerned that you’ll have spent more money and be forced to dispose of your original Blu-ray copy from last year? Not to worry: this Rogue Cut contains both versions, if only to allow you to shop and compare and judge for yourself.

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: Ex Machina Pits Man Against Machine in Devious Mind Game

Blu-Ray Cover Art for EX MACHINA, courtesy Mongrel Media, 2015
Blu-Ray Cover Art for EX MACHINA, courtesy Mongrel Media, 2015

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Amateur Futurist

 

For years, films like The Terminator have warned of an age when the machines would take over, having achieved sentience and realizing that humanity is a potential threat against its existence. Perhaps so, but every robotic discovery into self-awareness must begin somewhere.

In 28 Days Later director Alex Garland’s latest sci-fi piece, the thought provoking Ex Machina, the question becomes whether robotic sentience is possible, whether a human can be fooled into believing an artificial life form has a soul and feelings, and whether such a life can use this to its advantage in a crisis situation.

 

Alicia Vikander in EX MACHINA, courtesy Mongrel Films, 2015
Alicia Vikander in EX MACHINA, courtesy Mongrel Films, 2015

 

In the film, a gifted young programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) at a Google-type company called Blue Book wins a corporate lottery which will allow him to spend a week at a reclusive estate owned by the CEO, a reclusive multi-billionaire genius and inventor who’s been working on a secret project in isolation from the world.

Upon arriving, the timid office drone learns from his eccentric boss (after signing an aggressive NDA) that he is to conduct a Turing Test on an advanced female android prototype named Ava (Alicia Vikander) in order to ascertain whether it could convincingly pass for human.

With each session revealing more about Ava, who in turn tries to learn more about her young interrogator, questions arise: was the mad inventor too successful in creating his robotic creature? If “she” is self-aware, is a relationship possible with her new friend? Is the robot’s creator a savior or a threat? How far would a new life form go to protect its own existence?

 

Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac in EX MACHINA, courtesy Mongrel Media, 2015
Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac in EX MACHINA, courtesy Mongrel Media, 2015

 

While modestly produced with a small budget by Hollywood standards, Ex Machina is remarkably effective in its conscientious use of visual effects, preferring to focus on the psychological interaction between man and machine.

The central use of the Turing Test in the plot is a clever one though not a new one by any standards, but by taking away any sort of action thriller aspect to the usual man vs. machine tale and boiling the story down to a confrontation of the mind and will, the film takes on a whole new aspect that will surprise viewers on more than one occasion.

Shot in the beautiful remote Norwegian Juvet Hotel in the lush hills of Valldalen, the setting is both hauntingly remote and architecturally beautiful, becoming a passive player in the story, with the inventor’s home reminding us of tales about smart homes such as Bill Gates’ sprawling Redmond, Washington abode.

Oscar Isaac finds new ways to continue to impress, this time playing out the billionaire genius role as a lonely, socially unrefined recluse prone to binge drinking and bouts of absolute brilliance. Isaac’s interaction with the employee, played as smart but shy and impressionable by gifted young Brit Domhnall Gleeson, makes for a parallel set of conflicting ethical views along the central plot relating to the Turing Test with Ava.

Swedish actress Alicia Vikander gets the tough job as the half-constructed Ava, emoting just enough to force the audience to question whether her facial expressions are clever programming or genuine emotions bubbling up to the surface. She brilliantly leaves us to wonder whether an artificial life form could feel fear or is simply programmed to give us the same impression.

 

 

Plot-wise, the film is nearly flawless, providing just enough ambiguity without necessarily telegraphing its intent. With about four actors at most populating the screen during the entire running time, Ex Machina is both clinically sterile looking, hauntingly claustrophobic, morally ambiguous and psychologically complex.

Decide for yourself whether the test has been passed by the time you reach the end credits, and ask yourself what the future has in store.

If you like this film, I recommend a British series called Humans, which explores a similar vein about synthetic life forms who may have developed a soul of their own.

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 Playing: Ant-Man a Visually Impressive Second Tier Marvel Tale

Theatrical Poster for ANT-MAN, courtesy Disney/Marvel, 2015
Theatrical Poster for ANT-MAN, courtesy Disney/Marvel, 2015

 

Theatrical Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Reluctant Lover of All Things Great and Small and Six-Legged

 

It’s summertime, and that means the Marvel Movie Machine is in full force, continuing to add to its cinematic continuity with every possible property great and small (excuse the pun), adding to their list of films contained within their waves known as Phases.

With this latest, Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man, we the audience get to discover some lesser known characters of the Marvel Universe, all while discovering some facets of the older stories before the age of Avengers.

The result, while visually stimulating and inventive, doesn’t make up for its pretty basic premise which goes light on plot but heavy on special effects. Then again, what would you expect from a superhero-based film?

 

Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) rides an out of control toy train in ANT-MAN, courtesy Disney/Marvel, 2015
Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) rides an out of control toy train in ANT-MAN, courtesy Disney/Marvel, 2015

 

Beginning with a minor flashback to the good ol’ days of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the late 1980s, we see a brilliant doctor and physicist named Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) announce to his superiors that he is denying the spy organization access to his discovery of Pym Particles, which allows for the instant reduction and enlargement of molecular structure, for fear they would turn this into a weapon of war rather than a force for good.

Fast-forward to Present Day, and a semi-retired reclusive Pym is informed by his estranged daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) that his former protege Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) is about to make the same breakthrough in the hope of selling to the highest bidder, either S.H.I.E.L.D. or possibly worse, Hydra.

Unwilling to let this happen for the sake of the world at large, Pym and Hope recruit Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) a gifted thief in dire need of a second chance at redemption, in order to train him in the use of the Ant-Man suit, an outfit allowing him to shrink to miniature size while retaining full-size strength and capable of communicating and controlling ants of all species.

Together, they try to stop Cross from developing his own version of the suit, a weaponized Yellowjacket armor that could very well be the most dangerous item to come from scientific discovery in years.

 

Corey Stoll as Darren Cross/Yellowjacket in ANT-MAN, courtesy Disney/Marvel, 2015
Corey Stoll as Darren Cross/Yellowjacket in ANT-MAN, courtesy Disney/Marvel, 2015

 

At its core, Ant-Man means well, what with a relatable tale about the need for redemption and the importance of family. At the same time, the story seems a world apart from the previous Marvel films which up to this point have been tailor-made to fit well with each other as pieces of a greater whole, namely the Avengers films where each individual hero teams up for the greater good.

You don’t quite get this feeling while watching this film, instead getting a familiar vibe while still being aware that you are witnessing events in the legit Marvel universe, while not necessarily being front and center.

At best, Ant-Man feels and looks like it could have been a serialized Netflix show alongside its cousins Daredevil, Iron Fist and Luke Cage, the former already airing with the other two lined up in the near future.

Granted, the Ant-Man character isn’t exactly as popular as Iron Man or Captain America, but in the hands of Paul Rudd, a comedian who can still convey an impressive range of emotions when called for, the Scott Lang role isn’t necessarily played for laughs but acts as a worthwhile counterpoint to his new mentor Hank Pym, stoically played by Michael Douglas as an aged hero filled with the regrets of mistakes and battles past, a man haunted by events he couldn’t control.

Look for a brief appearance by a new Avenger and the usual Stan Lee cameo, as well as some pretty juicy Easter Eggs in the credits.

 

 

Is Ant-Man the beginning of a slew of other standalone Marvel films destined to link up to other major summer flicks? Well, who knows… theoretically, the character is a founding member of the Avengers in the source material, though I couldn’t see Scott Lang holding his own as well with the core team, now disbanded and a new team of Avengers having taken over.

It’ll be interesting to see how this film fits within the greater framework, but for now be content to enjoy Ant-Man for what it is: a pleasant, visually creative pit stop along the way to a much bigger confrontation of heroes and villains ahead, namely the Civil War event for next summer, along with the inevitable confrontation with the Titan Thanos by 2017.

Marvel: Keeping it busy and profitable, and we get to reap the rewards no matter how big or small.

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 Blu-Ray: House of Cards Season Three Raises the Political Stakes

Blu-Ray Cover Art for HOUSE OF CARDS THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON, courtesy Sony Home Entertainment, 2015
Blu-Ray Cover Art for HOUSE OF CARDS THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON, courtesy Sony Home Entertainment, 2015

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Diabolical Political Schemer

 

If there’s one show fans have been flocking to in the last three years that new market player Netflix has been able to provide, it would arguably be Beau Willimon’s American adaptation of the British series House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright as ruthless Washington power players making their way up the echelons of power.

With Spacey and Wright’s Frank and Claire Underwood having finally made their way to the White House, it’s only a matter of time before what has gone up must invariably fall down…like the titular house of cards…

 

Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in HOUSE OF CARDS THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON, Courtesy Sony Home Entertainment, 2015
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in HOUSE OF CARDS THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON, Courtesy Sony Home Entertainment, 2015

 

Having schemed, lied and blackmailed his way into the Oval Office after engineering a scandal forcing out the sitting President, Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is now Commander in Chief and is hoping to leave a lasting legacy by way of a controversial job creation plan using emergency disaster funds normally used for hurricane season.

Having shoved an appointment as U.N. ambassador for his wife Claire (Robin Wright) down Congress’ throat, Frank seems to have no shortage of enemies while in office, given that he was sworn in mid-term and electoral Primaries are coming up.

When it’s not the manipulative Russian Premier (Lars Mikkelsen) forcing his hand in the Middle East, it’s a new front-runner for the Democratic nomination (Elizabeth Marvel) or a member of his staff (Mahershala Ali) agonizing over losing his former lover (Molly Parker) to a political marriage. There’s never a dull day on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Given the mounting pressures of daily life as the POTUS, it’s easy to see how cracks may start to appear in Frank and Claire’s relationship, with both seeking power and independence in their own way, without realizing the true cost of power.

Can their marriage survive this latest hurdle? Can the White House?

 

Molly Parker and Mahershala Ali in HOUSE OF CARDS THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON, courtesy Sony Home Entertainment, 2015
Molly Parker and Mahershala Ali in HOUSE OF CARDS THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON, courtesy Sony Home Entertainment, 2015

 

There is a distinct addictive quality to watching this show, either in measured amounts or through bingeing, that makes you miss the busy days of The West Wing and other political shows with high intensity drama on a weekly basis.

Having arguably outshone its British source material, this U.S. House of Cards has eclipsed other such genre shows by way of a masterful presence by Kevin Spacey as the ruthless yet charismatic Frank Underwood, still regularly breaking the fourth wall in order to share his Machiavellian plans with the audience in the occasional aside.

Robin Wright still keeps up with Spacey after three seasons, playing Claire as a seductive but controlling power player who isn’t afraid to destroy others if it means getting her way. Like husband, like wife, in this case.

The season plays out on multiple fronts, despite a few weak subplots (the one involving former aide Doug Stamper, played by Michael Kelly, draws on forever), but on the whole we as the audience are constantly reminded of how easily Frank and Claire managed to get themselves into the highest office in the land, and how easy it would be for their past deeds to catch up with them and make them lose it all.

The show benefits from great dialogue (though nothing to the level of Aaron Sorkin’s type of writing), some excellent story lines interwoven into a gripping quilt of political intrigue and international crises while still focused on the internal struggle maintained by the Underwoods as they fight to keep their lies an misdeeds under the carpet so to retain power at all costs.

 

 

Having expected the show to lose steam and intensity by now, I can only say that it got better and better as the stakes keep rising and the risks keep getting bigger and more dangerous for all involved. I am gleefully counting the weeks until next February, as the fourth season comes rolling in on Netflix, probably full of new twists and secrets waiting to see daylight, causing further irreversible damage to Frank Underwood’s legacy.

4 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 Forger a Toned Down Heist Film with Honest Heart

Poster for THE FORGER, courtesy VVS Films, 2015
Poster for THE FORGER, courtesy VVS Films, 2015

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Love of Hidden Movie Gems

 

There is a downside to the world of movies, theatrically anyway, when high profile popcorn films will displace the smaller, independently produced or modestly budgeted projects which, despite their meager production limitations, often signify a lesser product in the eye of the average film goer.

This is rarely true, with some of the more heartfelt and honest stories coming out of small art house studios, as if they were trying harder to sing for their meal, like a college basketball player roughing it unlike the multi-million dollar pro calling in a performance in a game, too busy enjoying endorsement deals.

Despite a soporific performance by its star John Travolta, The Forger has a decent set of bones to its body that promises much, delivers just enough and offers some decent lessons about family bonds.

 

Christopher Plummer, Tye Sheridan and John Travolta in THE FORGER, Courtesy VVS Films, 2015
Christopher Plummer, Tye Sheridan and John Travolta in THE FORGER, Courtesy VVS Films, 2015

 

While many pundits preferred to dismiss this movie in favor of cheap shots at Travolta’s hairpiece, I prefer to focus on the effort by the actor to convey the affection he holds for his onscreen son, playing Ray Cutter, a former forger released from jail early through a shady arrangement with a shady criminal (Anson Mount) so he can spend time with his teenage son (Tye Sheridan) who’s been diagnosed with a Stage 4 tumor in his brain.

With the help of his curmudgeonly father (Christopher Plummer), Ray takes one last job to pay back the terms of his early release by creating a forged copy of a famous Monet painting that is to be sold by his debtor to a rich corrupt mobster, all in exchange for being left alone to look after his son.

With the cops on the watch, time running out and a burgeoning reconnection with his dying son, Ray must endeavor to pull off one final heist so he can focus on what he cares for the most while finally abandoning a life of crime behind.

 

Anson Mount in THE FORGER, Courtesy VVS Films, 2015
Anson Mount in THE FORGER, Courtesy VVS Films, 2015

 

On the surface, The Forger is pretty basic, not a masterpiece of crime films nor a head scratcher of a puzzle designed to confuse the average movie fan.

Travolta does seem a bit disinterested in the project, sporting a soul patch and looking a bit bloated, but whether this is an artistic character decision or the sign of an actor phoning in a performance is up for debate.

He still conveys enough care to convincingly portray Ray as a man whose life mistakes weigh heavily on him, leaving him with very little time to make amends, finally making a deal with the devil to afford himself a chance for one last hangout with his son.

The feel of Travolta’s performance gives off the vibe of us seeing Vincent Vega from Pulp Fiction, had he not been as worldly and educated.

Young Tye Sheridan plays innocent and frustrated well enough as the dying teen hoping to help his dad and live the excitement of the criminal life, if only to get a feel of his dad’s former world while Christopher Plummer, known for Shakespearian roles and a movie classic involving Von Trapp singers, lets loose by playing a potty mouthed, angry old man who puts his disappointment in his son aside for the sake of his grandson’s happiness.

I’m serious. If you dismiss my assessment of this movie in favor of the general consensus calling it a piece of indie trash, then at least watch it so to watch Mr. Plummer swear up a storm like a demented grandpa with Tourette’s.

 

 

Listen: The Forger isn’t Ocean’s Eleven nor is it Goodfellas. It’s part family drama, part heist film (a very minor part), but mostly a tale about a desperate dad forced to take desperate measure for a few redemptive moments in a life otherwise lived in misery and repentance, sandwiched between an eccentric performance by a veteran actor supporting a Hollywood pop culture icon and a young actor game enough to follow their lead.

Oh, and wait for that moment until you realize the bad guy in this film is the lead star of TV’s Hell on Wheels, until you notice you didn’t recognize him without the beard. Wow.

Check out this film as an experiment is something a little different. You could be surprised.

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 Playing: The Wolfpack Looks at Sheltered Life to the Extreme

Theatrical Poster for THE WOLFPACK, courtesy Magnolia Pictures, 2015
Theatrical Poster for THE WOLFPACK, courtesy Magnolia Pictures, 2015

 

Theatrical Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Lover of the Outdoors

 

The writer Eudora Welty once said, “A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within.”

That quote kept resonating in my mind as I kept watching The Wolfpack, one of the most frustrating and yet original documentaries of late, the story of six male siblings (and a sister) who had spent the better part of their lives confined to a small lower East Side apartment in New York City, out of their parents’ fear that the cruel world out there might ruin their pure spirit.

While my first instinct was to cry foul murder at the poor kids’ plight, the means by which they kept busy and entertained despite some questionable parental decisions is nothing short of remarkable, with the brothers resorting to the world of movies to learn — and emulate —  the world outside their window.

 

The Angulo Brothers Re-Enact Reservoir Dogs in THE WOLFPACK, courtesy Magnolia Pictures, 2015
The Angulo Brothers Re-Enact Reservoir Dogs in THE WOLFPACK, courtesy Magnolia Pictures, 2015

 

Meet Bhagavan, Govinda, Jagadisa, Krsna, Mukunda and Narayana Angulo, six boys whose life up until fairly recently amounted to creating their own fun and existence within the confines of a cramped four-bedroom apartment in New york City.

Raised by a Peruvian father whose distrust of American Government and Big Money is palpable, and a Midwestern American mother who hoped to have over a dozen kids, the Angulo boys (along with baby sister Visnu) were rarely ever allowed to leave home, having been home schooled by Mom and with Dad having the only key to the front door.

And so, throughout their childhood and their teens, the boys would pass the time by reading and playing, but mostly by watching copious amounts of movies.

When this became repetitive, they took the next step in their quest for diversions: to type up, write and act out scripts from their favorite Hollywood hits, a feat they’d do with remarkable creativity and ingenuity when it came to resources and material.

Armed with a video camera and a number of cardboard props, the Angulos would memorize films like Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises and countless others, line for line, shot for shot.

Then, one day, one of the eldest boys decided he’d had enough of living indoors while the world passed them by several floors below, and he ventured out into public, wearing a homemade Michael Myers mask out of fear his father would run into him on the streets while running errands.

Eventually, they acted as a group and made their parents realize that there would come a point when they’d have no choice but to leave home having come of age. Gradually, the boys start making small trips outside the building, venturing further and further until they discovered so much the Big Apple could offer with the real world not being as threatening as they’d been made to believe…

 

One of the Eldest Angulo Brothers as Batman in THE WOLFPACK, courtesy Magnolia Pictures, 2015
One of the Eldest Angulo Brothers as Batman in THE WOLFPACK, courtesy Magnolia Pictures, 2015

 

There’s a bittersweet feeling that overcomes you as you watch this deeply moving story; part of you feels for these kids and how they likely missed out on the fundamentals of childhood and social interaction. At the same time, you can’t fathom how this dynamic would ever have been allowed by the American justice system.

It’s really a double-edged sword of a moral quandary when you think about it: the kids have never been mistreated, never forced into slave labor nor abused in any physical way.  So the question becomes: were these kids ever in real danger? Can a parent’s rearing technique truly be held at fault in this context, considering no harm ever came to the children?

There’s an undeniable bond between this siblings, one that invariably comes from having spent a lifetime in the same room together, with only each other as company.

Filmmaker Crystal Moselle tells a compelling tale, having discovered these boys during one of their initial jaunts outdoors. At the same time, several points in the story are glossed over during the process…a case is made about the patriarch refusing to get a job in defiance of The Man, yet very little is said about the family’s source of income. How can a single income family afford shelter, much less food for seven kids, day in day out, for nearly two decades?

This somewhat important aspect of the story are remarkably absent, but the crux of the tale remains poignant nonetheless, especially in terms of the one-on-one testimonials.

 

 

This film will either shock you or fill you with empathy, or at the very least grateful to have seen trees of green in your childhood, unlike these poor boys.

The Wolfpack is aptly titled, introducing us with one of the strongest-willed siblings you’ll ever come across, brothers in fake arms who’d live and die for one another, as they learn to see the world outside of their movie collection.

Don’t miss this one. Also, go outside once you’re done. Please?

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 Playing: Jurassic World Ups the Ante From Previous Films

Theatrical Poster for JURASSIC WORLD, Courtesy Universal Pictures, 2015
Theatrical Poster for JURASSIC WORLD, Courtesy Universal Pictures, 2015

 

Theatrical Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Filmcriticus Rex

The first rule (no, not of Fight Club) of disaster monster flicks, invariably, is that something ALWAYS goes wrong.

Out of sheer hubris, we humans can never seem to leave well enough alone and capitalistically hope to stamp a corporate sticker on uncontrollable forces and hope to market and package it for mass consumption.

At least that’s the reasoning behind this latest and most impressive film to date in the Jurassic Park franchise, the ambitious and grandiose Jurassic World. Things go wrong. People scream. Some even get eaten. But it’s all so much fun to watch.

 

The Fearsome Indominus Rex in JURASSIC WORLD, Courtesy Universal Pictures, 2015
The Fearsome Indominus Rex in JURASSIC WORLD, Courtesy Universal Pictures, 2015

 

It’s been twenty two years since billionaire John Hammond’s science experiment had gone awry (not to mention the hiccups seen in the sequels), and his vision hath now become a full blown reality over at Isla Nublar, off the coast of Costa Rica.

Well, a corporately-owned, shareholder-based business, anyway. As with all types of amusement parks, the people behind Jurassic World are hoping to keep visitors coming back regularly, so this means it’s up to Operations Manager Claire Dearing (Bryce Dallas Howard) to keep investors happy by coming up with the latest catchy attraction.

With the latest advances in gene splicing, her team of scientists come up with a new hybrid dinosaur — the Indomitus Rex — for all to marvel at, unaware (or corporately oblivious) of the potential trouble that can brew from such a genetic melange of various dinos and other modern beats to fill in the nucleic gaps.

With seasoned soldier-turned-trainer Owen Brady (Chris Pratt) warning the eggheads about the perils of controlling (or trying to…) genetically engineered extinct creatures with millions of years of predatory urges, the park overseers get in over their heads (again) as the Indomitus proves itself to be a most formidable and unpredictable foe.

The creature finds its way out of containment, and with nearly twenty thousand delicious paying customers roaming the park, nothing could go wrong, right? RIGHT?

 

Chris Pratt and a Trio of Raptors in JURASSIC WORLD, Courtesy Universal Pictures, 2015
Chris Pratt and a Trio of Raptors in JURASSIC WORLD, Courtesy Universal Pictures, 2015

 

I’d really love to play devil’s advocate here and tell you that this film is new and unusual and filled with never-before seen displays of prehistoric beats with razor sharp teeth and claws.

Ironically, very much like the park runners in search of a new catchy attraction to bring back blasé attendees, the filmmakers were forced to do the same, having shown us variations of the T-Rex and Raptors in the last two JP films, tha last one being Jurassic Park III back in 2001.

And so, it was high time to create a new creature, one that hadn’t been seen before by neither park nor film goer. Enter the Indomitus Rex, a fierce creature that can give the T-Rex a run for its money, not to mention having a few tricks of its own.

The movie economizes these trick reveals throughout the film, all while offering a backdrop of secondary characters like Claire Dearing’s nephews (Nick Robinson, Ty Simpkins), the dubious administrator (Vincent D’Onofrio), the overzealous billionaire investor (Irrfan Khan) and the comic relief (Jake Johnson and Lauren Lapkus.)

At the centre of it all is the heroic Owen Brady as played by It-Boy Chris Pratt (Guardians of the Galaxy), acting as the hybrid of Ian Malcolm and Alan Grant from the previous films, the voice of reason and experience, not to mention being the film’s handsome leading man.

Pratt feels right at home in the role, giving many industry insiders further fuel to speculate as to whether he’d make a worthy replacement as the new Indiana Jones. If this film is any indication, we’re in for some serious fun in the decade ahead.

The film’s plot does feel borderline mechanical, with many of the same beats having been visited in previous installments, the same way one wonders how kids would ever want to work at a summer camp known for grisly murders by some hockey-masked killer the previous year. Somehow, the concept of working alongside ravenous raptors and potentially loose dinos seems more secure in comparison? Oh, Hollywood logic, you harsh mistress….

 

 

On the one hand, this non-reboot benefits from a nearly completely new cast, with the exception of supporting actor B.D. Wong as Henry Wu, one of the scientists from the first film. Though I’d have loved to see a post credits cameo by Jeff Goldblum or Sam Neill, I can respect how director Colin Trevorrow and über-producer Steven Spielberg would want to start fresh (sort of) and bring a new generation of actors into the fold.

Sequels are invariably bound to follow. I’m no psychic, but I’m fairly sure something will go wrong then, too.

Either way, I’ll be watching, fight or flight response fully on, ready for the next chase.

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 Playing: Sunshine Superman Revisits the Dawn of Extreme Sport

Theatrical Poster for SUNSHINE SUPERMAN, courtesy Magnolia Pictures, 2015
Theatrical Poster for SUNSHINE SUPERMAN, courtesy Magnolia Pictures, 2015

 

Theatrical Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Believer in Human Flight

 

Whenever you turn on the TV nowadays, there’s a statistically high probability you’ll come across footage of some carefree young twenty-something performing some pretty intense stunt sport, be it parkour, skateboarding or some form of aerial stunt.

This type of feat is now commonplace, but very few have ever asked where the origins of such death-defying endeavors began nor the motivation behind such a new type of sport. One of them, known as BASE Jumping, got its early start at the tail end of the 1970s. This documentary, Sunshine Superman, carefully follows its creators and their exploits over the first few years.

 

Sport Creator Carl Boenish Chats with Yosemite National Park Officials in SUNSHINE SUPERMAN, courtesy Magnolia Pictures, 2015
Sport Creator Carl Boenish Chats with Yosemite National Park Officials in SUNSHINE SUPERMAN, courtesy Magnolia Pictures, 2015

 

The sport of BASE Jumping had some fairly humble beginnings; having no name to identify it or differentiate it from regular sky diving, the main factor giving it its own moniker required its practitioners to successfully log four types of jumps, hence the acronym. Thus, after making a jump from each of a Building, Antenna, Span (or architecture) and Earth, it would be decided that each jumper would then have qualified as a BASE Jumper quantified by number. Why? For the simple pleasure of pushing the limits of course.

Sunshine Superman follows the early days of Carl Boenish, a cinematographer turned documentarian who obsessively wished to convey the freedom of extreme jumps to wide audiences. His way of doing so was to MacGyver a series of suits and helmets designed to film and record leaps from start to finish, allowing for viewers to experience up close what it’d be like to literally jump off a cliff and careen towards certain death before deploying chute and landing safely to terra firma, at least before the authorities came running with fines and citations.

Archival footage describes the early events, with very few laws being broken since the exploit of jumping off cliffs, unfinished skyscrapers and high yield TV antennas, wasn’t something the police ever expected anyone to actually attempt. And so, with the help of like-minded individuals, not to mention a young sophomore student named Jean who’d later become Boenish’s partner in life and crime (so to speak), the group of jumpers headed off to the top of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park, to attempt free fall jumps straight down, without the benefit of a plane drop. Simple human propulsion only. The resulting footage is nothing short of amazing.

The further archival footage follows the group through some major life events, such as the wedding between Carl and Jean, the travels towards other jumping vantage points (namely Los Angeles and Memphis Tennessee) and their eventual trek to Norway in 1984, where a record setting leap by both Carl and Jean earned them a place in the record books, before misfortune struck the next day when Carl attempted a solo jump on an unsafe cliff front, perishing below due to a number of danger factors. This untimely demise orphaned a sport which got championed by his widow since, with the sport thriving to this day.

 

Jean and Carl Boenish Mid-Leap in SUNSHINE SUPERMAN, courtesy Magnolia Films, 2015
Jean and Carl Boenish Mid-Leap in SUNSHINE SUPERMAN, courtesy Magnolia Films, 2015

 

There’s an undeniable energy and charisma to the film’s subject, watching an unassuming man like Carl Boenish speak so passionately and affectionately about this sport he helped regulate and legitimize before his untimely passing in 1984. Filmmaker Marah Strauch keeps it simple and linear by avoiding too many jumps back, preferring to keep the narrative going forward from the sport’s origins toward the present.

The sheer amount of archival footage makes the doc seem a bit dated, were it not for interstitial interviews with those still with us, who witnessed it all up close: Jean Boenish, John Long, Erik Fenz, David Blattel, Phil Smith, the list goes on. The piece itself can’t be faulted for this, given that the events in question predate any period of high quality film stock.

The doc is well researched, thoughtfully edited and heavily supported by first-hand accounts by the stoic and earnest Jean Boenish, who acts as a cypher for her husband’s thoughts and ambitions, even thirty years after his death.

Despite the clashing of any dated material versus re-enactments done by Strauch, the beauty of Sunshine Superman still resides in the jump footage originally shot by the Boenishes and represented here in all of its terrifying splendor. The film goes on to describe how the sport of BASE Jumping is still alive and well today, with some of it even seen in action films, especially Bond movies.

 

 

I’d recommend you see this film if only to feel the escape from the everyday doldrums, by envying a group of people who’d decided they wanted to push themselves to the limit by doing something new and exciting, despite the ambiguous legal ramifications. See it simply for the majestic photography and the illusion of joining in on what can only be called an experiment in excitement and human endurance.

While I don’t see myself jumping off any nearby bridge anytime soon, I can at least imagine what it’d be like to do so, through the lens of both Strauch and Boenish’s timeless film footage.

4 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: When Marnie Was there Possibly The Best Ghibli Film To Date

Theatrical Poster for WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE, courtesy Studio Ghibli, GKIDS, 2015
Theatrical Poster for WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE, courtesy Studio Ghibli, GKIDS, 2015

 

Theatrical Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Member of Team Ghibli

 

Following last year’s announcement that animation staple and legendary filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki was set to retire, the entire status of famous Japanese Studio Ghibli was put into question, while they debated whether the production house would pursue further projects without their master creator at the helm.

Meanwhile, one project did see a release, one directed by an equally gifted helmer, young prodigy Hiromasa Yonebayashi, a touching story based on the 1967 novel by Joan G. Robinson, titled When Marnie Was There, the tale of a young city girl who gets sent to the countryside following an asthma attack, who discovers a secret friend in a nearby manor that only seems to come to life in her presence.

Like Yonbayashi’s previous film The Secret World of Arriety, this new movie shows a great degree of realism, maturity and quality for the 40-year old Ghibli employee, a worthy successor to Miyazaki, despite the directional shift in tone and theme.

 

Anna and Marnie in WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE, Courtesy Studio Ghibli, GKIDS, 2015

 

Anna Sasaki is a timid, socially shy 12-year old whose shaky past filled with foster parenting and unknown origins have made her ability to elate to her schoolmates difficult at best.

One day, following a violent asthma attack, her foster parent sends her off to stay with relatives in the quiet countryside, with all the fresh air she can handle and free time to work on her sketching artwork.

During her exploration, Anna discovers an abandoned manor on the other side of the lake, a mansion once owned by well-to-do city folks who’d summer at the sprawling lakeside estate. However, it appears Anna is the only one able to see the dilapidated house come to life with occupants, whereas townsfolk still only see the manor in its current emptiness.

Anna soon meets the young lady of the house, a blonde girl named Marnie, and the pair embark on a series of excursions and adventures in and around the property, turning the summer into one long adventure of never ending fun and friendship.

As the summer draws to a close, Anna must discover her new friend’s origins and why she is the only one able to see and interact with Marnie and her family: are they benevolent ghosts? Is Anna unwittingly traveling to the past? What is her connection to this place? All questions are answered in time, with an emotional reveal unmatched by current animation films.

 

The Mysterious Marsh House in WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE, Courtesy Studio Ghibli, GKIDS, 2015
The Mysterious Marsh House in WHEN MARNIE WAS THERE, Courtesy Studio Ghibli, GKIDS, 2015

 

There’s a decidedly drastic shift in theme that takes place in this film, which goes in a different artistic direction than Miyazaki’s works, while still holding more than its own in comparison. Whereas the veteran director’s work was rife with supernatural and mythical concepts (see Spirited Away, for example), Yonebayashi’s tastes run more towards foreign inspiration, in this case a British young adult novel from the 60s.

Very much like his previous full directorial effort, The Secret World of Arriety, the source material transfers well into the Japanese context of the story told, with little to no loss in translation, so to speak.

The film’s narrative speaks well, as the ambiguity of it all relates to the unreliable narrator that is Anna, the young naive city girl away from home in an idyllic countryside village. Her interactions with what may either be the past or her own imagination, plays well with her own lack of maturity and innocence, especially when it comes to her own origins, having grown into the foster care system, unaware of her true roots.

Yonebayashi had worked under Miiyazaki on numerous projects, doing clean-up work on multiple projects ranging back a decade or so. Here, his guiding hand over the Ghibli team turns a small village into a pristine, vividly detailed setting for a memorable and magical adventure with mature tones and easy to digest dialogue.

 

 

While the film may prove a bit too serious for the young ones, teenage viewers will probably recognize some of its messages and relate to it more easily. The film addresses some pretty intense issues about familial roots, clique interaction, teen angst and the bonds of friendship, without veering into matricidal intent à la Beautiful Creatures.

When Marnie Was There is arguably one of the best Ghibli releases made to date. With many questioning whether the studio house should continue without its flagship captain, I can attest to Yonebayashi’s incredible talent, and hope they stay with the younger filmmaker on future releases for years to come.

See this breath-taking masterpiece with a friend, and enjoy its ambiguous magic, simply magic of a different kind.

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: Project Almanac a Clever Take on Time Travel Sub-Genre

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

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor, and Author of this Review Written Back in 1997 (Thank you, Time Machine!)

 

In the last few decades, as technology has caught up with the whims of filmmakers, one of the more fascinating — not to mention popular —  types of film in the sci-fi genre is the time travel related thriller, one in which one or several individuals find the means to transcend the space-time continuum, allowing themselves to change events from the past, for good or ill.

Unfortunately, in most of these cases, the time traveler in question is ill-equipped to understand or properly grasp the timey-wimeyness of it all, and ends up causing ripple effects to disastrous effect.

Paramount Pictures’ latest such movie, Project Almanac, is such a story, featuring a group of high schoolers who stumble upon such a device, only to try and change their lives for the better. Results vary.

 

Sam Lerner, Jonny Weston, Allen Evangelista and Virginia Gardner in PROJECT ALMANAC, courtesy Paramount Home Video, 2015
Sam Lerner, Jonny Weston, Allen Evangelista and Virginia Gardner in PROJECT ALMANAC, courtesy Paramount Home Video, 2015

 

Project Almanac is a first-person camera drama that follows a group of friends headed by the brainy David Raskin (Jonny Weston), a brilliant teen with hopes of getting into MIT. Once accepted, he is defeated by the fact he can’t afford the tuition, and so begins the quest to come up with a technological invention that may score him points on third party scholarships.

When looking through his late dad’s storage (tech wiz skills run in the family) with the help of his sister Christina (Virginia Gardner),  he locates some old blueprints from his father’s DARPA projects, including an unfinished prototype for a “temporal relocation device”, meaning a possible portable time travel item.

Upon working out the kinks, David and his sister, along with friends Quinn (Sam Lerner), Adam (Allen Evangelista) and David’s crush Jessie (Sofia Black D’Elia), decide to test out the device and travel as a group, taking a few jumps into the past at first, then jumping further back to effect changes to their advantage — aceing a test, winning the lottery, getting revenge on bullies — until they start realizing the inherent dangers of temporal mechanics — such as meeting yourself.

With some of the repercussions of their jaunts becoming more and more apparent and the ripple effect proving increasingly disastrous, the group of teens must decide whether to sacrifice their newly found good fortune for the sake of restoring the timeline, or risk affecting the world in potentially devastating ways.

 

The gang makes a time jump in PROJECT ALMANAC, Courtesy Paramount Home Video, 2015
The gang makes a time jump in PROJECT ALMANAC, Courtesy Paramount Home Video, 2015

 

Half the fun of time travel films, when viewing for pleasure, anyway, is to try and break apart its components if only to see if the logic holds, at least in the sequential and the narrative sense. After all, movies like Looper, Timecop, Predestination and the Terminator films all play by different rules, at least when it comes to matter occupying the same space, or meeting yourself and becoming your own parent.

Here, through the slowly weary use of the first-person camera “found footage” type of narrative, we the audience witness the film as a documented experiment into uncharted territory, despite some plot holes as to the viability of the device and how a teen, no matter how gifted, could ever conceive of completing a working device, when DARPA may not have had similar success. but I digress.

Then again, teens with superior gifts aren’t new to films; just go back and watch War Games or The Manhattan Project. Here, we’re putting our disbelief in suspense predicated upon the brilliance of Weston’s lead character. This works well enough, with a supporting cast of believable and willing actors who make the clique chemistry work, in spite of AND thanks to the film’s roster of non A-list stars.

This plays to the movie’s advantage, taking away the need for marquee names to outshine each other on screen, allowing the tale to take precedence, especially given the dense premise and all of its complexities.

 

 

I recommend this film for its simplicity of execution, its straightforward premise and its audacity in attacking a less than simple storytelling concept while still keeping track of the theoretical science of it all. To time travel film habitués like myself, the film is irresistibly smart and openly dubious, while still allowing for a good story to be written in about yet another group of teens in way over their heads. Good sciency fun.

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.

Geek Repository for All Things Movies, Games, Graphic Novels, TV and Books