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.

Now on Blu-Ray: Jupiter Ascending Skims the Surface of a Much More Promising Epic

Blu-Ray Cover Art for JUPITER ASCENDING, courtesy Warner Home Video, 2015
Blu-Ray Cover Art for JUPITER ASCENDING, courtesy Warner Home Video, 2015

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Enemy to the House of Abrasax

 

You have got to hand it to the Wachowskis when it comes to opulent sagas set in incredibly vivid fantasy worlds where nothing is ever really as it appears to be.

Take The Matrix or Speed Racer, for example; kinetic worlds filled with gravity defying wonders, metaphysical concepts that transcend human norm and visual effects to make the most hardened connoisseur drool rabidly.

Then again, a beautiful looking universe, for all its bells and whistles, can’t really go far if the story it serves fails to measure up, or in the case of Jupiter Ascending, is missing altogether. While I enjoyed the visual impact of this film, I’d be much more interested in the side stories going on in the fringe…

 

Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis in JUPITER ASCENDNG, courtesy Warner Home Video, 2015
Channing Tatum and Mila Kunis in JUPITER ASCENDNG, courtesy Warner Home Video, 2015

 

To summarize best I can, Jupiter Ascending  focuses on the unremarkable young Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis), a Russian-American girl who thanklessly toils daily as a maid/cleaner with her mother (Maria Doyle Kennedy), scrubbing toilets and doing laundry for wealthy strangers.

One day, Jupiter almost gets kidnapped and murdered by strange looking alien shape shifters, that is until a dashing alien wolf-human hybrid named Caine Wise (Channing Tatum) flies in — literally — to the rescue.

Young Jupiter learns that there is a much, MUCH larger world out there in space, a civilization that includes Earth, in which a royal house broken down between three petty siblings (Eddie Redmayne, Tuppence Middleton, Douglas Booth) essentially control half the universe and its resources, with people being harvested by the planet to produce a life-prolonging melange.

With Jupiter revealed to possibly be the genetic reincarnation of their mother, thus giving her legitimate claim to the royal inheritance, an internal war begins in which all will try to manipulate, control or kill the young cleaning maid from Chicago, with Cain Wise proving to be her only and loyal protector against intergalactic odds.

 

Eddie Redmayne in JUPITER ASCENDING, courtesy Warner Home Video, 2015
Eddie Redmayne in JUPITER ASCENDING, courtesy Warner Home Video, 2015

 

There’s always a fine narrative line in which writer-directors try to maintain a delicate balance lest the visual pizzazz buries the plot or said plot could prove so disastrously dense or complex that one wouldn’t care about the pretty spaceships on the screen.

Jupiter Ascending is one such example, a bloated spectacle of intergalactic moments of grandeur, violently busy action scenes and battle sequences, with a worthy hero at its center hoping to prove himself to his true love, and so on.

The film’s premise — that a normal human girl could in fact be the legitimate ruler to our section of the universe — is an interesting one, but it’s too broad of a concept to fit into a single movie, much less a two hour one at that.

Much time is spent reasserting how powerfully rich and decadent the royal members of the House of Abrasax can be, especially when overacted by this year’s Best Actor Oscar winner Eddie Redmayne. His Lord Balem veers on the soporifically sedated, at least when he’s not busy screaming out monosyllabic orders. Co-stars Douglas Booth and Tuppence Middleton have an easier go at it, but in the end it’s hard to get past Redmayne’s effete performance to really try to take any of it seriously.

Channing Tatum gets a chance to shine as the athletic soldier hero who comes air surfing to the rescue every other scenes, but he too gets dragged down into a heavily layered backstory about his origins, another heavyhanded aspect of the problematic narrative.

As for Mila Kunis, the titular character basically spends the film in Watson mode, asking questions of her much more erudite companions, having no clue how to behave as one would as the one and true ruler of the galaxy.

The film asks this and dozens of other questions, hoping some of it adds up enough for you not to figure out this should have been a much longer series of films, with an interesting backdrop but nary a chance to truly make any sense in the space of a few hours of screen time.

 

 

This film is another fine example of an excessive sci-fi piece that promises much but is never given a chance to expand. You’ll love the premise but will feel the frustration of being thrown into the middle of a much longer tale without the chance of even grasping the larger concepts at play.

I would gladly welcome more stories featuring the film’s secondary characters — Sean Bean’s Stinger Apini, for example — than be asked to accept this product in its finite state as is. It’s the basic equivalent of being given Return of the Jedi without so much as the benefit of A New Hope or Empire Strikes Back: an impressive standalone piece but one without proper context.

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 in Theatres: Tomorrowland a Bland Marketing Attempt Glimpse at a Better Future

Theatrical Poster for TOMORROWLAND, courtesy Walt Disney Pictures, 2015
Theatrical Poster for TOMORROWLAND, courtesy Walt Disney Pictures, 2015

 

Theatrical Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Wannabe Dimensional Hopper

It probably wouldn’t be a summer of movies without Disney offering either a new animated classic à la Frozen for new young viewers to enjoy, or exploring an existing property in the hope of tapping into a new revenue stream.

Having already tapped park rides like Pirates of the Caribbean and Haunted Mansion, it was only a matter of time before they’d explore the future and all of its scientific potential and marvel, by attaching George Clooney to the high profile Tomorrowland.

Alas, all the best intentions and planning in the world can’t account for a weak story, a bland connection to an aging ride, nor a moral lesson veiled under a panoply of visual effects.

 

George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Raffey Cassidy and Hugh Laurie in TOMORROWLAND, courtesy Walt Disney Pictures, 2015
George Clooney, Britt Robertson, Raffey Cassidy and Hugh Laurie in TOMORROWLAND, courtesy Walt Disney Pictures, 2015

 

The year is 1964, and young prodigious inventor Frank Walker (Thomas Robinson) attends the World’s Fair in order to present his home made jet pack. When it proves defective but workable, a judge at the Fair (Hugh Laurie) dismisses him, but a young girl from the same group (Raffey Cassidy) sees his potential and offers him a special lapel pin, asking him to follow her and her group into a nearby ride. Magically, the pin gives young Frank access to another dimension known as Tomorrowland. There, young Frank sees a whole other world of technical marvels and scientific potential.

Later, in the year 2015, a similarly gifted girl named Casey Newton (Britt Robertson) does her best to hinder NASA efforts to dismantle the space shuttle launch platform, using a variety of ingenious gadgets. When she gets busted, the same mysterious girl young Frank saw in the 1960s shows up and ensures Casey gets a similar pin, which transports her (for a limited time) to Tomorrowland.

Clearly, an unknown force is looking to pull genius type inventors to this alternate dimension for some purpose. Casey decides to investigate with the help of her new friend, who suggests they look up Frank as an adult (George Clooney).

When a series of agent robots come chasing down Casey and Frank along with young Athena (their Tomorrowland friend), it becomes obvious that something — or someone — is trying to either force them back to, or leading them back to the other dimension, where some machinations might be at play that could either save or destroy our world in turn.

 

 

Britt Robertson in TOMORROWLAND, courtesy Walt Disney Pictures, 2015
Britt Robertson in TOMORROWLAND, courtesy Walt Disney Pictures, 2015

 

 

The film has all the hallmark qualities of a Disney summer film: great visuals, an impressive set design, marquee names on the board and money to spare in the budget department. So the question remains: why Tomorrowland? When are we expecting It’s a Small World After All: The Movie? Indeed, unlike its Pirates cousin now in the middle of shooting its fifth installment, Tomorrowland‘s premise is limited at best, and very generalistic in design.

Its approach of offering an alternate universe that may cater to the best and brightest who may change our world for the better, reeks of utopia and good intentions, but it doesn’t really offer much in the way of a sustainable story. If anything, the film is nothing more than a flimsy visual showcase that allows the audience to see a magical world of technological wonders at ease in the sci-fi realm.

This would be all well and good, but every other movie released every summer, including this year’s Avengers sequel, Jurassic World, Mad Max Fury Road and so many others, manage just that, giving us an alternate vision of the world and reality as a whole, adding to the normality of our every day perception.

At least those films have enough plot to enjoy while visiting, whereas Tomorrowland has all the clinical esthetic of a shiny new amusement ride no one asked for.

George Clooney has a thankless role as the shunned genius who got kicked out of this magical world years back (though the film barely addresses this), and anchors the cast of younger actors, while former House M.D. lead Hugh Laurie bookends the film as Tomorrowland representative David Nix. Both roles feel odd and out of place, as does this entire movie.

 

 

 

Rarely does a Disney film offer such pizzazz with so little supportive substance. At best, the film feels like a forced lecture on good manners, ethics and the need to better take care of our planet. A timely and urgently necessary lesson, sure, but the packaging said message comes in gets preachy and condescending faster than you can strap on an anti-grav suit. Hold on tight. Or don’t. It seems irrelevant, in this case…

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 in Theatres: Poltergeist Remake Makes Us Sorry They’re Heeeere Again

Theatrical Poster for POLTERGEIST, courtesy 20th Century Fox, 2015
Theatrical Poster for POLTERGEIST, courtesy 20th Century Fox, 2015

 

Theatrical Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Closet Fan (Wink, Wink)

 

With over a century of various stories on celluloid from a multitude of genres ranging from the epic to the mundane, there will inevitably come a point when Hollywood filmmaking will literally run out of material and be forced to revisit some of its more popular properties, if only for the sake of having something new to offer box office audiences the following weekend.

Not that this hasn’t been done to death in the last twenty years or so: the cinematic landscape is already peppered with reboots, remakes and prequels of all sorts, most of them unfit to earn the moniker.

In the case of this latest remake, Gil Kenan’s take on the classic 1980s haunting movie Poltergeist, too much of it is color-by-numbers, essentially looking spiffier while literally revisiting the original nearly scene for scene.

How I do miss the Freeling Family. It’s never a good sign when you’re rooting for the bad guys…

 

Kennedi Clements in POLTERGEIST, courtesy 20th Century Fox, 20015
Kennedi Clements in POLTERGEIST, courtesy 20th Century Fox, 20015

 

Though the names have been changed for the sake of “originality”, this latest version sees the Bowen family, led by Eric and Amy (Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt) and their kids Kendra (Saxon Sharbino), Griffin (Kyle Catlett) and little Maddie (Kennedi Clements), as they move into an all-too affordable family home in a suburb.

Unbeknownst to them (but all too clear for any of us having seen horror movies before), the Bowens’ house happens to have been built atop an old Indian burial ground, though they are told the bodies and headstones have been moved to a “nicer” area, whatever that means. But they’ve probably been lied to, since this is a spooky horror film…wink, wink.

Soon, a series of strange events start occurring within the home, with a number of unexplained phenomena of supernatural origin terrorizing the family, right up until the “presences” within the space abduct little Maddie to their dimension, triggering a plan for the remaining family members to hire a TV medium/ghost hunter (Jared Harris) to intervene, if there’s any hope of discovering who — or what — took Maddie, and how to get her back and end the poltergeist visitations once and for all…

 

Sam Rockwell and Jared Harris in POLTERGEIST, courtesy 20th Century Fox, 2015
Sam Rockwell and Jared Harris in POLTERGEIST, courtesy 20th Century Fox, 2015

 

I’ll admittedly tell you I was debating whether to write the previous paragraph, feeling as if the majority of you didn’t really need to be told about the premise, given that it’s a xeroxed copy of the original film with less engaging actors and less than memorable dialogue.

A few nuggets remain (“They’re here…”, “This house is clean…”) but otherwise the entire concept is mass designed to appeal to the younger market of young viewers more interested in RC-drones, smartphones and other gadgets, rather than the plight of a beleaguered family who’d just as quickly avoid calling the authorities, preferring to resort to the first available paranormal investigators — they must be in the Yellow Pages, one assumes  — without really trying to understand what happened in the first place.

The acting and dialogue is nearly as atrocious as the predictability factor, with Sam Rockwell making little effort to eclipse his predecessor Craig T. Nelson’s performance, albeit one could argue that the other film had an entirely different family altogether. Right. Let’s go with that.

The film’s sole shining beacon resides in the eccentric performance of Jared Harris as the world-weary investigator whose psychic abilities rival that of little Maddie, with the two of them representing the only hope for the malevolent spirits to find peace, lest they kill the new homeowners first.

 

 

There’s no doubt about it: this new Poltergeist has all the feel of a special-effect promo reel designed to sell new filmmakers on a CGI-house’s potential, by way of rehashing an old concept for the sake of familiarity.

Sadly, this film is an utter waste of time otherwise, so unless you’re a hardcore fan and hope to see cooler ways a person can travel through a closet and out a ceiling, you’re better off polishing your old DVD copy of the original from your home video shelf.

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 in Theatres: San Andreas Explores the Californian Worst-Case Scenario

Theatrical Poster for SAN ANDREAS, courtesy Warner Brothers, 2015
Theatrical Poster for SAN ANDREAS, courtesy Warner Brothers, 2015

 

Theatrical Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Firm Believer in Terra Firma

 

It’s summer movie season, and that means we’re looking towards super-heroes, giant robots, super-spy films, animated extravaganza events and, yes, disaster films.

Joining the fray in this 2015 edition is Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, jumping into action as a soon-to-be-divorced rescue pilot who risks life and limb in search of his ex (Carla Gugino) and his daughter (Alexandra Daddario) through the remains of crumbling Los Angeles and San Francisco, in the midst of the most dangerous high-impact earthquake in West Coast history.

 

Carla Gugino and Dwayne Johnson in SAN ANDREAS, courtesy Warner Brothers, 2015
Carla Gugino and Dwayne Johnson in SAN ANDREAS, courtesy Warner Brothers, 2015

 

Ray Gaines (Johnson) is a seasoned helicopter rescue pilot for the Los Angeles region, who is looking to reconnect with his daughter Blake (Daddario) on her way to upstate college, while his soon-to-be ex-wife Emma (Gugino) is getting ready to move in with wealthy new beau Daniel (Ioan Gruffudd).

When a pair of seismologists (Paul Giamatti and Will Yun-Lee) finally successfully design a predictive computer model that will allow them to develop a more useful early-warning system for seismic events, the tool in question can’t come handy any sooner as a series of tectonic shifts indicates not only that some major damage is to hit Los Angeles, but that an even greater wave is making its way up the coast — to San Francisco, where Blake is stranded along with a few British friendlies (Hugo Johnstone-Burt and Art Parkinson.)

It’s up to Ray to improvise all manner of land, sea and air transport to travel from the City of Angels to Frisco in order to locate their daughter and make it out alive before they get pulled into the nightmare crumbling around them.

 

Paul Giamatti and Archie Panjabi in SAN ANDREAS, courtesy Warner Brothers, 2015
Paul Giamatti and Archie Panjabi in SAN ANDREAS, courtesy Warner Brothers, 2015

 

At first glance, the aptly titled San Andreas can’t be faulted for stealing from the more globally damaging 2012 by Roland Emmerich, in which destruction rained on all continents, including a tidal wave over the Himalayas.

Here, the damage is localized but still remarkable, with a color-by-numbers destruction scenario written by Lost‘s Carlton Cuse and some visually masterful direction by Canadian filmmaker Brad Peyton. The film is unarguably a summer action vehicle for Johnson, who’s already hit the ground running this year with a supportive role in Fast and Furious 7, and is now heading this semi-plausible action story, which is fairly entertaining if you’re not looking for too much in the way of believability or coincidence.

Granted, there’s the broken family structure (as seen in 2012), the marathon race through falling buildings of all sorts (like in 2012) and the ex-wife running off with a wealthy, harmless but eventually doomed beau (hey, wasn’t that also in 201….)

In the end, there’s plenty of near-death escapes, last second jumps to safety and TONS of impressive CGI work to be seen, and there’s enough effective suspense in play to keep you guessing half a dozen times, even if the film’s sappy back story helps you telegraph the final reel with prescient accuracy.

 

 

To be fair, very few summer disaster films have ever turned out to be masterpieces. This film is no exception. The leaps in logic often outdistance the leaps between ravine-like buildings, and the central family unit is ever invulnerable that it makes you guffaw at the sheer level of luck attained in such a sea of sheer destruction.

Despite a thankless supporting role by Paul Giamatti (who finds himself in a focal and helpful position but still won’t drink the Merlot, hint hint) and a questionable cameo by Kylie Minogue, San Andreas is as generic as one expects from such fare, without Dwayne Johnson needing to overact in any strenuous way…though he could have done without the ill-timed sexual innuendos en route to allegedly save his daughter’s life.

Ahh, the summer movie season.

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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