Now on Blu-Ray: Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens a Real Home Video Treat

Blu-Ray Cover Art for STAR WARS EPISODE VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS, courtesy Lucasfilm, 2016
Blu-Ray Cover Art for STAR WARS EPISODE VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS, courtesy Lucasfilm, 2016

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder and Editor

 

It was the film most people often speculated about or wished would get made someday, following in the steps of a glorified classic trilogy of films which had been tarnished by a less-than-stellar batch of prequels.

Now, three decades after Return of the Jedi, Lucasfilm released the most anticipated film of the 21st century to date over the 2015 Christmas holidays, offering light saber battles, TIE Fighter and X-Wing dogfights, characters new and old and adventure from a long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, all to the roaring success of an entire modern grouping of generation hungry for more epic filmmaking up in the stars.

Was it worth the wait? For the most part, you bet your vicious Rathtars it was.

 

Peter Mayhew and Harrison Ford in STAR WARS THE FORCE AWAKENS, courtesy Lucasfilm, 2015
Peter Mayhew and Harrison Ford in STAR WARS THE FORCE AWAKENS, courtesy Lucasfilm, 2015

 

(Note: This review may contain some spoilers, then again if you’re reading this four months after release and are still worried about spoilers, you need professional help. Or Yoda.)

Thirty years have passed since the Resistance foiled the plans of Emperor Palpatine and his apprentice Darth Vader, following the destruction of the Second Death Star.

Now, a new military power called The First Order has risen from the Empire’s ashes and is looking to destroy the Republic once and for all.

A key element in repelling the Order’s ominous advances through all star systems is for the Rebels to locate the missing Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), the Jedi Knight who’d vanquished Darth Vader and the Emperor decades earlier.

As a means to find him, General Leia (Carrie Fisher) dispatches a gifted pilot (Oscar Isaac) to the planet Jakku to secure star maps to her brother’s location. Along the way, a gifted young scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley) and a noble stormtrooper deserter (John Boyega) will cross paths with the pilot and his robot BB-8, as they realize the importance of getting the map in Rebel hands before the Order’s ruthless taskmaster Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and his legion of troopers kill everyone in search of the map.

How do they manage this? Why, with an opportunistic chance encounter with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), of course! Together, this group of resourceful rebel-friendly adventurers will do what it takes to save lives, combat the Order and find Skywalker, at all costs.

 

Daisy Ridley, BB-8 and John Boyega in STAR WARS THE FORCE AWAKENS, courtesy Lucasfilm, 2015
Daisy Ridley, BB-8 and John Boyega in STAR WARS THE FORCE AWAKENS, courtesy Lucasfilm, 2015

 

Though I found that there were several remarkable script gaps in this much awaited sequel, none of it seems important when faced with a masterful and respectful approach to the material, thanks to the brilliant direction by JJ Abrams, who performed a similar sci-fi miracle by rebooting the Star Trek franchise six years ago while still retaining the original elements from beloved classics.

Here, much is revealed despite a thirty year absence, with a story that reintroduces important characters as needed, rather than throw a bunch of CGI and extraneous tertiary roles for the sake of a few new collectible toys for Christmas. Many veiled parallels with the original trilogy pop up here and there, but are so organic and fluid in their development that it only furthers the story in the cleverest of ways.

Newcomers Daisy Ridley and John Boyega hold their own despite co-starring alongside living sci-fi icons, while Girls‘ Adam Driver offers a refreshing new take on the archetypical black-robed villain, playing Kylo Ren as a short-tempered, volatile new disciple of the Dark Side of the Force.

Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Peter Mayhew appear effortless in their reprisal of their legendary roles, while Oscar Isaac brings some attitude as ace pilot Poe Dameron, infusing the hothead with some humor, sarcasm and good heart. A number of other notable actors pop up here and there, but their limited screen time isn’t a source for worry given that two more sequels are on the way.

 

 

As you can tell from the blu-ray preview clips above, there’s tons of goodies on the bonus disc, from the hour long look inside production to snippets about visual effects, around to the creation of BB-8, the saga’s latest robotic icon, there’s bound to be something for everyone.

My one regret is that they didn’t include a full-length sequence of the famous “table read”, the gathering of cast and crew where Mark Hamill (aka Luke Skywalker) read the entire script as narrator while actors read their parts. A pity, as that would have been a revelatory treat for legions of rabid fans.

Kudos to the producers for throwing in a nod to John Williams’ involvement; at 83, the veteran composer is slowing down but would never refuse another go at the Star Wars musical legacy he created.

Any bloopers? Sadly, no, but expect some to pop up once further episodic installments make for a larger box set years from now.

I’ve made sure there were plenty of good reveals left in the movie without listing them all off in this review; suffice it to say that the TLC by Abrams and the gang is apparent here, from the decision to approximate the look and feel of the original trilogy through use of actual film rather than digital, to the lack of self-awareness a mighty sequel might otherwise have ruined, mood-wise.

Does this film worthily compare to the original series? While I won’t readily say it’s better, it’s certainly earned a spot among them, though many moments felt rough and incomplete.

Rest assured that there’ll be tons of standalone fillers to plug any chronological holes in the three decades of history leading up to this film, including this upcoming piece called Star Wars: Rogue One, hitting theatres in December 2016:

 

 

And like a patient Jedi master living in the shadows, we’ll be waiting, and we’ll be ready. For each single new film.

May the Force be with us all.

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 Playing: Lack of Story Cohesion Proves to Be Batman v Superman’s Kryptonite

Theatrical Poster for BATMAN V SUPERMAN DAWN OF JUSTICE, courtesy Warner Brothers, 2016
Theatrical Poster for BATMAN V SUPERMAN DAWN OF JUSTICE, Courtesy Warner Brothers, 2016

 

Theatrical Review by Dominic Messier, Founder and Editor

It was the film legions of comic book fans had been waiting for since Marvel took the lead and dominated the box office with its phases of movie releases expanding their busy universe.

Refusing to be left behind, DC jumped into the ring with 2013’s Man of Steel before releasing this epic chapter pitting two (or three) of the biggest superhero characters known to exist.

But, as many of our mothers have always said, you can’t rush perfection. In other words, cut corners to catch up and you’ll be left with a bloody mess.

That idiom has never been so true until now. The gargantuan Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice is a bloated project designed solely as a quasi-three-hour trailer for upcoming DC film projects, story cohesion or logic be damned.

 

Henry Cavill as Superman in BATMAN V SUPERMAN DAWN OF JUSTICE, Courtesy Warner Brothers, 2016.
Henry Cavill as Superman in BATMAN V SUPERMAN DAWN OF JUSTICE, Courtesy Warner Brothers, 2016.

 

Rather than properly establish its major players with standalone reboot films to properly bring them together, director Zack Snyder bypasses the logical route by introducing Batman (Ben Affleck) to Superman (Henry Cavill) and later Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) in order to set them up for an inevitable Justice League ensemble piece within a few years.

By putting the cinematic cart before the mighty super horses, however, we lose any real chance of developing a new rapport with the actors and their characters, denying us any pleasurable build-up à la Marvel.

The premise, or whatever exists as one, is as follows: after the deadly battle of Metropolis (as seen in the last act of Man of Steel), the government is looking to hold the Last Son of Krypton accountable for his god-like actions since there is very little possibility that humanity could police him in any way.

One individual is looking to level the playing field, refusing to allow such power to remain unchecked: Billionaire industrialist Bruce Wayne, who still spends his nights prowling Gotham City as Batman, after twenty years.

The aging, battle-scarred playboy learns that young wunderkind Lex Luthor (Jesse Eisenberg) shares his perspective and may have found a way to exploit remnants of the Kryptonian scout ship’s technology, including planetary minerals indigenous to Krypton, as a deterrent against Kal-El/Superman.

Soon learning he isn’t the only one investigating Luthor’s research (a lovely Amazon-like beauty is also keeping up with Wayne’s detective antics), Wayne/Batman eventually confronts Superman about his abuse of power, leading to a no-holds barred slugfest based on the blackmail of innocent bystanders and family members.

All anomosity must be set aside, however, when Luthor tests out some Kryptonian tech to develop a Doomsday monstrosity (yup, that one) based on a mixture of human and Kryptonian DNA pulled from Zod’s remains.

Further real estate damage of epic proportions ensues.

 

Ben Affleck as Batman in BATMAN V SUPERMAN DAWN OF JUSTICE, Courtesy Warner Brothers, 2016
Ben Affleck as Batman in BATMAN V SUPERMAN DAWN OF JUSTICE, Courtesy Warner Brothers, 2016

 

While I can’t count myself out as an exception to the rule when it comes to big tentpole blockbuster titles that promise a metric ton of bang for the box office buck, I’m also a big stickler for a decent story, or at least one that makes narrative sense in the overall mythology of characters as legendary as those in the DC stable.

Because of a palpable rivalry between DC and Marvel for these worthwhile superhero bucks, I sense that Zack Snyder may have been pressured to throw everything he could at the studio wall in the hope that something worthwhile and appealing would stick.

Because of this rush to cash in, the result is nothing short of the aforementioned textbook “cart before the horses” scenario.

Comic book canon elements are thrown right out the window (never would one expect the Dark Knight to rely on any form of gun), major rivalries between age-old nemeses are shortchanged and played for kicks to promote a good mano a mano fight, and upcoming fellow powered cohorts are shoehorned into a middle act cameo for the sake of a good setup for upcoming DC films about Justice League characters whose backstories haven’t even been released yet.

This rushed process done in reverse has an adverse effect, which for hardened Batman and Superman fans comes off as offensive and disappointing.

The story’s shining beacon of hope (not just by way of a symbol in the sky) is Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne/Batman, a battle-weary crusader against all forms of criminal evil, a well-known story which picks up decades in as an indirect tribute to Frank Miller’s The Dark Knight Returns title from the 1980s, right down to the greying temples and the minimalistic dark grey suit.

Affleck projects the exact amount of grit and tactical brilliance one should exude as Batman, were it not for the fact that he quickly becomes a back seat character in a torrential outpour of on-screen excess. I look forward to Affleck’s standalone projects as the cowled Gothamite.

We’re briefly treated to a clue about Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman’s past, in a moment that would have worked better had we seen her movie first. But again, she can barely put three words together before being handed a sword and shield on her way to the inevitable final battle royale act.

Jesse Eisenberg’s eccentric but over-caffeinated Lex Luthor could have been brilliant in the same manner as his depiction of Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network. Alas, his Luthor is more jester than genius, an annoying buzzing noise in otherwise promising scenes. Oh, how I miss Gene Hackman…I’d even take back Kevin Spacey at this point.

Everything you think you know about your favorite characters appears twisted for a good reveal (since when are the Kent parents such apathetic misanthropic dicks?), all in the name of a big marquee project that comes off as rushed, unpolished and mangled to the point of nonsense, like a Cliff’s Notes booklet with only the middle pages left attached.

The superhero future seems bright. The DC franchise doesn’t.

 

 

I strongly feel that DC should accept that Marvel has a seven year lead in this race, so they should take their sweet time building up a nice momentum and follow the example of its distinguished rival. To do anything other than gradually introduce characters feels childish and stupid at expense of fans’ loyalty and wallets.

2 out of 5 (Just Because Ben Affleck is in it…otherwise 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.

 

Dom and Tim do Toronto Comic Con 2016: A Marathon Event in Excellent Geekdom

One of the top cosplayers as Robocop at this year's Toronto Comic Con, photo courtesy Dominic Messier, 2016
One of the top cosplayers as Robocop at this year’s Toronto Comic Con, photo courtesy Dominic Messier, 2016

 

Special Reporting by Dominic Messier (Founder and Editor) with Tim MacLean, Pop Culture Correspondent, Actor, Comedian and Podcaster

 

Some would say that the value of a collectible is only worth as much as the need for one to acquire such a collectible. This is very true. One man’s junk can easily be another man’s treasure.

Be it a precious autograph from a favorite celebrity, a chance encounter with a famous Star Trek actor or even a photo op with a Harry Potter villain, the question becomes how badly a fan is gunning for their own personal Holy Grail, not to mention how much one is willing to spend on these once-in-a-lifetime pieces, and the endurance test of walking a convention floor for three days of nerdgasmic geekery from every flavour in the pop culture rainbow.

 

Star Trek: The Next Generation's Jonathan Frakes and The Walking Dead's Tovah Feldshuh signing autographs at Toronto Comic Con 2016, photo courtesy Dominic Messier, 2016
Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Jonathan Frakes and The Walking Dead’s Tovah Feldshuh signing autographs at Toronto Comic Con 2016, photo courtesy Dominic Messier, 2016

 

As with most past events, this year’s Toronto Comic Con three-day event was no exception, with countless rows and aisles of dedicated vendors offering metric tons of single comic-book issues, handmade crafts ranging from sci-fi themed ornate woodwork to role-playing swords, and everything in between, including original artwork by famous graphic novelists.

Hoping to utilize the same format as its much bigger Fall sibling Toronto Fan Expo, which takes over every square inch of Metro Toronto Convention Centre space, Comic Con is a much smaller and fan friendly affair, with a smaller group of celebrities flying into town for some fan moments (at a fee, you can’t blame someone for making a small profit) based on their availability.

While some usual pundits on the con floor still grumbled at how much a signed picture or a personalized picture goes for, the majority of willing buyers lined up for said photos or glossy 8×13 pics all shared the same counter-argument.

Brad, a seasoned sci-fi fan and collector of action figures, pointed out to us in some good tongue-in-cheek humor that “no one is holding a phaser to anyone’s head”, when it comes to spending as much as $50 to $60 for a chance to bump fists and do a selfie with the stars of Starship Troopers.

Other longtime fans like Toronto’s very own energetic comedienne Polly Esther, a staple of Toronto comedy with her own Trek-themed show Dammit Jim, I’m a Comedienne, Not a Doctor!, were more than willing to have a little fun with the inbound talent, with big marquee names like Jonathan Frakes (Will Riker from Star Trek The Next Generation) playing along by holding a placarded bon mot implying his former moniker at the hands of a well-known British bald ship captain…

 

Toronto comedienne Polly Esther with Jonathan Frakes in a photo op at Toronto Comic Con 2016, photo courtesy Polly Esther, used with permission.
Toronto comedienne Polly Esther with Jonathan Frakes in a photo op at Toronto Comic Con 2016, photo courtesy Polly Esther, used with permission.

 

While security and policing of fans hoping to sneak in a close-up pic of their sci-fi faves wasn’t as strict and restricted as Fan Expo (see Dina Meyer and Casper Van Dien hamming it up for freebies with fans below), there was a definite casual approach to this round of fandom, a toned-down affair that focuses more on comic books than blockbuster films and gaming.

 

An over-caffeinated Casper Van Dien calls out for his staff volunteer next to Dina Meyer at Toronto Comic Con, photo courtesy Dominic Messier, 2016
An over-caffeinated Casper Van Dien calls out for his staff volunteer next to Dina Meyer at Toronto Comic Con, photo courtesy Dominic Messier, 2016

 

Those uninterested in signed photos were roaming the convention rows looking for those elusive missing issues from their prized comic book collections, while others sought out the authors of such prized issues on the floor grounds hoping to get the pieces signed by their creators, sure to increase the item’s value, if not for sentimental reasons, then monetary gain.

Rather than be a rabid affair where collectors tackled each other to get to that rare copy of Amazing Spider-Man 252 (aka the first black costume appearance) in mint condition, attendees would often share some intel on which vendors had what material up for grabs, making for a very congenial atmosphere.

 

Artist Tony Gray with Pop Culture Landscape Special Correspondent Tim MacLean, holding a print of a John Romita Sr. collaborative variant cover, photo courtesy Dominic Messier, 2016
Artist Tony Gray with Pop Culture Landscape Special Correspondent Tim MacLean, holding a print of a Gray/John Romita Sr. collaborative variant cover, photo courtesy Dominic Messier, 2016

 

While the roaming of the con halls for the sake of good press coverage (you’re welcome) isn’t without its own physical demands, it also wasn’t without its humorous moments.

Karen Allen, best known as Marion from the Indiana Jones films, was spied sneaking out of her signing area and making a beeline towards one of the sushi vendors. A hearing-impaired attendee dressed in head-to-toe Indy gear, found himself browsing for some tasty California rolls, unaware that the lady next to him was in fact his on-screen belle. While oblivious to this, the meta moment wasn’t lost to several onlookers, including yours truly, who shared a quick giggle with Allen over the entire incident, before she safely rejoined Autograph Row.

 

Pop Culture Landscape Editor Dominic Messier with The Little Time Lord That Could, photo courtesy Dominic Messier, 2016
Pop Culture Landscape Editor Dominic Messier with The Little Time Lord That Could, photo courtesy Dominic Messier, 2016

 

As with previous convention events in downtown Toronto, the weekend wasn’t short on Q&A sessions with all celebrity attendees, with the Centre’s Room 801 acting as our version of San Diego Comic-Con’s Hall H.

The cast of Space’s Innerspace were on hand to interview the stars of Killjoys among several others, while lineups formed to hear anecdotes from the likes of Harry Potter’s Jason Isaacs, Ghostbusters‘ Ernie Hudson, Seinfeld‘s John O’Hurley, The Flash‘s Robbie Amell, and so on.

A great tip to con goers hoping to grab a quick chat with their favorite celebs: wait for the last hours of the con where lineups are all but absent, with your favorite celeb waiting for willing requestors to approach them. Jonathan Frakes was game to stay put until the very end of the con, which afforded us a chance to chat up for several minutes, given the opportunity.

The congenial and fan-friendly bearded Trek veteran was most pleased to change it up and discuss his directorial output post-Trek, as we found out he was next headed to Portland, Oregon to begin work directing episodes of The Librarians, a popular sci-fi series I highly recommend.

 

A towering and menacing Kylo Ren, courtesy Dominic Messier, 2016
A towering and menacing Kylo Ren, courtesy Dominic Messier, 2016

 

With no shortage of Harley Quinns, Deadpools, Thors and Batman cosplayers, this exhaustive (and calorie-burning) three day event was a remarkable success, a busy but pleasant weekend without the Fan Expo insanity reserved the the hardcore attendees with athletic stamina.

What did you like best about this year’s event? Did you attend? See the panoply of pics below and feel free to comment!

 

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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: Gods of Egypt a God-Awful Whitewashing Reinvention of Egyptian Lore

Theatrical Poster for GODS OF EGYPT, Courtesy Summit Entertainment, 2016
Theatrical Poster for GODS OF EGYPT, Courtesy Summit Entertainment, 2016

 

Theatrical Review by Dominic Messier, Founder and Editor

OK let’s face it: Hollywood hasn’t always been truthful when it comes to the exploration of historical events, cultural heritage and accuracy in all things film related.

For the most part, narratively speaking, it’s always best to embellish some of the facts to provide for a good story masses will want to shell out 20 bucks for (snacks excluded), in order to be entertained.

Then again, there’s also the socio-political aspects to consider, something which has been all too prevalent in Tinseltown of late, what with the #OscarsTooWhite hoopla, with focus on the lack of great opportunities for artists of color to ply their thespian trade on the big screen.

So why, oh ye gods of olde, why, must a film specifically titled Gods of Egypt feature nary a native actor from said culture, or at least a hint of it so to relate to its own rich history?

 

Brenton Thwaites and Nicolaj Coster-Waldau in GODS OF EGYPT, courtesy Summit Entertainment, 2016
Brenton Thwaites and Nicolaj Coster-Waldau in GODS OF EGYPT, courtesy Summit Entertainment, 2016

 

In this spectacle of special effects as directed by The Crow‘s Alex Proyas (who also gave us the excellent Dark City), we are presented with Egypt of a few thousand years ago, when the fabled gods ruled amongst the mortals, mostly with benevolence and wisdom.

Standing a good twelve feet with booming voices (so to differentiate themselves from the mere mortals, for we the clueless audience), big names like Osiris (Bryan Brown), Horus (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and Thoth (Chadwick Boseman) make their presence known as a passing of the torch from uncle to nephew is about to occur.

Take heed, however, as the feared God of the Desert shows up just in time to gum up the works and usurp the throne in his bid for absolute power over Egypt and the known world.

When Horus loses most of his godly mojo due to serious injuries at the hands of his nefarious uncle, it’s up to a street smart thief (Brenton Thwaites) to help him find a way to fight back all Aladdin-like, while seeking the means to bring his beloved (Courtney Eaton) back from the dead. Obviously, chases, riddles and swordfights ensue, with a few high altitude god-like battles thrown in for good measure. You know, the usual.

 

Gerard Butler in GODS OF EGYPT, courtesy Summit Entertainment, 2016
Gerard Butler in GODS OF EGYPT, courtesy Summit Entertainment, 2016

 

I won’t waste any electronic ink debating the questionable choices already exemplified by my fellow critics in how this film features an alarming lack of Egyptian actors, or at the very least more minority actors.

What alarms me, however, is the lackadaisical approach to the subject of the gods of Egyptian mythology which are amplified here as a means to bank on the current high tide of successful Marvel and DC titles, all of which feature powered characters with sights on doing the right thing for the greater good, or going the megalomaniac route plotting dastardly deeds.

While I can’t really intelligently speak towards how the background of each deity popping up on screen could really be explored to its own end for filmic purposes, there seems to be a total lack of real interest towards Egyptian culture in relation to these super beings, other than appearing in general crowd shots tasked with uttering an endless series of ooohs and ahhhs for the camera.

This lazy use of mythology to create competitive super-hero type battles comes off as cheap, pointless and gimmicky. I mean, when did we get into the acquisition of god powers as booster add-ons for a battle armor? This isn’t Mech-Warrior we’re talking about.

I could go into details about the numerous glaring plotholes and lapses in logic à la Superman IV or Mortal Kombat, but I’d hate to kick a film when it’s already down all on its own.

Then again, no one should be offended by the absence of historical relevance given the genre or the film’s themes. I mean, did we riot when Stargate came out? No, we did not. (At least I didn’t.)

 

 

A film that’s just as visually impressive as it’s ludicrous, watch it for pure escapism, and try not to be too offended. In an age of political correctness, this is one bad boy that didn’t even try to aim for accuracy or relevance. I place it between Transformers and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles in the pantheon of historically relevant viewing.

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 on Blu-Ray: Creed Rings Victory Bell with Old and New Fans Alike

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

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder and Editor

In most of successful movie franchises, there’s a yearning for the familiar, the comforting and the nostalgic, those well-worn characters who once inspired or awed you with their adventures or achievements, whether they be athletic or intellectual in nature.

In the case of classic sports films like Rocky, we as movie fans seek out the underdog elements which drive the plot towards personal growth, a rewarding experience of hard work and profusive sweating, not to mention the everpresent workout montage.

Now, after a string of so-so sequels, Fruitvale Station director Ryan Coogler shakes up a classic story in order to revamp it for a new generation, by tapping into an emotionally packed backstory so familiar to fans that there’s just no way to call it exploitative.

I’d prefer to call it a love letter to Hollywood history.

 

Sylvester Stallone and Michael B. Jordan in CREED, Courtesy Warner Home Video, 2015
Sylvester Stallone and Michael B. Jordan in CREED, Courtesy Warner Home Video, 2015

 

As the title suggests, this unofficial seventh Rocky film features Michael B. Jordan as Adonis “Donnie” Johnson, a troubled young brawler whose life spent in the foster care system has given him an edge and a hunger for a scuffle.

When he gets located and rescued by a wealthy woman (Phylicia Rashad) who explains she is the widow of legendary boxer Apollo Creed, the young boy learns that he was the product of an affair his father had before he died in the ring against Ivan Drago (hey, spoiler alert be damned, Rocky IV was over thirty years ago — go get Netflix, yo…) years before.

Unhappy in menial entry level jobs and finding no pleasure in unsanctioned fights in Mexico, Donnie tracks down Rocky Balboa in Philly, where the retired former champ is now a restaurant owner just looking to enjoy the quiet life.

When he discovers the boy’s true lineage, the potential within the young fighter rekindles a similar passion in the veteran boxer. A new bond of friendship is forged, as both find the means to achieve closure with a lost friend and father.

 

Sylvester Stallone and Michael B. Jordan in CREED, Courtesy Warner Home Video, 2015
Sylvester Stallone and Michael B. Jordan in CREED, Courtesy Warner Home Video, 2015

 

I won’t lie and say I didn’t feel a bit cheated by the cookie-cutter recreation of the major elements of previous installments, i.e. the meet cute, the journey towards improvement, the health scare, the ultimatum and, invariably, the high stakes boxing match with reputation and self respect on the line.

That said, I still enjoyed seeing the Italian Stallion again, albeit grayer and slower, having suffered from loss and inevitable aging and the physical/emotional one-two punch that comes with it all.

After watching Stallone suffer pride, sadness and joy in back to back beats, it’s no wonder the Oscar-winninscreenwriter found himself back into Academy contention for this role.

Rather than offer a reheated rehash of the glorious boxer back for another beating, Stallone takes a sharp detour into some serious acting we hadn’t seen up to this point. A refreshing change for the physical actor, very much in the same way he’d gone outside his comfort zone packing on the pounds in Copland.

Michael B. Jordan fits right in as the son of Creed, a hungry hothead whose unpolished raw talent shows the same promise as a once similar young Italian fighter looking for guidance from an old ally.

And so, like Rock and Mickey in the days of old, Rocky serves as mentor to his best friend’s son, hoping that some of wisdom from years in the ring can rub off on his protege.

 

 

Listen, take this film at face value: if you loved watching these growing up, sitting on the edge of your seat round after round watching the underdog coming up against the odds, you’ll love this film for its positive impact on the franchise and great acting work by all involved.

It ain’t perfect, but it’ll bring back a nostalgic sense of deja vu in the nicest of ways.

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: Zoolander 2 Brings Mediocre Filmmaking Back in Fashion

Theatrical Poster for ZOOLANDER 2, courtesy Paramount Pictures, 2016
Theatrical Poster for ZOOLANDER 2, courtesy Paramount Pictures, 2016

 

Theatrical Review by Dominic Messier, Founder and Editor

 

There’s a line paraphrased from the history books in 1991’s Star Trek: The Undiscovered Country where the Federation President argues that just because you can do a thing doesn’t necessarily mean that you must do that thing.

After the hour and forty minutes I will likely never be able to ever unsee, I can certainly agree that this is a thing that should never have been done. No scientific fact has ever been more verifiable.

Christ on toast, what a bad movie. But let’s talk about it anyway, I’m feeling generous and care for your mental well-being. For now.

 

Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller and Penelope Cruz in ZOOLANDER 2, courtesy Paramount Pictures, 2016
Owen Wilson, Ben Stiller and Penelope Cruz in ZOOLANDER 2, courtesy Paramount Pictures, 2016

 

I shall do my level best to decipher the threadbare plot hidden within this mudball of overindulgence and gratuitous cameos: After an accident causes the Derek Zoolander School for People Who Can’t Read Good to crash into the East River thus killing his wife, the former runway legend goes into hiding after also losing custody of their son Derek Junior.

When reports surface that famous superstars being found dead with the Blue Steel look on their faces, the Fashion division of Interpol (groan) reaches out to Zoolander and Hansel (Owen Wilson) to go back into the fashion world undercover.

There, they meet the mysterious and incomprehensible Alexanya Atoz (Kristen Wiig, unrecognizable) and learn of the Sacred Order of Steve, a group of fashion icons who believe that a bloodline exists down from the first model from the Garden of Eden, whose imbibed blood can grant eternal beauty.

Can the nefarious incarcerated Mugatu (Will Ferrell) be responsible for these murders? Can the Sacred Order of Steve be stopped? Does Derek Zoolander understand any of this?

 

Will Ferrell as Mugatu in ZOOLANDER 2, courtesy Paramount Pictures, 2016
Will Ferrell as Mugatu in ZOOLANDER 2, courtesy Paramount Pictures, 2016

 

While I had considered the original Zoolander a clever one-off back in 2001, I had never considered it worthy of notice enough to warrant ever seeing a sequel be born from its glamourous ashes.

Though the first film reeked of cameos (that David Bowie/Billy Zane scene is still inspired) and self-deprecating moments, Zoolander 2 borders on flat out stupidity and desperation to remain relevant, or at least make a few dollars on name recognition alone.

The movie fails on all counts. Mediocre plot, lazy writing, pointless segues and tired concepts abound, with double the cameos and triple the offensive comments about size, gender, occupation and education.

One wonders how many of said cameo-featured actors are now ready to disavow this project as nothing more than a momentary lapse in judgment, all while counting their coin for such easy work.

I want to call this movie fun, but that would be an insult to the very adjective in question. Zoolander 2 is by far one of the most moronic sequels I’ve ever had the displeasure of reviewing, and given the number of bad sequels out there, that’s saying a lot.

 

 

If you can stomach the stupidity and vapidity of this lame duck (not to mention Alexanya Atoz’ atrocious attempt at a foreign accent — one which should require subtitles for better comic effect), then I applaud you.

Zoolander 2 should be featured on the United Nations’ list of globally banned substances known to be harmful to mankind.

Won’t we ever learn from the past? Avoid seeing this film as if your life depended on it. You’ll feel smarter for having done so.

Minus 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: Deadpool a Clever, Potty-Mouthed Laugh Riot of Mutant Blood and Tears

Theatrical One-Sheet for DEADPOOL, Courtesy 20th Century Fox, 2016
Theatrical One-Sheet for DEADPOOL, Courtesy 20th Century Fox, 2016

 

Theatrical Review by Dominic Messier, Founder and Editor

 

Since the first few months of the millennium, Hollywood has become increasingly permeated with an influx of superhero-based films, with X-Men leading the fray in 2000 and Sony’s Spider-Man following suit a few years later.

A decade onwards, with the X-Men, Avengers, Justice Leaguers up ahead and a bevy of colorful others lining up, none have been so anticipated by fanboys and girls than the Merc with the Mouth, Deadpool.

Thankfully, despite a terrible introduction as part of X-Men Origins: Wolverine, Ryan Reynolds is back as the sarcastic crimson assassin, this time in his own standalone film.

The resulting product is not only bang on but a real laugh riot for willing adults to geek off on.

Fair warning: this film is NOT for children.

You were warned. No backsies.

Seriously.

 

Brianna Hillenbrand, Ryan Reynolds and a CGI Colossus in DEADPOOL, Courtesy 20th Century Fox, 2016.
Brianna Hildebrand, Ryan Reynolds and a CGI Colossus in DEADPOOL, Courtesy 20th Century Fox, 2016

 

Rather than cheaply coast on the coat tails of its Fox predecessors from a certain New York State school for the gifted, this origin story branches off on its own right off the bat by introducing Wade Wilson (Reynolds), a cynical hitman and former Special Ops soldier who chances upon a beautiful call girl named Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) one night after a lucrative job, only to fall in love. Ahh, l’amour.

Cue the rapid montage of cute moments (some sweet, others carnal) spent together over a calendar year, until Wade finally pops the question before inexplicably collapsing, only to learn he has terminal cancer in pretty much every major organ in his body. Bummer.

Rather than lose what he has with Vanessa, Wade opts for a dubious procedure offered by a shady recruiter (that never ends well, does it?) who promises a cure for his cancer along with potentially super powers to boot. Sounds legit, right?

The experiment is a successful failure, triggering a mutation that renders Wade virtually immortal but scarred beyond imagination. The Merc with the Mouth goes into hiding so to mount a vengeful campaign against his torturer, the mutant scientist (Ed Skrein) who left him for dead.

Adopting the moniker Deadpool (named after a betting list on the next death at the mercenary bar) and assisted by bar owner Weasel (T.J. Miller), X-Men Colossus (mocap work by Andre Tricoteux and voiced by Stefan Kapicic) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead, Wade goes after his nemesis and his powered henchmen.

Blood, decapitation, slicing and dicing, exploding bodyparts and disembowings ensue. Cue the music.

 

Ryan Reynolds and CGI Colossus in DEADPOOL, Courtesy 20th Century Fox, 2016
Ryan Reynolds and CGI Colossus in DEADPOOL, Courtesy 20th Century Fox, 2016

 

Aside from being tailor-made for Ryan Reynolds’ famous brand of cynicism and dirty humor, Deadpool taps into everything that made the comic-book character a fan favorite, especially that he is aware of his own existence as a fictitious character, often breaking the fourth wall on the page so to interact with the paying reader or in this case, the rabid audience.

Throwaway references to X-Men cast members past and present abound (expect many Hugh Jackman nods along with honourable mentions to Patrick Stewart and James MacAvoy), jabs at Fox for not investing hundreds of millions into this budding franchise, not to mention self-deprecating nibs by Reynolds and his dubious past as a certain other superhero from…ahem…another comic book competitor that shan’t be named.

Though the plot and concept reek of formulaic predictability, the story’s shortcomings are redeemed at every turn by Reynolds’ gleeful presence in almost every frame of film. He’s having fun and he refuses to let you leave the theatre until you’ve tasted some of the same.

 

 

Expect copious amounts of bloodshed and colorful language, with enough pop culture references thrown in to cause a non-fan to spend a few hours Googling it all later.

With content that makes Pulp Fiction look like a Disney family piece, you’re guaranteed a decent time even if you scratch your head wondering where the other X-folks scampered off to.

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: Bridge of Spies Another Fine Spielberg Look Through the Historical Looking Glass

Blu-Ray Cover Art for BRIDGE OF SPIES, courtesy Dramworks Pictures, 2015
Blu-Ray Cover Art for BRIDGE OF SPIES, courtesy Dreamworks Pictures, 2015

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder and Editor

 

When it comes to historical highlights of the 20th Century (and beyond — i.e. Amistad) told in heart-wrenching authenticity and tasteful vision, very few other directors have managed to convey as much character and emotion as Steven Spielberg has in his latter-day projects.

Whether it’s about the horrors of the Holocaust (Schindler’s List), the Olympic hostage crisis (Munich) or one of the most celebrated American presidents (Lincoln), you know there’s a worthwhile experience waiting for you for a solid two to three hours.

Spielberg’s latest, a narrative about the 1960 prisoner exchange between Russia and the U.S. during the Cold War, is a chatty drama packed with great dialogue and inspired performances by Tom Hanks and Mark Rylance that never loses any of its intrigue and suspense, despite evolving like a captivating legal tale rather than a Bourne-like action thriller.

 

Mark Rylance and Tom Hanks in BRIDGE OF SPIES, courtesy DReamworks Pictures, 2015
Mark Rylance and Tom Hanks in BRIDGE OF SPIES, courtesy Dreamworks Pictures, 2015

 

Tom Hanks plays James B. Donovan, the real-life no-nonsense lawyer with the unenviable task of trying to successfully negotiate the retrieval of downed U.S. pilot Gary Francis Powers from Soviet hands, all while developing an unusual rapport with his client, the KGB spy Rudolf Abel (Mark Rylance), captured as an uncooperative Soviet informant held by the Americans.

After unsuccessfully demonstrating how Abel’s sham trial makes a mockery of the judicial system based on fairness as opposed to political hysteria and public opinion, Donovan travels to West Germany in order to begin arrangements to exchange Abel for Powers — that is, until he learns that an American student named Frederic Pryor (Will Rogers) has been mistaken as a spy by East Germany and is being indefinitely detained.

It’s up to Donovan to use every ounce of guile to parlay a delicate game of diplomacy, hopefully bringing everyone home without any of the major players at the table losing face, potentially triggering another World War,

 

Tom Hanks in BRIDGE OF SPIES, courtesy Dreamworks Pictures, 2015
Tom Hanks in BRIDGE OF SPIES, courtesy Dreamworks Pictures, 2015

 

Beautifully shot in New York City, Germany and Poland by Spielberg regular Janusz Kaminski, Bridge of Spies flawlessly evokes the smoky, cold dampness of the Cold War years, with an increasingly complex government bureaucracy and foreign policy evolving slowly in the wings while the masses are too busy out front discovering the Beatles.

Spielberg wastes no time tapping into the excellent chemistry between his two leads, pitting the ever gallant Hanks against the stoic Rylance, whose Academy Award nominated performance maximizes his minimal but effective delivery as Abel. The resulting personality clash makes for uneasy partners, turning a cold client into an unlikely would-be friend, had the circumstances been oh so different.

This is one of Tom Hanks’ most enjoyably verbal role in years, thanks to a great script by Matt Sharman and the Coen Brothers (yes, the very same you’re thinking of.) Considered by many to be our generation’s Jimmy Stewart, Hanks embodies wholesome values once again, giving us a hero who’d rather use words and common sense rather than a gun and various spy craft.

Spielberg maintains the mood of the film appropriately, injecting levity when needed but keeping to the matter at hand, creating captivating mystery even though the story is historically well documented, denying many of us the chance of a surprise reveal by the end credits.

 

 

Part legal drama and part Le Carré intrigue of sorts, Bridge of Spies (named after the Glienicke Bridge connecting Potsdam and Berlin, essentially a diplomatic neutral zone) is another fine piece of history committed to film, a group effort to illustrate a key component of the last century which became a building block to lasting peace.

Nominated for Best Supporting Actor, Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Original Score, Best Sound Mixing and a much deserved Best Production Design (the 60s look and feel is palpable on screen), this film is another top notch Spielberg project worth your time and money.

I urge you to see it.

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 Playing: The 5th Wave Amounts to Xeroxed Sci-Fi at Best

Theatrical Poster for THE 5TH WAVE, courtesy Columbia Pictures, 2016
Theatrical Poster for THE 5TH WAVE, courtesy Columbia Pictures, 2016

 

Theatrical Review by Dominic Messier, Founder and Editor

 

I’m all for new sci-fi films. Except in January.

Known by movie habitués as “the cinematic graveyard” (i.e. that dumping ground when studios are forced to contractually release a film they wish they’d never made in the first place), you can never have high hopes for movies released in the first month of the year, knowing it was picked last during gym class activity.

This one, The 5th Wave, while based on the first of Rick Yancy’s novels, comes off as so rehashed and patched up using familiar tropes from other YA novels and cinematic clichés, that you find yourself having more fun playing a game of “didn’t we see that concept in (insert movie here)” during the entire running time.

 

The aliens arrive in THE 5TH WAVE, courtesy Columbia Pictures, 2016
The aliens arrive in THE 5TH WAVE, courtesy Columbia Pictures, 2016

 

Onto the flimsy premise: the world sees the sudden arrival of a giant ship as it starts orbiting over the planet. Uncommunicative, these “Others” don’t bring any message of peace (or any other message for that matter) but proceed to engineer a series of “waves” by which to eliminate the human population while keeping the planet and its resources intact.

So, systematically, mankind sees total loss of power and energy; a bird flu type plague; tidal waves; subterfuge via disinformation through human host possession and finally, reeducation of the world’s young by way of brainwashing.

Seen through the eyes of a surviving teen cheerleader(Chloe Moretz) torn between affection for the popular boy at school (Nick Robinson) and the mysterious man with abilities who later comes to protect her (Alex Roe), The 5th Wave explores how the remainder of humanity, composed mostly of teens and children, could pool their resources together and fight back toward their much more powerful oppressors.

 

Alex Roe and Chloe Moretz in THE 5TH WAVE, courtesy Columbia Pictures, 2016
Alex Roe and Chloe Moretz in THE 5TH WAVE, courtesy Columbia Pictures, 2016

 

To sum up the worth of this film: rarely have I felt like I was re-watching parts of better films I’d enjoyed, patched together, on a much smaller budget. From memory, I managed to find pieces of Independence Day, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, They Live!, The Road, Twilight,  Armageddon and Starship Troopers, all as if seen through the primetime lens of a CW TV drama.

Try as she may, Chloe Moretz quickly goes from seemingly capable Hit-Girl to Helpless Damsel, by the time she is forced to rely on two heartthrobs, each with something to offer from very different ends of the spectrum.

The bulk of the budget appears to have been squandered in the first half hour as we witness the world being decimated, with scenes of giant waves destroying major cities, not unlike every disaster film produced in the summers of 1997 and 1998.

I want to run through a list of other recognizable actors you’ll spot during the film, but I’d rather save you some valuable time so you can go and watch all of those other films I’ve just referenced, instead.

 

 

Assuming that producers have the ability to gauge audience reaction in a pro-active and sensible way, I’m hopeful we won’t see more sequels based on this first installment. Then again, there’s only so much you can do with a 38 million dollar budget than to point off screen and refer to things that only our mind’s eye can afford the visual effects to.

Even then, there’s little mental gas left in the tank after enduring this visual and narrative exercise in torture.

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.

 

Oscar Watch: The Revenant a Veritable Cinematic Endurance Test

Theatrical Poster for THE REVENANT, courtesy 20th Century Fox, 2015
Theatrical Poster for THE REVENANT, courtesy 20th Century Fox, 2015

 

Theatrical Review by Dominic Messier, Founder and Editor

 

After the masterful treat that was last year’s Best Picture Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) and its impeccable direction by Alejandro G. Innaritu along with dizzying technical aptitude in both camera work and flawless uninterrupted scenes, one wondered what could next be in store for the Mexican filmmaker, known for his tough on-set attitude but a worthwhile man to follow into difficult, demanding projects.

The result is his latest, The Revenant, a marathon tale of survival and revenge very loosely based on real events, one which follows a tracker left for dead as he returns from the wild, unforgiving woods of the American 1800s in order to seek retribution.

 

Leonardo DiCaprio in THE REVENANT, courtesy 20th Century Fox, 2015
Leonardo DiCaprio in THE REVENANT, courtesy 20th Century Fox, 2015

 

While assisting a group of trappers and hunters in the 1820s with the help of his son, experienced tracker Hugh Glass (Leonardo DiCaprio) manages to guide his group through the dense terrain of Montana, only for their expedition to be attacked ay hostile Arikara natives.

With their numbers depleted, the surviving trappers hope to make it back to their home base, that is until Glass has an near-fatal encounter with a protective grizzly bear mother out to defend her cubs.

Near death and without proper medical attention, the mauled Glass is left in the care of young Jim Bridger (Will Poulter) and brash John Fitzgerald (Tom Hardy), who both volunteer to stay behind and bury Glass once dead,  thanks to a cash reward by Captain Andrew Henry (Domnhall Gleeson).

Rather than wait out Glass’ death, Fitzgerald decides to kill Glass and rejoin the party, thinking of his task as easy money. Forced to kill Glass’ son Hawk (Forrest Goodluck) when he discovers Fitzgerald’s plan, the treacherous trapper talks Bridger into following him back to the fort, stating that no one would ever know they’d left Glass and his son behind.

What they didn’t count on is Glass’ resilience, fueled by his need to avenge his son and return to the civilized world, assuming he survives Arikara search parties, wolves, gangrene and starvation, not to mention constant sub-zero temperatures.

 

Tom Hardy in THE REVENANT, courtesy 20th Century Fox, 2015
Tom Hardy in THE REVENANT, courtesy 20th Century Fox, 2015

 

What makes The Revenant an interesting viewing experience is when one also subconsciously revels in the daunting filming process cast and crew have undertaken.

Insisting that the film be made in sequence and using only natural lighting, this two and a half hour story set in harsh locales proves physically and emotionally exhausting, which only helps us identify with the hardships experienced by DiCaprio’s character on screen.

Though I admit that some proverbial fat could easily have been trimmed here and there to make this a leaner story, I was willing to ignore the excessive running time thanks to another great photographic job by Emmanuel Lubezki, who captures the Canadian and Argentinian film locations with an impeccable eye, conveying the cold winter conditions of the Montana wild with haunting blue hues and the occasional orange-reds of a small campfire.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hardy are both impressive on screen, with the latter inhabiting yet another new persona with ease, while DiCaprio displays his best work yet, having endured grueling and uncomfortable physical hardships in the name of a great story.

This film can only mean further success for Alejandro Innaritu, who’d likely be winning back-to-back Oscars if he wins for this picture. Whether this repeat event means other actors will sign up for his insane filming schedule is up for debate, of course.

 

 

If you’re faint of heart and have trouble at the sight of blood, disembodied animals or vicious acts of violence both offensive and defensive, then perhaps you’re better off reading Hugh Glass’ real life exploits on the printed page.

Despite some liberal changes to the real story of these men, you can still appreciate the effort made by these actors in enduring rough conditions in the name of the seventh art.

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.

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