Now Playing: Kingsman The Secret Service a Kinetic Tribute to British Spies of Old

Theatrical Poster for KINGSMAN THE SECRET SERVICE, courtesy 20th Century Fox, 2015
Theatrical Poster for KINGSMAN THE SECRET SERVICE, courtesy 20th Century Fox, 2015

 

Theatrical Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Anglophile

Everyone has an origin story. Whether noble or obscure, each of us has had humble beginnings in some small town, some modest occupation, before becoming someone, or something else.

In the same sense that director Matthew Vaughn and graphic novelist Mark Millar made teenage superheroes relevant again with the film and book Kick-Ass, they have done so again by looking at the rise of a street kid into a refined secret agent in the modern spy adventure Kingsman The Secret Service.

The result is a mixture of James Bond, Jason Bourne and Jack Bauer with a dash of Cody Banks, all rolled into one.

 

Taron Egerton, Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson in KINGSMAN THE SECRET SERVICE, courtesy 20th Century Fox, 2015
Taron Egerton, Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson in KINGSMAN THE SECRET SERVICE, courtesy 20th Century Fox, 2015

 

While the film has several elements usually indicative of a typical Bond film (colorful rich villain, exotic locales, gadgets, etc…), Kingsman veers more towards an origin story than a full blown spy story.

Newcomer Taron Egerton plays teenage boy Eggsy Unwin, a gifted but disillusioned guy whose father used to belong to a secret organization known as the Kingsmen, spies who save the world from looming threats without public knowledge.

Fashioned in structure like the ancient Round Table of King Arthur’s Court, each agent is assigned a given moniker and is tasked with a dangerous mission, all while impeccably dressed and well-mannered to a tee.

Galahad (Colin Firth) seeks out the young Eggsy to serve as his mentor, soon offering him a chance to join the Kingsmen ranks by undergoing rigorous testing. Training moves fairly quickly as a villainous billionaire philanthropist Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), a lispy eccentric internet guru, has plans to cull the human population to give Earth a chance to heal itself from the modern world’s damage.

With time running out and the world hanging in the balance, it’s up to the young teen to hone his skills, use his wits and agility in order to stop the bad guy, assist his teammates and save the world. No pressure.

 

Eggsy Unwin (Taron Egerton) and the other recruits in KINGSMAN THE SECRET SERVICE, courtesy 20th Century Fox, 2015
Eggsy Unwin (Taron Egerton) and the other recruits in KINGSMAN THE SECRET SERVICE, courtesy 20th Century Fox, 2015

 

If you give the film careful consideration, you’ll soon realize that it feels and sounds closer to the 1960s The Avengers than anything else, except perhaps for the more obvious Bond elements thrown in, namely a prosthetically enhanced henchwoman named Gazelle (razor sharp legs and all) as well as a big baddie with billions to spare and a secret mountain base.

Colin Firth is very much a John Steed for modern times as Harry “Galahad” Hart, a gentleman’s gentleman with excellent taste, manners and deadly skills to match. Firth’s fighting skill in this film is quite a sight, his speed and agility evocative of Matt Damon’s amnesiac assassin, with moves that defy the human eye.

He is accompanied by other members of the Kingsmen like tech wiz Merlin (Mark Strong), leader Arthur (Michael Caine) and previous members whose fate starts the movie off.

Samuel L. Jackson once again steals every scene he’s in, an almost childish power monger whose limited patience in seeing results makes him unstable and petty, though not to be so easily dismissed given his dastardly invention which I won’t mention here for the sake of keeping some goodies secret for you readers.

Taron Egerton and Sophie Cookson do their best as Eggsy and Roxy, two of the recruits, though they easily get eclipsed by their shinier co-stars, something neither of them can get blamed for. I’m sure in time, both of them will have had a chance to improve their craft to match that of their peers.

 

 

Director Matthew Vaughn, no stranger to extremely well choreographed action films, knocks this one out of the park with great kinetic scenes, impressive set pieces and a pace that will keep you riveted to your seat in anticipation and envy. After all, who doesn’t want to own and use spy gadgets?

Kingsman will definitely scratch that spy film itch you’ve had since Skyfall, a more accessible movie than its Bond cousins and definitely classier. Think of it as trying something new. Who knows, you might even like it!

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: Birdman a True Meta Experience with Mesmerizing Cinematography

Blu-Ray Cover Art for BIRDMAN (OR THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE), Courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015
Blu-Ray Cover Art for BIRDMAN (OR THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE), Courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Fan of Films with Hidden, Subtle Meanings

 

You’ve heard the expression before: “Life imitates art.” Then again, have you often seen a film where the exact reverse seems to be happening before your eyes, all in an apparent 2-hour long single take?

Okay, that last bit can be faked using a few tricks of the trade, but the undeniable fact remains that director Alejandro Gonzales Innaritu has pulled off a masterful feat of film making with the help of an incredibly patient and dedicated crew, a willing cast of actors game for long, uninterrupted takes and some stabs at their own professional lives.

 

Michael Keaton and his cinematic alter ego in BIRDMAN (OR THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE), Courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015
Michael Keaton and his cinematic alter ego in BIRDMAN (OR THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE), Courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015

 

I’m tempted to call the film a piece of pleasant surrealism, but that’d be cheating it out of the brilliance of its own simplicity and inventiveness, with much apology to surrealists out there.

Michael Keaton stars as Riggan Thomson, a once popular Hollywood actor known for playing a certain superhero for a handful of movies, before deciding to hang up in the cape in favor of more serious work and roles.

Now, decades later, his star has all but faded, and the aging actor opts to produce his version of a play based on a lesser literary piece by Raymond Carver, one that will prove difficult to market to audiences and more importantly, the critics.

To add to his troubles, one of his cast members isn’t quite cutting it, and so Riggan must resort to the talents of a gifted but reportedly difficult actor (Edward Norton) to help elevate the play during previews, only to realize said actor is trying to steer the show towards himself to further his career.

All of this in one long two-hour scene with a roaming camera which follows the action up, left, right and back down, through the halls of the St-James Theatre in New York City.

 

Michael Keaton and Edward Norton in BIRDMAN (OR THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE), courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015
Michael Keaton and Edward Norton in BIRDMAN (OR THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE), courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015

 

There’s a mental exercise built into the viewing experience of watching this Oscar Best Picture winner, that of becoming self-aware that one is watching the film without any noticeable edits or cuts to other camera angles, a veritable dreamlike visual trip into the world of a small, dysfunctional acting troupe.

Add to this the meta aspect of watching Keaton, himself a two-time Batman portrayor, poking at his own career by way of the movie’s story line. An aging but popular actor whose appearance in this film has not only brought him career-high notice and praise, his appearance in this movie mirrors his own return to the spotlight.

Add more meta to the hero’s worthy foil in the guise of Edward Norton, long hailed as an incredibly involved actor whose wish to modify the existing material has often put him at odds with his film making bosses, here playing a similar actor who dares breaking the rules to take the thespian art to the next level, even if he leaves damaged psyches in his wake.

The rest of the supporting cast, which also include Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Lindsay Duncan, Andrea Riseborough and Naomi Watts, are all game in this experimental success, a film that demanded its players be able to absorb over a dozen plus pages of dialogue per shot scene, all for the sake of delivering a most original and unusual piece of cinema.

 

 

A mesmerizing piece of black comedy at its best, Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) must be seen rather than explained. Don’t try to make sense of what’s happening on the boards of the stage. Unlike most other films, the play here is NOT the thing, but rather a metaphorical milestone of one man’s culminated life and the examination of success and failure.

A life not examined is not worth living. I agree with Socrates in this case. Examine this film. Examine the hell out of it.

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.

CONTEST TIME! Win Tickets to See STAR TREK LIVE with Orchestra Soundtrack in Toronto!

Hey Pop Culture Landscape Fans!

Thanks to the generosity of the good people at Toronto’s Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, we are proud to announce a great contest which will allow a pair of winner to attend a live screening of JJ Abrams’ 2009 reboot of Star Trek, featuring a live symphonic orchestra performance by the Kitchener-Waterloo Symphony, with Score by Michael Giacchino and Conducted by Erik Ochsner, to match every scene of the film! An experience not to be missed.

 

The cast of STAR TREK, courtesy Paramount Pictures,  2009
The cast of STAR TREK, courtesy Paramount Pictures, 2009

 

So, the question then becomes, just HOW does one get one’s hands on such a coveted pair of tix?

As luck has it, I was just downtown today at the venue, Doctor Who scarf and all (I know, wrong franchise), and thought I’d brave harsh traffic and the cold weather to explain the contest to you. Watch the YouTube clip below very carefully. More details after the jump…

 

 

To recap, the more you act upon, the more votes you get in your name for the giveaway. Think of it as your name in a hat each time you perform an action:

  • You need to share this post on your social media. Do so, and you get one entry, one for Facebook, one for Twitter, etc. For the aforementioned social media tools, use the combination of #StarTrekLiveContestToronto and usage of my @dommessier Twitter handle, so it’s easier to track you.
  • For each review or post from Pop Culture Landscape that you SHARE, LIKE or COMMENT on, you get one entry. In other words, the more you tell others about this site, the easier it gets for you to increase your chances of winning!
  • What’s that? You are NOT a follower of the Pop Culture Landscape with Dominic Messier Facebook Page OR of @dommessier on Twitter? Well, what are you waiting for? Any new adds to either is entered automatically. For those of you who already follow either or both, I expect you’ll be following rules #1 and #2, so no complaining or I’ll ask Scotty to stuff you in a Jefferies Tube.

BONUS: I get to bring a lucky Plus One to the event as my Special Guest, that lucky winner will be determined by the level of engagement an enthusiasm displayed by participating in the awareness and promotion of this event!

I do realize the bittersweet timing of this contest given the passing of the iconic Leonard Nimoy on February 27th, this film having been one of his last few projects, along with a brief appearance in Star Trek Into Darkness.

So, are you interested? You know the rules of the game, time for you to engage in the online game ahead! Warp Factor One!

Live Long and Prosper!

Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Lifelong Trekkie

 

(Note: Not sure if you’ll win and still want to attend? Please see the information below about ticket availability and other details!)

Photo Courtesy of the Toronto Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, 2015
Photo Courtesy of the Toronto Sony Centre for the Performing Arts, 2015

 

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: Sons of Anarchy Takes a Final Ride in its Last Season

Blu-Ray Cover Art for SONS OF ANARCHY THE FINAL SEASON, Courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015
Blu-Ray Cover Art for SONS OF ANARCHY THE FINAL SEASON, Courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Club Prospect (Yeah, Right)

 

The sign of any successful show lies in its ability to neatly wrap up its run with no loose ends, an effective resolution amidst its characters and a satisfying ending (ahem, Dexter) that won’t leave its audience foaming at the mouth.

With seven bloody and violent seasons now under its belt, Kurt Sutter’s tale of “Hamlet on Wheels” takes a final bow, with many a character meeting the proverbial Reaper. But what a way to go.

 

Charlie Hunnam and Marilyn Manson in SONS OF ANARCHY THE FINAL SEASON, Courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015
Charlie Hunnam and Marilyn Manson in SONS OF ANARCHY THE FINAL SEASON, Courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015

 

(Needless to say, the following contains SPOILERS)

As we’d last seen SAMCRO President Jax Teller (Charlie Hunnam), he’d just found his wife Tara murdered in their kitchen, stabbed in the head by an intruder who turns out to be his controlling mother Gemma (Katey Sagal), who had confronted her daughter-in-law in a fit of rage.

Made to believe that a member of the Chinese Triad under Henry Lin was responsible, Jax and the club set out to seek retribution against Lin’s gang, all while trying to establish new relations with One-Niners leader August Marks and continue their profitable truce with the Mayans and their leader Marcus Alvarez.

Unaware of the deception afoot amongst the club and Gemma in general (no surprise there), the gang must contend with the law seeking out witnesses against Tara’s murder, trying to locate a fugitive Juice (Theo Rossi) who’d betrayed Jax, and the club’s continuing attempts to come out of the gun trade altogether.

Alas, in the world of honor among thieves, there is no simple way out, as the boys are about to find out.

 

Kim Coates, Charlie Hunnam, Tommy Flanagan and David LaBrava in SONS OF ANARCHY THE FINAL SEASON, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015
Kim Coates, Charlie Hunnam, Tommy Flanagan and David LaBrava in SONS OF ANARCHY THE FINAL SEASON, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015

 

There’d been speculation among fans in seasons past as to whether creator Kurt Sutter would stick so strictly to the Shakespearian material the show had so valiantly relied upon for its inspiration of a family divided by murder and treachery; after all, anyone who’s ever read Hamlet knows that it doesn’t turn out too well for most involved.

When all is said and done, given the show’s propensity for killing off major characters for the sake of good storytelling, you can bet your kutte that anyone being offed during the show was for a purpose, each death marking the actors in question and the audience alike.

Now I won’t presume to elaborate on the roster of departed characters in this final season, but to paraphrase the Lizard King, not everyone makes it out alive.

Sutter, along with a cadre of excellent writers, directors and especially willing actors, offers up an excellent final installment whose fever pitch intensity gradually builds up to the very last few episodes, all with a satisfaction that is sure to please a majority of SOA fans.

Followers of the show can still expect the same camaraderie from the SAMCRO actors, an asset which only helped sell the fiction of this motorcycle club over the last seven years. A bittersweet farewell to such an engaging group of actors, each as different than the next, one dysfunctional but loyal family.

 

 

Hardcore followers of the show will want to watch the hour-long feature included in the Blu-Ray set, an inside look at the production of this final chapter, along with several heartfelt interviews with cast members and other key members of the series.

There’s a gag reel, which I’d been looking forward to, but half of it is filled with cast members swearing over a flubbed line. Take it or leave it.

A final season where no one is safe, with a level of violence that nearly puts previous years to shame, The Final Ride will either enrage you or give you the serenity that comes with a finale that fully satisfies, a fitting farewell to a series that defied the genre blueprint and took us on a much different adventure.

Thank you, Kurt Sutter, and thank you SAMCRO. It’s been a hell of a ride…

4 out of 5

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

Now on Blu-Ray: Oscar Winner Big Hero 6 a Harmless Tale of Brotherly Love

Blu-Ray Cover Art for BIG HERO 6, courtesy Disney Home Video, 2015
Blu-Ray Cover Art for BIG HERO 6, courtesy Disney Home Video, 2015

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Friend to Most Robot Life Forms

 

You’ve got to pretty much hand it to Disney: they know how to make a captivating family film that will invariably tug at your heartstrings, usually after having made you laugh at some visual gag or clever quotable one-liner.

This past year’s latest animated piece, also now an Oscar winner for Best Animated Film, Big Hero 6, is no exception, drawing inspiration from a few of its cinematic brethren to bring a tale of brotherly love, friendship and ingenuity in the face of adversity.

 

Baymax the Robot and Hiro Hamada in BIG HERO 6, Courtesy Disney Home Video, 2015
Baymax the Robot and Hiro Hamada in BIG HERO 6, Courtesy Disney Home Video, 2015

 

Set in the fictitious melding pot of San Fransokyo (a mixture of two major cities, I’ll let you figure out which ones), Big Hero 6 follows the life of young Hiro Hamada, a child prodigy with a knack for inventing useful and unusual robotic technology, mostly for the purpose of lucrative back room robot fighting.

Very much like his older brother Tadashi, Hiro is able to design advanced devices, with his latest being a programmable sea of mini robots that can adapt to shapes conceived by the human mind. When his invention, older brother and a renowned scientist in the field of robotics perish in a fire on campus following a presentation, it’ll be up to Hiro to get back on his feet following the grief and the loss, but not without help from Tadashi’s bunch of ragtag lab friends, including a neat freak, a chemistry buff, an adrenaline junkie and a fanboy.

The road to healing, ironically, resides in Tadashi’s last invention, an inflatable nurse robot named Baymax, designed to seek out the injured and help get them better.

With a kabuki-masked villain with designs on Hiro’s nano-robot tech looming in the shadows, it’s up to Hiro to give Baymax a few upgrades, gather up his new friends and defeat the bad guy, assuming he doesn’t fall prey to the urge to seek revenge for his dead brother.

 

Hiro, Baymax and their ragtag group of friends in BIG HERO 6, Courtesy Disney Home Video, 2015
Hiro, Baymax and their ragtag group of friends in BIG HERO 6, Courtesy Disney Home Video, 2015

 

There are definite hints of WALL-E to be found within the Baymax character in this film, what with the well-meaning robot trying to do good while not necessarily being equipped, physically or otherwise, to handle the situation.

Baymax’s catchy and lovable personally is mostly the brilliant voice work of Scott Adsit, a comedic actor mostly known for playing Liz Lemon’s co-worker Pete Hornberger on NBC’s 30 Rock. Here he infuses the inflatable life form with curiosity and innocence with just the right amount of comic timing.

The film does get sentimental upon exploring the loss of Hiro’s older brother, a trigger scene which will tug at the heartstrings of anyone who’s ever lost a sibling. Not all is lost, though, as the directors find ways to bring the story back from the edge of what could otherwise have been a bummer of a tale by infusing generous humor throughout.

The film’s manga-inspired battle scenes do get a bit repetitive, but the narrative brings it all into perspective by the end credits, so not all hope is lost.

 

 

Filled with a decent variety of distinct voice talents, Big Hero 6 will be a hit with both young viewers and their parents. There’s a handful of Easter Eggs to be found in the film’s incredibly detailed background scenery, another fine mark of technological advances in the field of computer animation. The hues and shading of this film makes for the most photo-realistic rendering to date, a definite plus here.

If the extras don’t sell that last point enough, also consider the Academy Award winning short Feast, about a puppy dog and his relationship with food and how it ties in with his masters’ love lives. Just sweet.

Enjoy Big Hero 6, another finely sharpened arrow in Disney’s quiver of touching animated features.

4 out of 5

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

 

Now on Blu-Ray: Game of Thrones Season Four Ups the Political Ante

Blu-Ray Cover Art for GAME OF THRONES THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON, Courtesy HBO, 2015
Blu-Ray Cover Art for GAME OF THRONES THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON, Courtesy HBO, 2015

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder Editor and Payor of Lannister Debts

 

Welcome back to Westeros, land of ice an fire, warring factions, multiple pretenders to the Iron Throne, a few exiled heroes and a trio of growing dragons.

If you’ve been living under a rock somewhere remote, you’ve probably missed the behemoth that is HBO’s adaptation of the best-selling series of fantasy books by George R. R. Martin, about various clans vying for power in a world filled with swordplay, intrigue and occasional sorcery.

Now in its fourth season, the TV series is poised to overtake the author’s literary output, bringing into question whether the two products will start diverging from one another’s story line.

 

Peter Dinklage in GAME OF THRONES THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON, Courtesy HBO, 2015
Peter Dinklage in GAME OF THRONES THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON, Courtesy HBO, 2015

 

First, an obvious disclaimer: since this is a highly popular but serialized TV show, it goes without saying that the following contains spoilers.

If you’re catching up and are somewhat aware of the power players of this series, let me bring you up to speed.

There are still many feuding families vying for power over the many lands of Westeros, with some fighting internally while others try to gather what’s left of their bloodline to survive future onslaughts.

There is, of course, House Lannister, current holders of power in King’s Landing through House Baratheon, with its siblings’ (Peter Dinklage, Lena Headey, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) squabbles proving just as dangerous as the power they manipulate while under their father’s (Charles Dance) authoritative thumb. When not subject to the tyrannical pettiness of young teen King Joffrey (Jack Gleeson), the Lannisters are still ace chess players of sorts, planning several moves ahead, always.

There’s House Stark, or at least what’s left of it, beset by murder and betrayal, with Sansa (Sophie Turner) seeking help from unusual places while younger Arya (Maisie Williams) tries to reconnect with her family, unaware of who is alive or dead.

Bastard son Jon Snow (Kit Harrington), who apparently knows more than nothing this year, has his work cut out for him at the Wall, given the latest attempts by the White Walkers to invade the Southern lands.

Stannis Baratheon (Stephen Dillane) is still plotting a comeback to King’s Landing, but then again so is young Daenerys Targaryen, aka The Mother of Dragons, now equipped with a powerful army gathering force in the Southeast lands.

New to the equation this season is House Martell from Dorne, with a set of power players at the same level as the Lannisters, with the bold and brash Oberyn (Pedro Pascal) looking to teach them a lesson in humility and revenge.

I’m likely missing a few lower factions here and there, what with over a hundred characters making their way all over the map,  but I assure you all of them are nevertheless fascinating.

One thing’s for sure: the action, graphic violence and blood lust has gone up several notches this year, with the promise of much more in the upcoming fifth season this April 2015.

 

Emilia Clarke and one of her dragons in GAME OF THRONES THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON, Courtesy HBO, 2015
Emilia Clarke and one of her dragons in GAME OF THRONES THE COMPLETE FOURTH SEASON, Courtesy HBO, 2015

 

Game of Thrones is by definition one of those TV shows where one must be wholly invested in its world and population, very much like a popular comic book or video game. With so many moving parts, it’s very easy to lose one’s way, especially if not viewed in sequence and from the very beginning.

The usual assortment of actors who still manage to outshine their co-stars still bring their A-game to the table, with Peter Dinklage coming ahead as usual as Tyrion “The Imp” Lannister, the diminutive but ruthlessly brilliant master manipulator.

It’s also refreshing to see some of the supporting cast coming forward with meatier roles, namely Aiden Gillen as Peter “Littlefingers” Baelish. An opportunistic and devious businessman in the books and series, Baelish shows his mustache-twirling hand a bit more often this year, to much delight.

Then again, at the alarming rate George R.R. Martin tends to kill off characters from his busy stable of players, the promotion of lesser characters was all but inevitable.

Fans will rejoice at the overdue demise of some of the show’s more despicable characters, while others meet their maker in the most visually graphic of ways, another upping of the show’s ante given last season’s equally bloody Red Wedding.

 

 

Expect to find the usual generous assortment of goodies in the Blu-Ray box set’s bonus features, the best of which is one called “The Fallen: A Roundtable”, a half-hour session which reunites many of the actors whose characters have met their demise on the show. Obviously, you’ll want to wait until you’re caught up to the finale, lest you spoil your own fun.

Also enjoy the gag reel, with several lighthearted moments, usually courtesy of Dinklage.

This is a show that, like any good wine, gets better as the seasons go by. I’m as curious as anyone else to see how the conundrum of Martin’s output versus HBO’s production schedule will be solved, though it appears the author had filled in the producers on the saga’s eventual endgame, in the unfortunate case he”d pass on before the series ended.

All in all, still an amazing series, a great cast and insanely ambitious production values that deliver the best bang for your buck. Don’t miss 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 on Blu-Ray: Dumb and Dumber To a Lazy Rehash of Marginally Better 1994 Film

Blu-Ray Cover Art for DUMB AND DUMBER TO, Courtesy Universal Home Video, 2015
Blu-Ray Cover Art for DUMB AND DUMBER TO, Courtesy Universal Home Video, 2015

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Former Member of the Jeff Daniels Appreciation Society

 

When it comes to the unpredictable world of box office returns, the old saying “Lightning never strikes the same spot twice” rarely seems to apply. With the original Dumb and Dumber film having become somewhat of a standard of faux-excellence when it comes to crass comedy, it only stood to reason that at some point down the road, an inevitable (not to mention lucrative) sequel would follow.

If only someone had made a concerted effort to make it a worthwhile experience, I’d even have considered looking forward to a third film in ten or twenty years. As it turns out, this lame excuse for a follow-up makes me regret having ever acknowledged the first film.

 

Rachel Melvin and Jim Carrey in DUMB AND DUMBER TO, Courtesy Universal Home Video, 2015
Rachel Melvin and Jim Carrey in DUMB AND DUMBER TO, Courtesy Universal Home Video, 2015

 

The premise is fairly idiotic, at par with the film as a whole: Harry (Jeff Daniels) retrieves Lloyd (Jim Carrey) from a psychiatric hospital where he’s spent the last twenty years in a catatonic state trying to get over his breakup with Mary Samsonite (Swanson, actually) from the first film. When Lloyd explains it’s all been one long twenty year prank, Harry reveals that one of his kidneys needs replacing, and he learns of a possible child he may have had with an alleged former flame from teenage years (Kathleen Turner.)

The moronic pair head off on a road trip to find said daughter (Rachel Melvin) to see if she could offer up one of her organs to save Harry’s life. Of course, their adventure is fraught with peril when the daughter’s adoptive stepmother (Laurie Holden) and her lover (Rob Riggle) are both trying to kill the kid and her adoptive dad, a brilliant scientist with a billion dollar medical breakthrough.

Whether anyone survives this line of stupidity is an exercise in patience and acceptance that some people are just meant to fall prey to Darwinism.

 

Jim Carrey, Rob Riggle and Jeff Daniels in DUMB AND DUMBER TO, Courtesy Universal Home Video, 2015
Jim Carrey, Rob Riggle and Jeff Daniels in DUMB AND DUMBER TO, Courtesy Universal Home Video, 2015

 

As much as I’d found some of the slapstick and goofball antics from the original film, especially Carrey’s elastic physicality, worthwhile in any way, shape or form, I’m disappointed to report that this film feels content to just revisit the same schtick with nary an ounce of originality.

From Lloyd’s manic dancing to Daniels’ random screaming and reactionary howls to his life companion’s shenanigans, you quickly get the sense that you’ve seen this film before, simply in a different locale.

I’d expect this sort of mindless comedy from an actor who’s become known with physical humor, with much better projects like Liar Liar and Bruce Almighty allowing Carrey to truly entertain the masses with intelligent, well thought out premises.

Here, the boys just punch in and out with a futile series of crass remarks, a handful of visual gags and a ton of misappropriated word usage (“I can’t give you my kidney, Harry, we’d need to be a genital match!”)

Try to absorb the fact that Daniels has just come off of three seasons enacting some of Aaron Sorkin’s most energetic writing in years on HBO’s The Newsroom, earning himself an Emmy for playing acerbic wit Will MacAvoy in the process, only to fall back to this sort of facile garbage, making one realize the true allure of a big fat wad of easy cash. It wouldn’t be the first time a respectable actor would have signed up for an unnecessary sequel. Take Carrey, for example: did the world really need Ace Ventura: When Nature Calls?

 

 

I wish I could tell you this film and the Blu-Ray itself offer much in the way of enjoyment. Granted, there’s a hefty 7-minute plus gag reel thrown in, with the rest of the supplements having to do with the study of physical comedy and the fine art of comedic plot, but you’ll probably want to skip all that.

If you’re game, try to look for Bill Murray in a brief cameo. I had to look it up just to remember when he pops in. His brief role is veiled in prop and wardrobe, as if he didn’t want to be recognized in this steaming pile of lazy storytelling.

Want to laugh? Go back and watch the first film. On second thought, just go watch Liar Liar.

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: Fifty Shades of Grey Comes Not with a Bang but a Whimper


Theatrical Teaser Poster for FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, Courtesy Universal, 2015
Theatrical Teaser Poster for FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, Courtesy Universal, 2015

 

Theatrical Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Careful Reader of Sexy Contracts

 

Just because everyone owns a copy of a book doesn’t mean the book itself is of great quality. I mean, how often has someone made a purchase, be it a paperback or a movie ticket, only to realize they’d made a terrible mistake in doing so, akin to buyer’s remorse?

In the case of Fifty Shades of Grey, whether we’re talking the book or the film, you’re just as likely to want to whip yourself into a reimbursement frenzy at the very thought of having shelled out hard earned cash for the sort of pseudo-titillation one can easily get for free on the internet by watching porn instead.

 

Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan in FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, Courtesy Universal, 2015
Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan in FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, Courtesy Universal, 2015

 

The premise is a Harlequin as one can find, the kind of fluffy but hollow material designed to make the ladies swoon, unaware their intelligence is being insulted: a young inexperienced senior year student named Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is asked by her sick roommate to go interview an ambitious, dashing young billionaire businessman named Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) for the college paper.

Upon meeting, there’s some electricity between the pair, with the wealthy magnate quietly and subtly seducing the young lass with his good taste, wealth and particular sexual proclivities. It slowly becomes obvious that Grey doesn’t enjoy your usual roll in the sack but is instead an enthusiast of the dominant/submissive lifestyle of bondage play.

With the promise of a non-disclosure agreement (to protect his privacy and wealth) and the further guarantee of a new sexual horizon of unknown pleasures, Grey hopes to turn Anastasia into his latest conquest in the S&M playroom, assuming she doesn’t do what others couldn’t manage: win his heart instead.

( — cue vomiting sound –)

 

Dakota Johnson in FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, Courtesy Universal, 2015
Dakota Johnson in FIFTY SHADES OF GREY, Courtesy Universal, 2015

 

Now don’t get me wrong, I enjoy good sex and appealing romance as much as the next person, assuming there is an quantifiable element of quality involved.

The big problem here lies in successfully adapting a best-selling book for the purpose of grabbing those opportunistic Valentine’s Day weekend release dollars, all without so much as taking a moment to realize just how shitty the source material really is.

Long criticized for its poor writing quality, the first book in the Fifty Shades series by E. L. James (real name: Erika Mitchell) reads like a rushed piece of Twilight fan fiction, with goofy dialogue and soft-core double entendres dripping off every other page, right between those other portions filled with descriptive nonsense.

Film-wise, as much as Jamie Dornan’s steely stare and Dakota Johnson’s doe-eyed innocence and random lip bite can be used as filler, there’s just not enough of a plot to justify this back and forth of will-she-or-won’t-she air of sexual curiosity that one would rather find in those old school Emmanuelle late night erotica films.

Instead, the film just goes through the motions of brief sex scenes, discussions about sex contracts, incongruous family gatherings and displays of opulent wealth and recreation right out of The Thomas Crown Affair.

 

 

At the risk of being accused of hating love and all things cinematically sexy, I’m sad to report that this film will be a complete waste of your time. It sure was mine. It could be good for a few laughs, that is, if you like schadenfreude, the act of enjoying the misery of others.

I feel sad at the idea that the two leads may be contractually bound (no pun intended) to two more sequels when the entire concept is syrupy garbage of the highest order. Actual bondage enthusiasts may likely find the experience of watching this film so painful and wrong that they may utter the safe word before the first act ends.

Want to see this material done better? Go back and watch 9 1/2 Weeks. Not the best of material either, but no one’s seen the contents of their own fridge quite the same way since.

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.

Graphic Novel Review: Vampire Diaries Vol. 1 a Great Companion Piece to Hit TV Show

Cover Art for THE VAMPIRE DIARIES VOL. 1, Courtesy DC Comics, 2014
Cover Art for THE VAMPIRE DIARIES VOL. 1, Courtesy DC Comics, 2014

 

Graphic Novel Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Brief Visitor to Mystic Falls

 

If you have yet to carefully choose a supernaturally-themed TV with which to kill a few mind-numbing hours on a weeknight after a long work day, but are overwhelmed by the current fantasy-heavy roster over five networks, may I humbly suggest you go with one of the cheesiest but more entertaining ones like The Vampire Diaries?

A soap-opera of the 90210-iest order, TVD has all of the usual romantic entanglements, love triangles and daily murders, feedings, turnings and battles with everything from witches to werewolves to hybrids in between.

Now, so to help fans fill in the blanks, a great companion piece composed of digital comics designed to supplement the show has been published in collectible form for maximum fan enjoyment. As a fan of the series (though I’ll admit to skipping the original novels by L.J. Smith), I found this anthology to be quite entertaining and keeping with the spirit (no pun intended) of the show.

 

Artwork from THE VAMPIRE DIARIES VOL. 1, Courtesy DC Comics, 2014
Artwork from THE VAMPIRE DIARIES VOL. 1, Courtesy DC Comics, 2014

 

Collected from the digital comic release of the first 39 online stories offered to fans, this volume keeps very close to its source material rather than try to become its own standalone entity. This is a boon to readers, since it retains the same personality quirks and traits for each character, especially when it comes to that of Damon Salvatore, as cynically portrayed by Ian Somerhalder on the CW network.

The collection has no real linear sequence, taking us anywhere from a century back when Damon and Stefan visited San Francisco, or to the days before they got turned by Katherine Pierce or even to modern day, when we see secondary characters like Jeremy attend summer camp as a counselor, chasing a shape-shifter preying on the attending teens.

 

More Artwork from THE VAMPIRE DIARIES VOL. 1, Courtesy DC Comics, 20014
More Artwork from THE VAMPIRE DIARIES VOL. 1, Courtesy DC Comics, 20014

 

There’s plenty of variety in terms of artwork, though the second chapter in the collection, “Through a Glass, Darkly”, will leave a bitter tastes in your mouth. The artwork in that piece looks goofy and incongruous when compared to the rest, with the majority of them offering a bit more photo-realism and likeness to the actors (see pics above in this review) without necessarily resorting to the lost art of rotoscoping.

There’s tons of good expositionary back story to be had, adding to the show’s mystique. My favorite involves a male witch’s plot to seek revenge against the Salvatore brothers by ensuring vervain grows everywhere in Mystic Falls, a great means to explain why the plant is so abundant on the TV series.

(Note to newbies: On this show, vervain is anathema to vamps, akin to Superman’s kryptonite.)

To summarize, this is an essential must-read for hardcore fans. At a hefty 432 pages, this tome is sure to keep vamp enthusiast busy for a couple of days, as it did me. Though it’ll get difficult to differentiate Tyler from Matt from Jeremy throughout the sequence of stories, you can’t miss the easily recognizable Salvatores and their sweethearts. Also try to enjoy the myriad ways in which the artists describe the art of compelling in various forms. Creativity at its peak.

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.

Graphic Novel Review: Bad Blood Emulates Familiar Vampire Hunter Tropes

Cover Art for BAD BLOOD, corutesy Dark Horse Comics, 2014
Cover Art for BAD BLOOD, courtesy Dark Horse Comics, 2014

 

Graphic Novel Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Vampire Fiction Aficionado

When it comes to the vampire sub-genre of comics, there is definitely a range to choose from, anywhere from the popularized extension of a famous TV show (see any of the Buffy or Angel comics by IDW) to the unusually obscure but winning original work (Vertigo’s American Vampire, for example.)

Now, writer Jonathan Maberry and artist Tyler Crook have come up with a new twist on the vampire genre, that of a jock hero fighting illness AND vamps, using a most unusual weapon: his own blood.

 

An Excerpt from BAD BLOOD, courtesy Dark Horse, 2014
An Excerpt from BAD BLOOD, courtesy Dark Horse, 2014

 

A little lost by the previous paragraph? Allow me to explain. Trick, a teenage football player in a relatively quiet town, is fighting cancer and trying to keep upbeat while undergoing chemo for his condition.

When he stumbles across a victim being attacked by what turns out to be a vampire, the young ailing athlete tries his best to save the poor girl, but not until he too gets attacked in term by the fanger on the prowl.

When the biter recoils in pain at the taste of his blood, Trick realizes his tainted blood (from the side effects of his treatment) can be used as a deterrent against the undead and seeks out help in trying to locate, beat and defeat the vampire nest that has taken refuge in his city.

With the help of a lovely goth girl and a mysterious hunter, Trick tries to find the master vampire before more innocent blood is spilled.

 

A showdown with the big villain in BAD BLOOD, courtesy Dark Horse, 2014
A showdown with the big villain in BAD BLOOD, courtesy Dark Horse, 2014

 

While the premise is interesting enough given the poisonous blood twist proving effective against vampires, there is very little here to cheer for given the overly familiar tropes known to readers of the genre. There’s Trick, the underdog, his Girl Friday, a Watcher-type stranger looking to train them in the ways of slaying and a mysterious master vampire with cheesy one-liners, or at least dated melodramatic elocution, in my opinion. Old doesn’t always mean schlocky.

With a handful of clever plot twists as its saving grace, Bad Blood falls prey (pun intended) to a well-worn template of good versus evil, albeit with an all-too generic villain with very little substance, aside from a case of vanity and self-importance which doesn’t help the story any.

Better villains, or at least better fleshed-out ones, anyway, have come down the vampire pipeline, therefore the build-up to a massive showdown in this piece is reduced by the lack of a worthwhile impression the reader is left with by the final pages.

The book is somewhat redeemed by the art of Tyler Crook, known by most as a recurring artist on Mike Mignola’s B.P.R.D. title, among a handful of others. His stylistic decisions here are evocative of Jeff Lemire’s penmanship on titles like Sweet Tooth and The Underwater Welder.

Crook’s flair in arranging colors to evoke the illness Trick is struggling with while battling vamps helps set a convincing mood, all without having to rely too much on a colorless villain as a narrative crutch by the third act.

All in all the story itself is engaging and has a promising base concept, but falls victim to a weak script and an even flatter baddie.

I do look forward to more art by Tyler Crook, a capable artist who achieves emotion through shading and tone, all while conveying content that this script, ironically, cannot.

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.