Now in Theatres: Dracula Untold Should Have Remained Just That

Theatrical Poster for DRACULA UNTOLD, courtesy Universal, 2014
Theatrical Poster for DRACULA UNTOLD, courtesy Universal, 2014

 

Theatrical Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Film Critic

Ohh, what to do with a priceless Hollywood commodity like that of a fanged prince of darkness, doomed to live in eternal anguish over love lost and an insatiable thirst for the blood of man?

Why, revisit all the familiar tropes by way of a watered down script heavy on action but oh so light on actual plot content, of course!

With this first of a planned series of Universal Monsters films crossed over à la Marvel, Dracula Untold opts to focus on the wartime perils of a desperate prince whose deal with the forces of darkness may prove too costly, in order to win the battle against Ottoman legions of soldiers.

 

Luke Evans as Prince Vlad the Impaler, in DRACULA UNTOLD, courtesy Universal, 2014
Luke Evans as Prince Vlad the Impaler, in DRACULA UNTOLD, courtesy Universal, 2014

 

In the film, a wise and just prince of Transylvania, Vlad Dracul aka The Impaler (Luke Evans), sees his hand forced when the Ottoman Turks he pays tribute to in silver coins demand he hand over one thousand young boys of the realm in order to convert them into loyal soldiers of the Empire.

Refusing to hand over his son amongst many others, Vlad seeks out a fanged monster (Charles Dance) from a nearby cavern, who reveals himself to be an ancient vampire who offers Dracul a deal: drink his blood, gain vampiric powers to defeat the enemy, but if any blood is consumed within 3 days, he will lose his humanity and forever become a creature of the night.

Equipped with super speed, agility, reflexes, endurance and the useful ability to transform into a cloud of bats at will, Dracul leads his men into a veritable slaughter against his enemy, led by Mehmed the Second (Dominic Cooper).

 

Charles Dance as the Master Vampire, in DRACULA UNTOLD, courtesy Universal, 2014
Charles Dance as the Master Vampire, in DRACULA UNTOLD, courtesy Universal, 2014

 

The well-worn plot device of untold power and supernatural supremacy over foes is an all-too familiar one in action and fantasy films. Despite casting a dashing actor in the lead, and giving his character purpose in defeating an enemy, the director of Dracula Untold finds little other direction for his hero, resulting in a rudderless quest with very little concern for the important meat of the story, such as Drac’s relationship with his wife and son, nor any other psychological quandary in his becoming a creature of the undead.

Indeed, story elements are so predictably set up that only characters without psychic powers couldn’t see them coming. Forget plausibility (so, an ancient vampire kills countless visitors but just lets in Drac and offers him free powers? Hiss…) and forget logic, when watching this piece. The conflict is so one-sided that by the time Dominic Cooper shows up as the ruthless leader of the Turks, you couldn’t possibly care less.

 

 

The film has plenty of visually impressive set pieces and a denouement that has shades of Interview with the Vampire to it, likely as an easier means to connect it to later Universal movies, though if this first installment is any indication of what is to come, I can only hope that the franchise goes to ground at high noon, leaving little to no trace of its existence, much to our benefit.

1 out of 5

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

Now on Blu-Ray: Edge of Tomorrow a Thoroughly Clever Sci-Fi Action Piece

Blu-Ray Cover Art for EDGE OF TOMORROW, courtesy Warner Home Video, 2014
Blu-Ray Cover Art for EDGE OF TOMORROW, courtesy Warner Home Video, 2014

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Film Critic

An intricately woven sci-fi tale of an alien invasion of Earth with one man trapped in the same repeating day over and over again trying to figure out a means to destroy the enemy, Edge of Tomorrow doesn’t abuse the usual genre tropes and maximizes on its premise, a definite case of trial and error with an all-too-necessary reset button.

In this futuristic action piece, Tom Cruise plays Major Willian Cage, the military’s public relations figurehead during a future global crisis against an extra-terrestrial enemy known as Mimics. When the war’s tide is about to turn in favor of the aliens, a refusal by Cage to cover the action from the beach head results in his arrest and demotion to private as a deserter, getting sent to the slaughter along with many other grunts.

When he accidentally kills an enemy “alpha” who kills him in return, Cage discovers he has inherited the creature’s ability to revisit the previous day after dying or being killed, effectively resetting the day’s events, causing him to relive the entire day leading up to the beach battle….over….and over…..and over….and over again.

Determined to use this temporal loophole to his advantage, Cage learns more from the enemy — as well as the fine art of military close combat warfare — with each subsequent death, until he can use his enemy’s abilities against him, hopefully saving the world in the process.

 

"Okay...so it was Run, then Left, then Duck, then Up, Down, Up, Down, B, A, B, A, Start? That can't be right..." Tom Cruise in EDGE OF TOMORROW, courtesy Warner Brothers, 2014
Tom Cruise in EDGE OF TOMORROW, courtesy Warner Home Video, 2014

 

Time travel movies can be tricky but can also carry a big payoff for the audience if done properly. This is a fine example of such a film, with Cruise starting off as a cowardly PR man whose fate is invariably intertwined with that of a war hero (played by Emily Blunt), who is later revealed to have had a similar time loop experience to Cruise’s character, earlier in the human/alien conflict. Through lessons learned across hundreds and hundreds of painfully brutal demises, Cruise’s once timid, reluctant participant becomes a glorious hero with extensive knowledge of all those around him. As such, the story quickly picks up elements of both Groundhog Day and Starship Troopers.

With the guidance of director Doug Liman and Cruise’s unmistakeable screen charisma, what could be a tedious and repetitive actioner turns into a captivating and often funny summer blockbuster.

On the downside, the script calls for some veteran actors to portray higher ranking officers: Bill Paxton plays a more serious and down-to-Earth variation of his Hudson character from Aliens, while Brendan Gleeson is criminally underused as the general in charge of the human military might. Both of them could have played more significant roles, but this is definitely a Cruise/Blunt piece, so this wasn’t to be.

 

"I believe this mission feels quite...impossible, wouldn't you say?" Emily Blunt and Tom Cruise in EDGE OF TOMORROW, courtesy Warner Brothers, 2014
Emily Blunt and Tom Cruise in EDGE OF TOMORROW, courtesy Warner Home Video, 2014

 

Following in the footsteps of other time-bending action dramas like Source Code and Looper, Edge of Tomorrow is an intelligent, creative and well assembled film. Despite some of Cruise’s less-than-impressive outings of recent years (an example being the pretty but useless Oblivion), this feels like a true return to form for the box office champion. An ambitious story with wit and respect for the viewer, it will figure highly on the list of this year’s best.

Now, to go watch this film again…..and again……and again!

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: Jon Favreau’s Chef is a Delicious Heartfelt Comedy

Blu-Ray Cover Art for CHEF, courtesy VVS Films, 2014
Blu-Ray Cover Art for CHEF, courtesy VVS Films, 2014

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Film Critic

 

Every year, Hollywood releases a slew of blockbuster hits with middling plots and laissez-faire acting. Then comes the awards darlings, those gems released near Christmas time in order to retain Academy voters’ attention come Oscars. Then there’s the unexpected hit, that feel-good low budget film that manages to capture your heart and, in this case, your stomach, by exploring a food or a drink that makes you want to jump through the screen and join the actors in their consumable revelry.

That movie is Jon Favreau’s latest film, a lovingly directed passion project called Chef, a delicious story of redemption and self-fulfillment set in a food truck driving from East to West.

 

John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale and Jon Favreau in CHEF, courtesy VVS Films, 2014
John Leguizamo, Bobby Cannavale and Jon Favreau in CHEF, courtesy VVS Films, 2014

 

Carl Casper (Favreau) is a highly sought after chef working in a swanky Brentwood restaurant owned by a seasoned businessman with no food savvy (Dustin Hoffman.)

Despite some willing sous-chefs (John Leguizamo and Bobby Cannavale) and a lovely hostess (Scarlett Johannson), not to mention a curious son and a friendly ex-wife (Sofia Vergara), Carl can’t seem to find any way to show the world his innovative dish ideas, and keeps serving out dated recipes under his boss’ command.

When a food blogger (Oliver Platt) calls him out on the unimpressive dishes, Carl loses it in front of the writer, though in view of countless smartphone cameras. Becoming both famous and notorious for his outburst, Carl loses his job at the prestigious eatery and decides to take time off, helping out looking after his son on his ex-wife’s trip back to Miami, where the trio are from.

While there, Carl decides to try his hand at a food truck, restoring an old clunker and driving it back to L.A., with his young son Percy (Emjay Anthony) helping out on the grill and publicizing their trip on social media.

Before long, the pair (along with Carl’s faithful sous-chef) embark on an adventure of food making, self-discovery and the sense of spiritual renewal that comes with making good, popular comfort food for the sake of just cooking.

 

John Leguizamo, Emjay Anthony and Jon Favreau in CHEF, courtesy VVS Films, 2014
John Leguizamo, Emjay Anthony and Jon Favreau in CHEF, courtesy VVS Films, 2014

 

This film is nearly guaranteed to make you smile. If you’re a seasoned hand in your own kitchen, the film’s dishes will make you want to sharpen your chef knife and try new meals. The soundtrack is invigorating, the acting is warm and friendly (with most cast members being friends and colleagues of Favreau’s, notably Robert Downey Jr. and ScarJo), the plot is tight and unencumbered by fluff, with some lesser moments easily glossed over by the story’s inspiring theme of self-redemption and the importance of keeping to one’s values lest life becomes a job rather than a passion.

 

 

Foodies will want to check out some of the Blu-Ray’s deleted scenes to catch a glimpse of celeb food truck owner Roy Choi as a fellow truck owner; Choi served as one of the film’s producer and was supervisor on the film in terms of food prep.

Chef will undoubtedly remind you of other uplifting indie films about food and drink, especially Bottle Shock, a lovable comedy about the decline and rebirth of a now revered California vineyard that went on to win prestige and fame in France in the 70s.

If this movie doesn’t make you want to find your city’s Little Havana to locate some tasty cubanos to sink your teeth into, you’re probably doing it wrong. Chef will invigorate, fill your heart with delight and make you want to dance for joy.

It took exactly 30 seconds after this movie ended for me to jump on iTunes to buy the film’s soundtrack.

Don’t miss it.

4.5 out of 5

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

The Freakiest Thing Just Happened on the Way Home from Seeing a Horror Movie in Downtown Toronto

So, I just came back from the movies on a mostly cloudy Saturday afternoon, here in lovely Toronto, but couldn’t shake the feeling that the film stayed with me, long after I’d left the theatre.

Lesson to be learned: always be careful of which movie you’ll see…you might never know who will come knocking…

 

 

Thanks to Warner Home Video for their support and also fellow site contributor (and love of my life) Naomi Szeben for logistics and special effects wizardry.

 

 

Now on Blu-Ray: McCanick Revisits Worn Angry Cop Genre

 

Blu-Ray Cover Art for MCCANICK, courtesy VVS Films, 2014
Blu-Ray Cover Art for MCCANICK, courtesy VVS Films, 2014

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Film Critic

You’ve heard all the clichés: a man with nothing left to lose…a cop over the edge…a trigger happy detective who walks that fine line between integrity and corruption.

These could all easily apply to McCanick, a pretty basic thriller about an aging cop (David Morse) hiding a secret for years, who must track down one of his former suspects (the late Cory Monteith, in his final film) who’s just been released from jail.

 

David Morse and Cory Monteith in MCCANICK, courtesy VVS Films 2014
David Morse and Cory Monteith in MCCANICK, courtesy VVS Films 2014

 

The premise starts the movie off in a straightforward fashion: Gene McCanick (Morse) heads into work on his birthday, meeting up with his ambitious partner (Mike Vogel) as they get lectured by the precinct captain (Ciaran Hinds).

McCanick quickly learns that one of his former arrests, a seductive street john named Simon Weeks (Monteith), was released three weeks prior (without the Gene’s knowledge), forcing the aging cop to unofficially track down the former perp for reasons unknown.

As the day progresses, McCanick tracks down informants and local trash, poking around to seek out more info as to Weeks’ whereabouts. An inevitable showdown between the elusive ex-con and the hardened career copper leads us to a bevy of revelations that may explain McCanick’s obsession with his quarry.

 

Ciaran Hinds and David Morse in MCCANICK, courtesy VVS Films 2014
Ciaran Hinds and David Morse in MCCANICK, courtesy VVS Films 2014

 

This movie had many good things going for it from the get-go, but most of them were squandered by the second act. While I can respect that the film offers a revealing payoff by the last few scenes, the build-up to such a secret doesn’t really justify the amount of drudgery and slow pacing that gets us there.

Qualified actors are introduced and quickly dismissed (I’m not kidding: Rachel Nichols has exactly two scenes and roughly 20 words of dialogue, if that…), making for a pretty one-sided story, with poor David Morse using up every worn cop cliché in the textbook.

As for the late Cory Monteith, of Glee fame, his role as a wanted suspect first feels mysterious and dangerous, only to come off as one-dimensional and devoid of any real weight. It’s as if there wasn’t enough performance there to justify a full role, a sad truth for what turned out to be his final film before his untimely death last year.

 

 

I truly wanted to like this film, in that it aimed at all the right targets: a difficult quarry, a chase for the elusive suspect, a captain whose orders to leave a man alone fall on deaf ears, unfinished business with a perp,  etc…

Sadly, there just isn’t enough meat on this police procedural to qualify this piece as entertaining viewing. McCanick cleverly tries to offer the aforementioned genre as a tool for a psychological twist that comes way too late, on a film which falls way too short of its goals, despite the valiant efforts of its capable cast.

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: Transformers Age of Extinction on Home Video Just as Implausible as it Was in Theatres

Blu-Ray Cover Art for TRANSFORMERS AGE OF EXTINCTION, courtesy Paramount Home Video, 2014
Blu-Ray Cover Art for TRANSFORMERS AGE OF EXTINCTION, courtesy Paramount Home Video, 2014

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Film Critic

You know what they say: “If something makes money, by all means, go back and back and back again, to hell with quality. Who needs a story? Put them butts in them theater seats!”

Well, okay. I made that up, but by Mighty Omicron, it should be considered a universal truth, especially after watching an interminable, paper-thin rehash of previous Transformers films under the heavy pretense of a mighty  “reboot.”

Having reviewed this poor excuse for a good summer film a few months back, I decided to give it another go in the home video format.

Result? Nope. Just as atrocious. Someone get me a crowbar, some magnets and a boot disc, so I can erase this experience from my organic hard drive…

 

Optimus Prime rides a Transforming Dinobot in TRANSFORMERS AGE OF EXTINCTION, courtesy Paramount Pictures, 2014
Optimus Prime rides a Transforming Dinobot in TRANSFORMERS AGE OF EXTINCTION, courtesy Paramount Pictures, 2014

 

A weakly linked follow-up to 2011’s Transformers Dark of the Moon, this nearly three-hour long endurance test jumps ahead five years, following the heavy collateral damage of the Battle of Chicago in which Optimus Prime and his fellow Autobots had apparently managed to finally defeat the Decepticons, and destroyed most of that city, angering mankind in the process.

Now, humans have grown dubious of these well-intentioned walking mechanical giants and have withdrawn their overwhelming support, as a human race is wont to do after destroying a major American city in the name of galactic defense…not that Metropolis shouldn’t accuse the Man of Steel for doing the same, mind you (see Zack Snyder’s 2013 debacle for details.)

And so, the various Transformers are living in seclusion and/or hiding, until an alien Transformer bounty hunter named Lockdown arrives on Earth to track down Optimus as a valued galactic bounty.

It’s up to a  struggling Texan inventor named Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg) to restore a defective Prime to his former glory, help his own daughter (Nicola Peltz) and her boyfriend (Jack Reynor) escape some black ops teams under the control of a shady government operative (Kelsey Grammer) in league with the alien bounty hunter, and also try to save the world. No sweat, right?

Oh, and did I mention that an eccentric billionaire (Stanley Tucci, comic-relief and highlight of this film) has developed a way to create his own version of Transformers? Nothing could go wrong, there.

 

Mark Wahlberg  with Optimus Prime in TRANSFORMERS AGE OF EXTINCTION, courtesy Paramount Pictures, 2014
Mark Wahlberg with Optimus Prime in TRANSFORMERS AGE OF EXTINCTION, courtesy Paramount Pictures, 2014

 

There comes a point in any franchise when a plot gets recycled so often and so unnecessarily convoluted that it just goes through the motions for the sake of an approved motion-picture length running time. I’d argue that this particular pop culture property reached that threshold by the release of its first sequel, Revenge of the Fallen, what with its overwhelming similitude to the first film, Decepticon ploys and all.

Now, with three movies already in the can, Michael Bay seems ready to throw anything and everything Transformers-related against the wall to see what sticks. The result is a veritable hodge-podge of clichés and implausible leaps in character behavior, if there’s even such a thing with a franchise populated with giant robots in disguise.

Below, a scene from the film:

 

 

Optimus appears grumpy, fed up, and ready to murder some humans out of sheer impatience with established behavior patterns; human pawns are imperiled, rescued, imperiled again and subjected to bone-crushing hi-jinks, all without a scratch (well, except maybe for T.J. Miller’s surfer dude supporting character); finally, the movie wouldn’t be complete without yet another shark-jumping moment marking the convoluted return of Megatron, now under a different guise.

You’re probably asking yourself: wasn’t that dude defeated three times already? Yes. Meet this franchise’s pre-requisite rite de passage.

By the third act, you’re likely to realize and mourn just how little effort was put into this already bloated, overproduced sci-fi blockbuster, when the writers shoehorn the Dinobots into the last half-hour just for the sake of justifying their inclusion into the Superbowl spots, teasers and trailers of the last six months. Truly, this once impressive concept based on our childhood’s mechanical heroes has come full circle, and is set for another drive around the franchise block.

Finally, all I’m going to say is: TRANSFORMIUM? REALLY, MICHAEL BAY? Was there a shortage of Unobtainium from Avatar? No sale on Impossibilium or Hardtofindium? Le sigh.

Sadly, there is so little original substance in this latest installment that the film truly lives up to its title. It is an Age of Extinction: that of our interest and curiosity in a project long since outdated and desperate to seem relevant seven years later. I dread the thought of a fifth film.

Cybertron called: it wants its bad movie back.

1.5 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.

Graphic Novel Review: Polina by Bastien Vivès

Cover Art for POLINA, courtesy Random House Canada, 2014
Cover Art for POLINA, courtesy Random House Canada, 2014

 

Graphic Novel Review by Naomi Szeben, Pop Culture Landscape Contributor and Resident Book Critic

 

Polina is a wonderful behind-the-scenes look of a young ballet prodigy who has to learn the difference between dance technique and expression of the soul.   Her mentor, the imposing Mr. Bojinsky, asks the question that will shape her career, “you have to know why you dance.”

This is a question that anyone in any arts-related field should ask themselves.   Why do you paint, write or sing? It’s not so much about inspiration, but the spark that drives us to use our disciplines to maximum effect.

 

This graphic novel starts out with a pre-pubescent Polina Oulinov auditioning for an imposing figure, seen only as a black beard and glasses that obscure his eyes, showing only blankness. The strokes of ink indicate high contrast, creating images that are both detailed and expressive, yet almost rough and naive at the same time. The artist is familiar with the expression and poses of ballet, but does not assume to bore the reader with mere technicality; we are seeing the world of movement and expression from the dancers’ point of view.

 

A tender moment towards the end of the book humanizes the terrifying Bojinsky, where we see him at first as how she always saw him: A nearly faceless figure composed of an impenetrable black beard and a void that is outlined where his eyes should be.   As Polina returns years later as an adult, Vivès has rendered him in delicate lines, and gives definition to the wrinkles, making him vulnerable with expression.

Young Polina under the strict guidance of her teacher, in POLINA, courtesy Random House Canada, 2014
Young Polina under the strict guidance of her teacher, in POLINA, courtesy Random House Canada, 2014

 

While this graphic novel would be a satisfying read for anyone who has an interest in ballet, its underlying theme of self-discovery and breaking molds can apply to everyone who has thought of starting a new enterprise or becoming a self-motivated entrepreneur. Some of the sexual content would not make this an ideal read for grade-school dancers, though it is not explicit in its depicts of love affairs between dancers.

 

Whether you are male or female, love ballet or never saw one of their shows live, this book will give you a glimpse of the physical elements, the emotional highs and lows as well as the cold-hearted planning that facilitates the mechanics of each performance.

3.5 out of 5

Naomi Szeben is Pop Culture Landscape’s resident walking encyclopedia whose erudite knowledge extends from European culinary secrets to the sacred art of bookshelf organization (by genre.) While having taken ballet herself from the tender age of eight to her early tweens, she still knows how to sashay and chantay like the best of them. Look for her other reviews on this site!

Now on Blu-Ray: Neighbors Pushes the Envelope of Tolerance and Good Taste

With the home video release of Seth Rogen’s latest comedy, Neighbors taps into the star’s brand of humor, offering us the worst possible case scenario about now-married former party animals who see their family life turned upside down when the unruly frat boys next door take over the neighborhood. Not unexpectedly, all hell breaks loose in the weeks that follow.

Blu-Ray Cover Art for NEIGHBORS, courtesy Universal Home Video, 2014
Blu-Ray Cover Art for NEIGHBORS, courtesy Universal Home Video, 2014

 

Simply put, the film tells the story of Mac (Seth Rogen) and Kelly (Rose Byrne), a loving couple who are essentially the same people they were in college, but older and now forced to be more responsible: their baby daughter requires constant supervision, they have jobs to worry about and a house to maintain. In comes their new neighbors, a group of frat boys belonging to the Delta Psi community, led by fraternity President Teddy and V.P. Pete (Zac Efron and Dave Franco).

Despite several attempts to bond, reason and negotiate with their increasingly unruly and testosterone-fueled next door frenemies, Mac and Kelly start having to concoct new ways and means to eradicate their irritating foes once and for all, in order to get some good nights’ sleep. This is a task more easily conceived than executed as the frat squad have plans of their own to counter their relatively “square” neighbors’ every move in order to stay put.

 

 

"You talkin' to us?" Zac Efron and Dave Franco channeling just a little bit of De Niro in NEIGHBORS, courtesy Universal, 2014
Zac Efron and Dave Franco in NEIGHBORS, courtesy Universal Home Video, 2014

 

Very much like last summer’s This is the End, Neighbors is tailor-made for lead star Seth Rogen. Filled with weed-related, crass-infused humor, this comedy is just as likely to alienate the more discerning viewer, while reeling in anyone else looking for a bit of humorous release. Rose Byrne steps out of her comfort zone, easily game to match Rogen antic for antic.

Rogen and Byrne remind those of us in the Gen-X age group what it was like to feel invincible in college days, while realizing the responsibilities which come with maturity. This clash of nostalgic values, paired with the incessant display of college antics next door, provides the perfect backdrop for this conflict-based comedy.

There’s plenty of off-the-cuff pop culture references (a random pot-fueled discourse on the best Batman is priceless), tons of gag-based physical violence and witty one-liners to spread around here, just as long as you don’t take the entire piece too seriously.

 

Hard as it tries to reach for the stars in terms of both crass comedy and shock value material though,  Neighbors is no Animal House. Far from it. None of the frat boys seem dangerous, only irritating to anyone who’s ever wanted a good night’s sleep. No threatening peers here. Zac Efron comes off as dangerous as an emo teen at the mall, while the most dangerous element appears to be the po-po on their nightly patrols. Good call on casting some familiar young actors as frat material (Christopher Mintz-Plasse, aka McLovin, among others) but aside from a case of noise violation, not exactly any threat past a minor by-law nuisance.

 

"Wait wait wait...are we smelling our pot right now, or THEIRS?" Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne in NEIGHBORS, courtesy Universal, 2014
Seth Rogen and Rose Byrne in NEIGHBORS, courtesy Universal Home Video, 2014

 

Blink and you’ll miss the brief appearance by stand-up comedian Hannibal Buress as the patrol cop investigating the various goings-on at the frat house. Also, Friends‘ Lisa Kudrow has a handful of scenes as the University Dean with little patience for nonsense.

As I mentioned before, the film doesn’t quite reach that epic Animal House glory, yet it still feels irreverent enough to become an instant cult hit. In a summer filled with various spandex-clad super-heroes, it’s fun to remember how normal and flawed (and baked) people can be, and how ruthless they can quickly turn when their calm is damaged by next door irritants. Kudos to Rogen for finally delivering a solid hit worthy of his brand of humor, with much deserved box office success to boot. I doubt this could turn into a franchise (I mean, how often could bad neighbors turn up before the plausibility factor wears thin?), I’m just as happy to enjoy this ordeal as a one-time trip.

Lock your doors, hide your kids. Most importantly, beware the frat next door.

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: David Lynch’s Eraserhead Finally Gets Its Bizarre Due in Criterion Edition

Blu-Ray cover for ERASERHEAD, courtesy Criterion, 2014
Blu-Ray cover for ERASERHEAD, courtesy Criterion, 2014

 

Blu-Ray review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Film Critic

 

For decades now, the name David Lynch has been synonymous with words like “surreal”, “avant-garde”, “innovative” and “abstract.”

To most, these words would apply to the man mostly known for a handful of cult films and a once popular, short-lived TV series on ABC.

To seasoned fans of the fringe filmmaker, another term may apply: “misunderstood genius.”

Indeed, before he became somewhat famous (or infamous, depending on who you ask) for projects like Blue Velvet, Dune, Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive or even his cult hit series Twin Peaks, David Lynch had spent many a year working on his first ever feature, an unsuccessful piece of black and white surrealism mostly ignored at the box office but later destined for greatness on the midnight madness film circuit to this day…the film that is Eraserhead, a masterfully paced journey into the absurd, the unearthly and the disconnected world of a loner (longtime Lynch collaborator Jack Nance) and his sheltered existence in a building populated by equally bizarre co-stars.

 

Jack Nance as Henry Spencer in ERASERHEAD, courtesy Criterion, 2014
Jack Nance as Henry Spencer in ERASERHEAD, courtesy Criterion, 2014

 

For those of you coming in fresh, having never heard of this or any of David Lynch’s works, here’s a bit of exposition to this otherwise dreamlike piece of art film: Henry Spencer (Nance) is a man living in a grim, industrial urban landscape, content to mind his own business and to keep his interactions with neighbors minimal. Upon visiting a neighbor for dinner (with a dinner menu that literally squirms on the table), while dining with his Neighbor “X” and her parents, he soon learns that he may have fathered an inhuman, deformed child.

Through a choppy but captivating narrative, we learn that a child is born, but is one with less-than-human features. Forced to care for this monstrous infant on his own, Henry starts having visions of various interpretations of his own offspring, from sources as bizarre from the next, including a female voice from his apartment heating system.

I could go on, but the surrealism of this piece is so mind blowing that discussing it in rational terms without sounding stoned or drunk may prove challenging and dishonest at best.

Suffice it to say that the film is one of the most original, thought-provoking pieces of independent American cinema to see a release in nearly four decades.

 

One of the myriad surreal image from David Lynch's ERASERHEAD, courtesy Criterion, 2014
One of the myriad surreal image from David Lynch’s ERASERHEAD, courtesy Criterion, 2014

 

While this cult phenomenon doesn’t make for linear or even logical viewing in the blockbuster Hollywood sense, it cannot be so easily dismissed. After repeated viewings, one gets a definite feel of the work put behind several of its production facets, most notably its sound design. Early signs of techniques later used for the backward-talking dwarf from Twin Peaks can be detected here and there, while other sound effects show the innovative skill of both Lynch and eventual Oscar nominee Alan Splet in conveying some of the more nightmarish imagery into an aural adventure, with talent that evokes the creativity of Ben Burtt of Star Wars fame.

 

An awkward social gathering in David Lynch's ERASERHEAD, courtesy Criterion, 2014
An awkward social gathering in David Lynch’s ERASERHEAD, courtesy Criterion, 2014

 

As is the case with Criterion releases destined for the discerning film aficionado, this version of Eraserhead isn’t without its built-in perks. Though I am a bit disappointed in not finding out more about the behind-the-scenes tricks of the trade (how the deformed child shape was operated as a mechanized prop — if in fact it was a machine — is still a mind-blowing mystery), the ambitious disc and book combo (a 64-page reprint composed of excerpts from the Lynch on Lynch book) is definitely worth a look, with multiple interviews layered over the life of the film’s storied history.

I often find fault with Criterion’s menu setup, rarely as fluid as its more mainstream cousins but seldom as rife with goodies as can be found here, a veritable treasure trove of informative segments. This release is no exception, with interviews and set visits, anecdotes from cast an crew and insights into life at the AFI in the 70s, where Lynch learned to master his craft before moving onto bigger things by the 80s.

The best perks found here? A series of short films that are sure to help bring into perspective Lynch’s time spent in film school, and his efforts to hone his craft while scrounging up enough dough through financing and loans to get his vision onto the big screen.

 

 

Is this film a fun night at home filled with wholesome family viewing? Hell no. At best, this is a great talking piece between obsessive film fans preoccupied with arguments for and/or against linear conventions in narrative storytelling, as well as accepted conventions in modern film making.

No matter which camp you count yourself in, you ought to at least watch Eraserhead a few times before judging it too harshly. You’re likely to learn something new with each viewing, and at the very least gain new appreciation of Lynch’s body of work as a whole, a fancy free auteur who will never apologize for his singular, incomparable vision of cinema.

4.5 out of 5

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

Now on Blu-Ray: Big Bang Theory Season Seven Maintains the Geek Factor

Blu-Ray Cover Art for THE BIG BANG THEORY SEASON SEVEN, courtesy Warner Home Video, 2014
Blu-Ray Cover Art for THE BIG BANG THEORY SEASON SEVEN, courtesy Warner Home Video, 2014

 

Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Resident TV Critic

 

After six successful years on the air and countless geek jokes and pop culture references, what are four intelligent but socially inept scientists and their three lovely lady friends to do to up the ante?

Easy: When in doubt, bring back special guest stars from past seasons, and when that fails, make vague references to sci-fi icons, then introduce them into your episode!

In a season that saw an engagement, an unexpected first time kiss, a new romantic interest for Rajesh (Kunal Nayyar), a comic book store fire and a chance encounter with the voice of a legendary Star Wars villain, the seventh season of The Big Bang Theory shows that the cast and writers can still hammer out the occasional bon mot or zinger, though the character development seems to have reached a plateau that’s difficult to overcome.

 

Jim Parsons and Mayim Bialik in THE BIG BANG THEORY SEASON SEVEN, courtesy Warner Home Video, 2014
Jim Parsons and Mayim Bialik in THE BIG BANG THEORY SEASON SEVEN, courtesy Warner Home Video, 2014

 

All the familiar tropes are there. Penny (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting) makes progress in getting better film roles, but the films themselves don’t turn out to be very good, forcing her to evaluate her life choices; Amy (Mayim Bialik) is desperate to move forward in her delicate relationship with Sheldon (Jim Parsons), who still has a hard time with physicality.

Howard (Simon Helberg) and his wife Bernadette (Melissa Rauch) deal with an increasingly difficult Mrs. Wolowitz, while Raj tries to find the right woman, having slowly developed ways to speak to them without as much booze in his system.

Finally, Leonard (Johnny Galecki) decides to offer his full support behind Penny, the one constant in his life and the one equation he’s still unable to solve.

 

The voice of Darth Vader himself, James Earl Jones (left) with Jim Parsons (right) in THE BIG BANG THEORY SEASON SEVEN, courtesy Warner Home Video, 2014
The voice of Darth Vader himself, James Earl Jones (left) with Jim Parsons (right) in THE BIG BANG THEORY SEASON SEVEN, courtesy Warner Home Video, 2014

 

While some the character interactions are starting to feel dated and rote (especially between Leonard and Sheldon), the writing team for the show still manages to infuse some innovative ways to keep the show going. This doesn’t exclude the use of recurring guest stars such as Wil Wheaton, Bob Newhart, Laurie Metcalfe and Christine Baranski, but also the occasional appearance by sci-fi icons like James Earl Jones, Carrie Fisher and Star Trek veterans.

Jim Parsons still finds new ways to explore the genius and complete social disconnection that is Sheldon Cooper. Despite his co-stars’ comparable efforts in bringing the funny, Parsons anchors the comedic factor by bringing us a farcical super-genius with a questionable grasp on everyday concepts.

You’d think it’d be tedious by now, but he still nails the little moments and turns them into memorable quips. Who else could turn a choice between a PS4 and an XBox One into a life or death decision?

 

Bill Bye and Bob Newhart guest star alongside Jim Parsons and Johnny Galecki on THE BIG BANG THEORY SEASON SEVEN, courtesy Warner Home Video, 2014
Bill Bye and Bob Newhart guest star alongside Jim Parsons and Johnny Galecki on THE BIG BANG THEORY SEASON SEVEN, courtesy Warner Home Video, 2014

 

So where will the show go from here? Have we seen the last of this gang’s take-out dinners, pop culture excursions and workplace conflicts? Hardly. With the lead stars now pulling in a million per episode and the show still rating in the top ten, it only made sense to renew the series for another three years.

With its cachet as the de rigueur comedy for smart, hip geeks, Big Bang will have no problem attracting further guest stars, real-life scientists (as they did with Stephen Hawking this year) and other notables.

I’m happy to ignore some of the unavoidable redundancies the show’s formula is starting to suffer from after seven years. The giggle factor far outweighs the need to nitpick, Sheldon-style, at the series’ little quirks.

Here’s to a great Season Eight!

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.