Now on Blu-Ray: Extant Season One a Futuristic Tale of Classic Misdirection

Blu-Ray Cover Art for EXTANT THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON, courtesy Paramount Home Video, 2015
Blu-Ray Cover Art for EXTANT THE FIRST SEASON, courtesy Paramount Home Video, 2015

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Ethically Acceptable Future Technology Enthusiast

 

Let us embrace the future and all it has to offer us…especially on the small or big screen.

When you think about it, many of the ideas that have sprung from science-fiction concepts have, in some ways great and small, changed the way we think about our lives and how new inventions and technologies have shaped our modern-say world.

After all, without Star Trek, the iPad and cell phone might still have looked much different. Other movie and TV franchises, such as Extant, reviewed here, look at the bio-ethical quandaries of creating artificial life, and what it might mean for our society if we start accepting and allowing artificial intelligence to become self-aware. After all, have we learned nothing from the Terminator movies?

Throw in some extra-terrestrial intrigue as a topping to your recipe and you find yourself with a potentially fascinating sci-fi thriller.

 

Halle Berry is EXTANT THE FIRST SEASON, courtesy Paramount Home Video, 2015
Halle Berry is EXTANT THE FIRST SEASON, courtesy Paramount Home Video, 2015

 

Conceived as a drama set in the not-so-far future, Extant combines ethics, paranoia, technology and intrigue into a muddled tale about alien visitation via an Earth space station (similar to the ISS), the introduction of the most advanced child android invented to date and the people opposed to the development of such life.

Oscar winner Halle Berry returns to the TV format after brief stint in the late 80s on a short-lived Who’s the Boss spinoff, here playing Molly Woods, an astronaut working alone on a 13-month mission in orbit aboard the Seraphim, a modest construct which comes complete with an interactive AI to assist in everyday duties, not to mention some much needed conversational skills when one is isolated for such a period.

When Molly returns to Earth and discovers she is pregnant, the plot thickens as she tries to figure out how, and more importantly who or what, got her pregnant while she as in orbit. An alien visitation? Some other mysterious invasion?

Meanwhile, her husband John (Goran Visnjic) seeks further funding following the creation of a boy named Ethan (Pierce Gagnon), a flawless humanoid robot designed to learn and evolve. Having adopted the prototype as their own son due to Molly’s troubles conceiving, the couple faces difficulty in their “boy” being accepted by other parents and friends.

As the secret of Molly’s condition becomes known to her superiors, more questions arise: did they already know? Was the alien visitor responsible known to them? Was this planned?

As more secrets are slowly revealed, we discover that Molly and John might in fact be unwilling pawns in a much larger design, one with the Space Agency and a wealthy industrialist (Hiroyuki Sanada) behind it all.

 

Halle Berry, Pierce Gagnon and Goran Visnjic in EXTANT THE FIRST SEASON, courtesy Paramount Home Video, 2015
Halle Berry, Pierce Gagnon and Goran Visnjic in EXTANT THE FIRST SEASON, courtesy Paramount Home Video, 2015

 

Though I can admit to a solid dose of intrigue which kept me interested past the first few episodes, I must reluctantly state that the overwhelming number of subplots and back room conspiracies, though interconnected in the end somehow, made for a tedious experience at times.

Thankfully, producer Steven Spielberg knows to fill the world the show is set in with stimulating imagery, reflective of a cleaner, more responsible future when we’ve adopted solar energy, electric cars and other environ-friendly designs.

In fact, the setting of Extant, with its interactive museums, advanced media tools and fancy cars and medical monitoring devices are so appealing that the introduction of an invasive alien presence making its way into our society by way of an impossible baby feels less like a captivating plot point and more of a nuisance in an otherwise engaging premise about the world we may very well live in a few decades from now.

I preferred the secondary plot in which some anti-technology rebellious elements out there made their feelings about the offensive nature of a robot child known through pressure tactics, not unlike people today who ma have opposing views on anything from cloning to stem cell research.

Many questions about ethics and the basic philosophical debate about controlling and harnessing artificial intelligence are raised throughout the 13-episode first season, that is, when Berry and Visnjic aren’t on the run from nefarious government agents trying to get their hands on either the Humanich boy or the mystery alien baby.

 

 

I praise this show for attempting something new and infusing its premise with challenging ideas about where our society and technology is headed. While I wasn’t on board with the whole extraterrestrial subplot as much, I was still ensnared by the story’s suspenseful pace and felt engaged enough to watch the next episode.

It’ll be interesting to see what the writers have in store for Season Two, which was announced a while back and should air closer to Summer 2015. In the meantime, enjoy the TV life Halle Berry is offering and pick and choose the elements of the show you enjoy.

3 out of 5

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

 

Now on Blu-Ray: Men, Women & Children a Well Executed Smorgasbord of a Downer

Blu-Ray Cover Art for MEN, WOMEN AND CHILDREN
Blu-Ray Cover Art for MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN, courtesy Paramount Home Video, 2015

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Paranoid User of Questionable Websites

 

Human nature is a complex beast, there’s no doubt about it. Hundreds of movies have been made about our own frailties, our faults, our fears and our lost hopes.

Some filmmakers have mastered the genre. Others have dabbled in it with laughable results. A third group, which I’ll dub “The Masters of Sob”, have managed to work up such a great example of human failings that their masterful product has become a successful failure as a result.

Lars von Trier made a career out of providing us with films as cheerful as Ibsen plays. Jason Reitman, on the other hand, has been up and down the emotional scale with greats like Up in the Air and touchy-feely pieces like Young Adult and Juno.

Now, with his latest, Men, Women and Children, Reitman has offered up such a thought-provoking tale of adultery, sexual peer pressure and parental extremes that the end result is, well, a little too convincing. Enough so to make you want to have a nice, long chat with your spouse, hug your children or consider the freedom children require.

 

Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt in MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN, courtesy Paramount Home Video, 2015
Adam Sandler and Rosemarie DeWitt in MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN, courtesy Paramount Home Video, 2015

 

The film’s structure is similar to an ensemble piece you’d see in a Paul Thomas Anderson project not unlike Magnolia, minus the Los Angeles setting: various families in an unnamed American city are connected through their passing interactions at the dinner table or in their living room, otherwise communicating via internet, given the abundance of social media and other means and devices.

Don (Adam Sandler) and his wife Trudy (Rosemarie DeWitt) go through the motions of an flagging marriage, all without revealing to each other that they are seeking out possible adulterous mates on the Ashley Madison website and similar escort services.

Donna (Judy Greer) tries to help her daughter (Olivia Crocicchia) get the legitimate acting opportunities she never got as a teen by photographing her in suggestive but non-nude poses and selling them on a publicity website for a profit, hoping to get her discovered and set on the road to fame and fortune.

Brandy (Kaitlyn Dever) is a sheltered misfit whose over-controlling mother Patricia (Jennifer Garner) monitors her every move, physical and virtual, so to protect her daughter from the evils of the world, unaware of the damage she is causing her teen as a result.

Young Allison (Elena Kampouris) is starving herself to look good to the boys at school, all so she can finally score with her football dream boy, to disastrous results.

Finally, former football star Tim (Ansel Elgort) is obsessed with the finality of the universe to the point where he drops out of the team and engages in thousands of hours of an online role-playing, much to the chagrin of his father Kent (Dean Norris), whose wife left both of them in search of a better life in California.

As these stories occur, they find themselves intertwined and connecting in ways none of them ever imagined, causing them to stop and re-examine their lives going forward.

 

Dean Norris and Judy Greer in MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN, courtesy Paramount Home Video, 2015
Dean Norris and Judy Greer in MEN, WOMEN & CHILDREN, courtesy Paramount Home Video, 2015

 

The cast here isn’t to blame; all actors involved, from Adam Sandler convincingly but moderately trying his hand at another drama to Ansel Elgort playing yet another decent turn as a torn teen, are capable and talented enough to pull off their respective roles in this multi-faceted story.

No, the problem — if you want to call it that — is that the subject matter is so grim and devoid of hope that you can’t help but find yourself looking at your watch out of discomfort at what is transpiring onscreen, hoping for good news at some point.

This is an ironic twist, given Reitman’s excellent directorial message about the social disconnect caused by the very technology designed to bring people closer together, instead driving the masses to cause themselves irreparable neck damage (maybe) from constant texting and browsing.

Despite the strong message and well intentioned plot, the film veers towards the maudlin and grim, with some of the archetypes taken to extremes for effect.

 

 

While I haven’t had the chance to read Chad Kultgen’s novel of the same name, I can still appreciate the underlying themes which permeate this tough viewing experience. All the same, you can only take in so much hurt and deception in one sitting, the true Achilles’ Heel of this concept.

I applaud Reitman for giving it a go, but am definitely looking forward to a good laugh. Don’t watch this film after having had a bad day.

3 out of 5

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

 

 

Now in Theatres: Paddington Pads On Extraneous Pratfall Material To Detrimental Effect

 

Theatrical Poster for PADDINGTON, courtesy TWC-Dimension, 2015
Theatrical Poster for PADDINGTON, courtesy TWC-Dimension, 2015

 

Theatrical Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Reviewer from Darkest Peru

In most films, family fare or otherwise, that exploits our childhood memories in order to create a new and pleasant experience, there always comes a tipping point in which a film can seesaw between being a nostalgic gem or simply a crowd-pleasing by-product of too many studio meetings and focus groups.

In the sense that I can’t argue that seeing a big screen version of Paddington Bear fills me (and millions of others) with glee, I can’t help but scratch my head as to why a script for such a celebrated character would call for our curious Peruvian Bear who lives on Windsor Gardens becoming one of the clumsiest characters this side of Jacques Clouseau?

 

Paddington Bear (voiced by Ben Whishaw) in PADDINGTON, courtesy TWC-Dimension, 2015
Paddington Bear (voiced by Ben Whishaw) in PADDINGTON, courtesy TWC-Dimension, 2015

 

I mean, don’t get me wrong: director Paul King ensured that all the top elements of the book are present, from copious amounts of marmalade to the curmudgeonly Mr. Curry (brilliantly played for laughs by Doctor Who star Peter Capaldi), as well as the tolerant but loving Brown family, led by Downton Abbey‘s Hugh Bonneville.

The plot is relatively simple: young Paddington Bear (brilliantly animated via CGI and voiced by Ben Whishaw) packs up a suitcase full of marmalade and heads off from Darkest Peru to London, England by stowing away on a cargo ship, hoping to locate a pleasant explorer who’d met his family years back.

Upon his arrival, Paddington makes his way to the Paddington train station (where he gets his name, his real one is hard to pronounce if you don’t speak bear), where he has a chance encounter with the Browns (Hugh Bonneville, Sally Hawkins, Madeleine Harris and Samuel Joslin) who offer him a brief stay at their home so he can find his bearings and complete his goal.

Of course, the modern world is a mystery and a novelty to the all-too pleasant visitor, so many human customs take him by surprise, leading to several misunderstandings and a few too many accidents.

Paddington becomes imperiled when a vindictive taxidermist (Nicole Kidman) tracks him down too add him to her collection of stuffed rare animals.

 

Paddington Bear and Mr. Brown (Hugh Bonneville) in PADDINGTON, courtesy TWC-Dimension, 2015
Paddington Bear and Mr. Brown (Hugh Bonneville) in PADDINGTON, courtesy TWC-Dimension, 2015

 

The film blessedly still contains great humor while keeping some of the thematic elements from the book, namely the veiled commentary about immigration and the hardships of adapting to new environments, as well as a touch of xenophobia, mostly seen through the eyes of the Browns’ curmudgeonly neighbor.

My main problem with this film lies on its over reliance on pratfalls and slapstick. Too much clumsiness makes for a disruptive effect evocative of Clouseau type behaviour, distracting us from the source material.

To my recollection, the literary bear from the 70-odd books by Michael Bond was never this much of a costly klutz, as most of his adventures stemmed from a cultural misunderstanding.

Still, praise the writers and director for keeping the “hard stare” in the script, a great element from the source material.

Nicole Kidman is relegated to the role of token villain in a plot twist which feels extraneous and facile and  which could have easily have been left out.

 

 

In the end, the film’s good heart and humor wins out over the script’s failures. Curiosity doesn’t necessarily make for all out mayhem, only sticky situations. Though the film overworks the accident-prone angle while trying to keep with the literary character’s unique world view, its willing cast, all obvious fans of the popular character, are game enough to engage in the silliness head first.

This film is recommended for all families looking for a bonding experience. Who knows, by the time your kids are old enough to understand grown-up humor, you may want to segue from Paddington to The Pink Panther and its sequels.

Every kid should eventually know about the genius of Peter Sellers. Just not in a beloved kiddie film.

3 out of 5

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

Now in Theatres: American Sniper a Repetitive Tale of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Theatrical Poster for AMERICAN SNIPER, courtesy Warner Brothers, 2015
Theatrical Poster for AMERICAN SNIPER, courtesy Warner Brothers, 2015

 

Theatrical Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Reader of Autobiographies by Deadly Snipers

 

As the latest of films released over the Christmas holidays in order to stay fresh in Academy voters’ minds, Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper explores the downside of waging war by examining the detailed life of one soldier whose skill and accuracy saved countless fellow soldiers’ lives, but took an irreparable toll on a man torn between family and duty.

 

Bradley Cooper as Navy SEAL Chris Kyle in AMERICAN SNIPER, courtesy Warner Brothers, 2014
Bradley Cooper as Navy SEAL Chris Kyle in AMERICAN SNIPER, courtesy Warner Brothers, 2014

 

Dramatized from the detailed story of late Navy SEAL Chief Chris Kyle, American Sniper stars Bradley Cooper as a God-fearing Texas man who decides to join the armed forces after seeing terrorist attacks on American innocents. Having survived SEAL training, Kyle heads off to Iraq for a first tour, but not before having met the lovely Taya (Sienna Miller), a strong-headed woman he meets in a bar near base.

As his first outing in the war zone proceeds with daily caution, Kyle’s natural talent with sniping quickly earns him the reputation among his peers as “Legend”, due to his impressive kill rate, enough so that enemy insurgents start placing a bounty on his head for fear of losing more men to his pinpoint accuracy.

Upon his return from each tour, Kyle realizes he can’t sit and watch his fellow men fall prey to the enemy, including an Iraqi sharpshooter whose skill rivals his.

Torn between returning to battle and staying behind to build his family, the morally torn soldier must decide how far he is willing to go to serve his country, despite the toll his duty is taking on his personal life.

 

Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller in AMERICAN SNIPER, courtesy Warner Brothers, 2014
Bradley Cooper and Sienna Miller in AMERICAN SNIPER, courtesy Warner Brothers, 2014

 

Clint Eastwood has shown he can direct a film, what with great pieces like Million Dollar Baby and Unforgiven. At the same time, he never quite got the knack of the military genre, with his previous effort, Heartbreak Ridge, turning out to be more exciting in its boot camp eccentricity than its action scenes.

The latter was no Kubrickian success, and I fear the same will occur with Sniper, despite its multiple Oscar noms announced today by the AMPAS. Having decided to adapt Chris Kyle’s story to the big screen for emotional and dramatic heft, the film seems to only work in two speeds: frenetic or downright neutral gear.

Though the soldier’s experiences up to his last tour (he died while off duty in 2013) are remarkable in their own right and make for good story fodder, Eastwood can’t seem to get the same result from Cooper, who either plays Kyle as morally torn when faced with ambiguous targets, or as a catatonic shell of a man being eaten alive by PTSD.

It’s those two extremes that take away from the film’s dramatic impact, creating a severe cinematic handicap. At age 84, Eastwood shows he can still come up with a finished product, but I find myself wondering if he thought no one had read the book or was going to notice any shortcuts being taken in order to keep the tale under a respectable running time.

Sienna Miller goes brunette in her role as Kyle’s wife Taya, however her performance becomes rote and repetitive after her hubby’s first return from action, along with the next three tours that followed.

 

 

Is Bradley Cooper’s lack of emotion a masterful acting choice or a directorial mistake? It’s hard to tell. I choose to think the latter, but while the film isn’t terrible, it doesn’t live up to the book it’s based on (and which I suggest you pick up and read) and therefore can’t pass muster when being considered for the awards it’s been nominated for.

American Sniper is good. Just not Oscar good.

3 out of 5

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

Now on Blu-Ray: Boardwalk Empire Season Five Closes the Books on HBO Prohibition Era Drama

Blu-Ray Cover Art for BOARDWALK EMPIRE THE COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON, courtesy HBO Home Video, 2015
Blu-Ray Cover Art for BOARDWALK EMPIRE THE COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON, courtesy HBO Home Video, 2015

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Whiskey Aficionado

 

Like the saying goes, “All good things must come to an end.” Despite some ups and downs over the first four seasons of the hit TV series Boardwalk Empire, its fifth and final chapter manages, albeit in a rushed and clumsy way, to close the books on the majority of its characters’ storylines, bringing a semi-satisfying conclusion to the series with some predictable outcomes, most of them historically known.

 

Steve Buscemi in BOARDWALK EMPIRE THE COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON, courtesy HBO Home Video, 2015
Steve Buscemi in BOARDWALK EMPIRE THE COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON, courtesy HBO Home Video, 2015

 

Aired as a shorter, 8-episode long final arc, Season Five makes the unusual move of jumping ahead seven years to the early 1930s, causing a bit of disruption in the narrative for anyone who enjoyed the tight storytelling of the previous chapters.

Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) is still living down in Cuba with his lovely business partner Sally (Patricia Arquette), working out a new business arrangement by which a new booze source can make its way to the American East Coast. Many challenges still exist with power players Al Capone (Stephen Graham), Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza), Meyer Lansky (Anatol Yusef) and several others making their move in on Nucky’s turf, proving to be a difficult hurdle to over come upon his return.

Chalky White (Michael K. Williams) is stuck in a chain gang following an earlier arrest and is plotting an escape. Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon) is working his way up Capone’s Chicago outfit, still under the guise of “George Mueller”; Gillian Darmody (Gretchen Mol) remains incarcerated in a women’s facility while Nucky’s younger brother Eli (Shea Whigham) picks up the pieces of his marriage and tries to make a life for himself after so many mistakes.

 

Vincent Piazza and Michael Zegen in BOARDWALK EMPIRE THE COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON, courtesy HBO Home Video, 2015
Vincent Piazza and Michael Zegen in BOARDWALK EMPIRE THE COMPLETE FIFTH SEASON, courtesy HBO Home Video, 2015

 

Though the narrative does miss a few steps due to a sharp jump forward in time, this final season of Boardwalk does benefit from a few good points, namely the heavy use of flashbacks to show us how a young Enoch Thompson came to be such a highly regarded though notorious figure in Atlantic City.

British actor Mark Pickering is brilliant as Nucky in his young adult life, working for the Commodore and slowly rising as deputy Sheriff. Pickering manages to evoke Buscemi’s mannerisms, voice cadence and stare to perfection.

This narrative tool also helps us understand the dynamic between the Thompson brothers under the severe hand of their vicious father (Ian Hart) as well as Nucky’s rapport with his superiors and how this evolved later in life.

Due to a shortened season, several of the remaining supporting characters fall by the wayside: Nucky’s ex Margaret (Kelly Macdonald) still works in New York City for an investment firm but makes all too brief appearances in the story; Chalky (Williams) manages his way back to civilization but makes a very brief appearance while meeting up with singer Daughter Maitland (Margot Bingham) and her mentor Valentin Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright, also neglected in Season Five).

Vincent Piazza, Anatol Yusef and Stephen Graham do get their fair share of screen time respectively as Luciano, Lansky and Capone but their energized presence makes you wish the series had gone on. A real pity.

 

 

Look for the usual goodies to be found in an HBO box set, namely a slew of interviews and behind the scenes glimpses at each episode, a digital copy and so on.

As far as finales go, this one could have done worse. Unlike Showtime’s Dexter, which angered many viewers, Boardwalk Empire was all too aware of its own ending, with several of its real-life characters having been known to start and end all according to the annals of history. Be that as it may, it still would have been fun to explore that mysterious seven year gap with more adventures, conflicts and nefarious back room deals.

3 out of 5

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

Now on Blu-Ray: Black Sails Season One a More Serious Adventurous Approach to Pirate Show Fare

Blu-Ray Cover Art for BLACK SAILS THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON, courtesy Starz/Anchor Bay, 2015
Blu-Ray Cover Art for BLACK SAILS THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON, courtesy Starz/Anchor Bay, 2015

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Relatively Unknown Terror of the Seven Seas

 

Given the popularity of the pirate theme seen in pop culture over the last decade mostly due to Johnny Depp and Gore Verbinski, it made sense that someone would decide to explore some of this material, or variations thereof, on the small screen.

Mind you, video games had already dabbled with it with Assassin’s Creed: Black Flag and NBC had also taken a turn using John Malkovich as Blackbeard in the ill-fated Crossbones, to less than glorious results.

In comes Starz, approaching the genre with a mixture of the historical and the fictitious, allowing literary characters to interact with real-life ones so to produce an ongoing tale of survival in a golden age of piracy.

The excellent result is this initial season of Black Sails, reviewed here.

 

Luke Arnold, Mark Ryan and Toby Stephens in BLACK SAILS THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON, courtesy Starz/Anchor Bay, 2015
Luke Arnold, Mark Ryan and Toby Stephens in BLACK SAILS THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON, courtesy Starz/Anchor Bay, 2015

 

Set roughly twenty years before the events described in Robert Louis Stevenson’s classic Treasure Island, Black Sails is set in the pirate home base of New Providence Island in the Bahamas, circa 1715.

We are immediately thrown into the action as the mighty and wily Captain James Flint (Toby Stephens) tracks down various British ships, secretly in search of a sailing schedule for a famous Spanish galleon called the “Urca De Lima”, tasked with carrying gold from the Old World to the colonies.

A clever member of a captured crew, John Silver (Luke Arnold), steals the page containing the vital information to the galleon’s final resting place from a fellow shipmate and tries to sell it off. With Flint, his man Gates (Mark Ryan) and several other notorious pirates on the trail of this key piece of information, the race begins to try and locate this loot, before the British fleet arrives to put an end to piracy once and for all.

With the help of local fence Eleanor Guthrie (Hannah New), Flint fights his way towards his goal, fending off mutinous attempts, fellow rivals and the ever-present threat of the British closing in on all of them.

 

Captain Flint (Toby Stephens) addresses his crew in BLACK SAILS THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON, courtesy Starz/Anchor Bay, 2015
Captain Flint (Toby Stephens) addresses his crew in BLACK SAILS THE COMPLETE FIRST SEASON, courtesy Starz/Anchor Bay, 2015

 

I would do the show a great disservice were I to call it a soap opera of the open seas, in that the plot often relies on strife between old lovers, rivalries between captains and treachery galore. After all, these are pirates who’d just as soon sell their own mothers in search of a great score, no doubt.

That said, Black Sails finds that middle ground in which it doesn’t rely on the comical or the extravagant (as Verbinski’s POTC often did), nor does it get bogged down in overly accurate lore from the history books.

Its main plot, the search for the Spanish galleon, drives all characters and offers their motives and secret deals up as fodder for a show that isn’t short on violence, sex and blood. A family-oriented show this ain’t, with foul language filling cups to the brim.

Toby Stephens, the son of Dame Maggie Smith and a former Bond villain in his own right (Die Another Day) is magnetic as James Flint, a cultured and educated ship captain whose intellectual pursuits and ambitions often clash with that of his less-cultured subordinates, as seen in full display in the pilot episode. Stephens offers a voice of experience and regret, a wonderful lead in a show filled with otherwise generic scoundrels.

Luke Arnold is the carefree John Silver (yes, of Treasure Island fame), an opportunistic trickster who’d just as soon avoid conflict so to fill his pockets. His character is similar in temperament to that of Richard Coyle’s Tom Lowe in Crossbones, save for their backgrounds. Here, Arnold plays the righteous but down-on-his-luck Silver while other actors like Zach McGowan and Toby Schmitz get to revel in their evil roles as real-life pirates Charles Vane and Jack Rackham, respectively.

Of course, no show would be complete without the attractive beauty in a world of questionable men, with Hannah New filling those shoes to a tee.

 

 

The best way I can describe this show is as if Pirates of the Caribbean had be devoid of any supernatural elements and had been rated R. You’ll find plenty of titillating scenes, including erotic moments, that wouldn’t be out of place in a lawless environment of the 1700s.

Enjoy the show for what it offers, especially given that Starz was so taken in by the concept that they have already greenlit a third season, with Season Two starting in January 2015. A good sign, all told, of a great hunt ahead. That is, until the British arrive.

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 in Theatres and On Demand: Predestination is the Trippiest Time Travel Drama in Years

Theatrical Poster for PREDESTINATION, courtesy Screen Australia, 2015
Theatrical Poster for PREDESTINATION, courtesy Screen Australia, 2015

 

Theatrical Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Wannabe Time Traveler

(Note: This film was screened at the 2014 Toronto After Dark Festival.)

 

Movies that deal with the intricacies of the space-time continuum can be a lot of fun to watch. Adversely, they can be really difficult to follow, but more often than not, the effort in trying to make linear sense of the plot becomes its own reward.

There are great movies about time loops (last year’s incredibly entertaining Edge of Tomorrow is a fine example), films about zany, garden variety time travel (see the Back to the Future trilogy) but very few of them deal with the concept of a predestination time paradox, also known as a causality loop, in which one discovers that one’s ability or purpose to soon time travel to the past may very well be available as the result of having already done so, having manipulated past events to allow for this option to occur, thus providing its own means to an end.

Lost in confusion yet? Not to worry, you’re likely to have more fun explaining it to friends later on, after seeing this excellent film by the Spierig Brothers.

 

Ethan Hawke in PREDESTINATION, courtesy Screen Australia, 2015
Ethan Hawke in PREDESTINATION, courtesy Screen Australia, 2015

 

Ethan Hawke stars as a Time Agent working for an unnamed organization designed to travel through the past in order to tweak events in order to save lives. Having recently faced a bomber who got away but left the agent’s face badly burned, the protagonist recovers after plastic surgery and is assigned one final mission before retiring to a desired point in the past: locate the bomber and stop him once and for all.

The agent travels to the mid 1970s where he poses as a bartender, accumulating tidbits of knowledge and tips about the bomber’s possible activities in the city. There, he encounters an unusual patron, an androgynous looking fellow (Sarah Snook) who bets the agent/bartender a full bottle of whiskey that he has the best story anyone’s ever heard.

This sets the tone for the flashback narrative about how this man was born a woman, orphaned and left to grow up alone, possessing great mental and physical skills leading her to be enrolled in a special program for advanced people for a project relating to space travel, by a mysterious man (Noah Taylor) who sees the teen’s potential

The customer explains that a steamy one-night affair with a seductive man led to pregnancy, with the baby later being abducted and the birth causing damage to internal organs that revealed her/him to be multigender, the damage to her female organs causing her to become male, making him who is at present.

With me so far? Okay.

The bartender likes the client’s story and decides to reveal his true identity and purpose, bringing the patron with him through a time jump, so to allow him to make changes that would lead to a happier outcome. The effects of these actions get them closer to the bomber, may change the patron’s future in an unexpected way and may provide the agent with a final chance to catch the bomber responsible for over ten thousand deaths.

 

Sarah Snook in PREDESTINATION, courtesy Screen Australia, 2015
Sarah Snook in PREDESTINATION, courtesy Screen Australia, 2015

 

The film’s plot, albeit as non-linear as they come, offers a great chance for viewers to challenge themselves and try to grasp the basics of a time paradox. It’s this challenging premise, along with a plot that reveals its elements piecemeal, that truly makes Predestination a head-trip of a movie.

Sarah Snook and Ethan Hawke have great chemistry during their scenes, admittedly being dialogue-based for the better part of the film, but what a yarn is spun. Hawke remains reserved and patient rather than philosophical, unlike his hip role as an intellectual writer in the Richard Linklater series of Before films, while Snook displays a refreshing range of acting ability, playing one character with many facets over the course of a difficult lifetime.

The leads never overplay their characters, the movie never veers off its intended course and the story is so evenly paced yet filled with plot reveals that you may find yourself wanting to wait for a home video release of this title later this year, if only to be able to rewind to key scenes to piece together some of the brilliant paradox at play.

 

 

After seeing the movie, you may wish, like I did, to hop over to your local library and locate stories by celebrated sci-fi author Robert A. Heinlein. The tale this film is based on, “—All You Zombies—“, is an equally great read and may help you better grasp the advanced concepts explored here. If you love that story, also try another by Heinlein, titled “By His Bootstraps”, with similar themes.

The film did well at various film festivals, including Toronto After Dark late last year, where I was able to screen it with glee along with an enthusiastic audience, earning the film a second place Silver.

While this movie may not see a wide release in theatres, it will get a chance to be seen via On Demand services with your local provider. Do see it if you can, and let it wash over you, leading you to sit down with friends to discuss other temporal concepts.

Predestination is an undeniable treat. 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.

 

Now on Blu-Ray: The Guest Has a Great but Deeply Misguided Premise

Blu-Ray Cover Art for THE GUEST, courtesy ANConnect, 2015
Blu-Ray Cover Art for THE GUEST, courtesy ANConnect, 2015

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Usually Harmless Houseguest

 

Well, Downton Abbey this thriller ain’t, but then again it isn’t the most focused film I’ve seen in a while.

A creepy tale of a so-called family friend who just won’t go away when he overstays his welcome, The Guest offers a great premise only to piss all of its potential away with a plot twist right out of left field. A real pity.

 

Maika Monroe and Dan Stevens in THE GUEST, courtesy ANConnect, 2015
Maika Monroe and Dan Stevens in THE GUEST, courtesy ANConnect, 2015

 

In a tale that feels awfully close to its cinematic cousins The Hand That Rocks the Cradle or even Single White Female by way of Pacific Heights, The Guest stars Dan Stevens as a seemingly stable returning war vet who takes it upon himself to visit one of his late war buddies’ family in your average small town, U.S.A.

Announcing himself as “David Collins”, comrade-in-arms to the late Caleb Peterson, the soldier drops in on the grieving family, with the parents (Sheila Kelley, Leland Orser) and younger siblings (Maika Monroe and Brendan Meyer) receiving this unexppected family friend, while remaining cautious as to his background and motives

As the houseguest spends a few days with them and starts to display odd behaviour, it becomes apparent that not all is well with him, and his presence within the household, albeit charming and polite, hides a much darker secret which has ties to his military past.

With mysterious deaths occurring in town and answers becoming in short supply, the family must manage to stay ahead of their guest, especially when the military comes looking for him.

 

Brendan Meyer and Maika Monroe in THE GUEST,  courtesy ANConnect, 2015
Brendan Meyer and Maika Monroe in THE GUEST, courtesy ANConnect, 2015

 

The movie has all the textbook elements of a creepy thriller about a stranger with dark motives: the polite man who starts bonding with the young impressionable teen, the unwelcome flirting with the barely legal daughter, the secretive past, etc.

The low point where the film falls short lies is in its late reveal of some sinister origin subplot in which some of David’s actions are explained by way of exposition via a stoic military type played by Lance Reddick, in a variation of the same archetypal role he’s portrayed in tons of projects and all too similar to his last outing as Philip Broyles on TV’s Fringe.

With such a great premise and a mounting creep factor settling into the viewer’s mind, why mess with such a perfect setup by throwing in an unexpected zinger? That secret reveal (no spoilers) ends up producing the opposite effect, much to the detriment of the final cut of the film.

 

 

I can’t fault Dan Stevens for deciding to ditch his cushy role as Matthew Crawley in the highly popular British series Downton Abbey to try his hand at Hollywood stardom, but at the same time I can’t help but wish he’d find higher profile projects to work on, his only other credits to date having been a computer voice on the now cancelled The Tomorrow People TV series, and a bit role as Lancelot in the third Night at the Museum film.

While the handsome Brit can handle a twangy American accent like the best of them, his role in the film suffers from an inadequate script which squanders its great tone and mood in favor of a cheap plot twist which harms the overall story.

Watch the film as you will, not so much for the “ah-ha!” factor as for Stevens’ gutsy attempt to try something new.

With much better material, he may very well be on his way.

3 out of 5

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

Now on Blu-Ray: Kevin Smith’s Tusk Shows Promise But Falters by Final Reel

Blu-Ray Cover Art for TUSK, courtesy Sony Home Video, 2014
Blu-Ray Cover Art for TUSK, courtesy Sony Home Video, 2014

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Avid Listener of Kevin Smith Podcasts

In the world of online entertainment, there is no greater fun than to discover an established artist whose fan following is so vast that there’s an immense catalog of recordings to choose from, ranging from the complimentary (i.e. raving about popular films) to the down right bizarre.

It just so happened that filmmaker Kevin Smith, director of Chasing Amy, Clerks and Dogma, along with his best friend and producer Scott Mosier, performed a semi-weekly recording known as Smodcast, one of over a dozen such type shows in which Smith and friends wax philosophical about current events and possible outcomes to bizarre tales from the internet.

From one such podcast came the theory of whether a mad man could abduct another human being for the dark purpose of turning him into a living walrus?

The resulting vote from online fandom led Smith to write and direct Tusk, reviewed here.

 

Justin Long and Michael Parks in TUSK, courtesy Sony Home Video, 2014
Justin Long and Michael Parks in TUSK, courtesy Sony Home Video, 2014

 

In a setting that somewhat parallels Smith’s own, Tusk starts off with an airing of a podcast called “The Not-See Party”, hosted by Wallace Bryton (Justin Long) and Teddy Craft (Haley Joel Osment) as they discuss and ridicule online videos, including one of a Canadian kid from Manitoba who accidentally chops off his own leg with a sword, an exaggerated nod to the less-than-agile Star Wars Kid of YouTube infamy.

When Wallace heads off to the Great White North to interview the poor sod, he learns that the kid offed himself, leaving the podcaster with a wasted trip and no story to report. That is, until he spots an ad in a local dive, from a mysterious old man (Michael Parks) who wishes to share his tales of war and woe with a willing listener.

When Wallace meets the mystery man, he soon finds himself with a lot more story than he can handle, finding himself stranded, drugged, tortured and screaming for help.

It’s up to Teddy and Wallace’s girlfriend Ally (Genesis Rodriguez) to track down and find his last known whereabouts, with the help of local law enforcement and an eccentric French Canadian retired agent from La Sureté du Québec named Guy Lapointe (an unrecognizable Johnny Depp, billed as “Guy Lapointe”.)

 

Harley Quinn Smith and Lily-Rose Depp in TUSK, courtesy Sony Home Video, 2014
Harley Quinn Smith and Lily-Rose Depp in TUSK, courtesy Sony Home Video, 2014

 

Let’s be fair: there have been worse stories told onscreen than that born of a hilarious podcast. I have to credit Smith for having the motivation to push forward with this project, a most decidedly niche story that isn’t quite comedy, nor is it a horror film.

The movie sets the creepy tone early on, thanks to another inspired performance by Michael Parks who all but stole the show in Smith’s recent film Red State, the director’s first original dramatic foray out of the comedic world known to his legion of fans known as the Askewniverse.

Whereas Parks emulated the fanaticism of a Westboro Baptist Church-like organization in State, here he possesses the same cold and calculating stare he so perfectly delivered back in the days of the Twin Peaks television series where he played yet another criminal, Jean Renault. His role in Tusk is central to the plot and a welcome addition.

Parks’ performance far eclipses that of his co-stars, despite a valiant effort by Long, Osment and Rodriguez.

The film evolves well enough into the first two thirds of the running time, that is until the arrival of the goofy and eccentric criminal investigator played for cheap laughs by Johnny Depp, whose daughter Lily-Rose, along with Smith’s own offspring Harley Quinn, have small roles as convenience store clerks (a nod to Smith’s early work) and whose characters will star in two more planned films, Yoga Hosers and Moose Jaws, completing a set of three movies known as the “True North Trilogy.”

Here’s hoping this trio will have a bit more to work with come the second movie.

 

Haley Joel Osment in TUSK, courtesy Sony Home Video, 2014
Haley Joel Osment in TUSK, courtesy Sony Home Video, 2014

 

The film’s strength lies in the writing and dialogue, not surprisingly given Smith’s natural ability to spin a good yarn, whereas the project’s weakness rests within its inability to properly decide on its genre, leaving the story uneven, even rudderless.

The movie was doing so well as a genuinely creepy cautionary tale, right up until the last reel, at which point all common sense and logic gets thrown out the window. Mind you, this is fully within the filmmaker’s artistic discretion, but as a seasoned Smodcast fan, I was disappointed in the sudden narrative shift, effectively destroying my suspension of disbelief.

 

 

Hardcore Smith fans will easily recognize the many tongue-in-cheek nods and Easter Eggs found within the film, such as a popular Al Pacino-inspired ringtone (from the Hollywood Babble-On podcast), a cameo by fellow podcaster Ralph Garman as a Manitoba detective named Frank Garmin (a nod to an accidental mispronunciation early on in the Babble-On days) as well as many tips of the hat to geek culture (“how far is Bifrost from here?”)

Enjoy this film for its original content and gutsy approach to a completely weird premise, one spawned from fan response on Twitter, from thousands having voted “#WalrusYes”. This is the result.

Note: Keep listening through the end credits to hear an excerpt from the Smodcast episode which gave birth to this story. I encourage you to listen to the show. It’s quite a lot of fun.

3 out of 5

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

 

Now Playing: The Interview as Harmless and Silly a Satire as They Come

Theatrical Poster for THE INTERVIEW, courtesy Sony Pictures, 2014
Theatrical Poster for THE INTERVIEW, courtesy Sony Pictures, 2014

 

Theatrical Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Resident Western Capitalist Pig

So here it is: after all the hype surrounding its removal from the release calendar, only for the media backlash to force a release via a limited number of theatres and video on demand, The Interview finally makes its way to the willing masses for open consumption, for better or for worse.

So what’s the prognosis? The film isn’t nearly close to a level justifying all the hype, but it’s still a laugh-out-loud piece of satire that only an absolute moron of the highest would choose to go to war over.

 

James Franco, Lizzy Caplan and Seth Rogen in THE INTERVIEW, courtesy Sony Pictures, 2014
James Franco, Lizzy Caplan and Seth Rogen in THE INTERVIEW, courtesy Sony Pictures, 2014

 

For the same reason World War III didn’t start over Leslie Nielsen clashing with a faux Gorbatchev and Ayatollah Khomeini in The Naked Gun or Saddam Hussein in either South Park The Movie or even Hot Shots Part Deux!, it’d be pretty silly to think of this film as a piece of serious anti-communist propaganda, given the goofy premise about a TV talk show host (James Franco) and his loyal producer friend (Seth Rogen) turned inept spies assigned to killing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (brilliantly played for laughs by Randall Park) during a highly publicized interview taking place in Pyongyang.

The film’s basic premise is no more plausible than believing Dan Aykroyd and Chevy Chase could stop nukes from launching against the U.S. in Spies Like Us. Every scene written for this movie borders on quasi-slapstick and contains every possible anal and scatological joke one can conceive of. So again, I ask you, who thought this film could ever be perceived as a threat to anyone but the audience?

 

James Franco and Randall Park in THE INTERVIEW, courtesy Sony Pictures, 2014
James Franco and Randall Park in THE INTERVIEW, courtesy Sony Pictures, 2014

 

What brings the film down a few minor notches is its lack of pacing and one note direction in favor of quick draw laughs, but the brand of humor many found hilarious in Franco and Rogen’s last project, This is the End, remains alive and well in this latest project, aside from all the media hype surrounding the film’s eventual release.

What elevates the film past its unintentional case of tunnel vision? The lead actors’ willingness to goof off, forget themselves (and any sense of humility) and have real fun, to hell with the consequences. This becomes obvious when you notice other willing actors and artists who jumped in for a cameo appearance, from Eminem to Rob Lowe, from Bill Maher to Seth Meyers, not to mention Joseph Gordon-Levitt (a non-speaking role as he’s too busy cuddling a dozen puppies.)

 

 

Folks, this film ain’t the reinvention of the wheel, nor is it the best film of 2014. If anything, it’s as silly a comedy as most of the hijinks flicks of the same ilk we watched in the 80s, only revamped for modern times and updated caricatured villains. It’s also an unassuming project which got blown out of proportions due to either a well planned campaign of false advertising, an inside job or a victim of fortuitous circumstance. Which is it? Frankly, I couldn’t give a damn.

Get a good laugh out of this film, do NOT watch with the kids (many sex jokes and plenty of foul language) and just enjoy it for the mind numbing goofy story that it is.

Sometimes, a silly film is just a silly film, without the need to dig for a deeper meaning.

Take a break. Turn off your brain. Laugh.

3 out of 5

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

The Film is Available on YouTube, iTunes, Google Play and Xbox Video