Now on Blu-Ray: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Better Looking but Just as boring

Blu-Ray Cover Art for TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES, courtesy Paramount Home Video, 2014
Blu-Ray Cover Art for TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES, courtesy Paramount Home Video, 2014

 

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

 

I’d normally be the first one to admit that as far as movie ideas go, this far into the 21st Century, at least, we’re bound to revisit some familiar tropes in order to generate some viewer interest. This would include another go at some 80s properties, as seen in years past with a slew of Michael Bay productions based on countless kids’ cartoons, namely the Transformers franchise.

But then again, after numerous oh-so-bad live action interpretations and one CGI-version, why oh why must we immediately head for yet another adventure starring heroes in a half shell? Was another He-Man story not in the cards?

 

Raphael, Donatello, Michaelangelo and Leonardo in TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES, courtesy Paramount Home Video, 2014
Raphael, Donatello, Michaelangelo and Leonardo in TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES, courtesy Paramount Home Video, 2014

 

As pretty and CGI-accurate as it can be (blessed be the absence of rubber costumes), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (or let’s call it TMNT for short) is incredibly low on story and substance, proving that just because you can hire geniuses to create the most realistic anthropomorphic warrior turtles, doesn’t mean you necessarily should.

Under the guidance of Bay ad the direction of genre helmer Jonathan Liebesman,  all of the classic elements are there, with the evil Foot Clan spreading terror all over New York City, under the leadership of Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) with the assistance of a mystery villain.

When young intrepid reporter April O’Neill (Megan Fox, inexplicably back into a Michael Bay project after an infamous Hitler reference post-Transformers 2) seeks a big break on a major story to get ahead in her career, she stumbles upon proof of the existence of not one but four vigilantes whose stealth makes them hard to document.

When the Clan ups their game and create hostage situations to sniff out their half-shelled opponents, the boys have to come out of obscurity — not to mention their rad sewer lair — to come to April’s aid, much to their sensei Master Splinter’s concern.

With a chemical threat in the works and evil lurking in the shadows, the big Apple faces its biggest challenge, with its only glimmer of hope resting in the hands of mutated turtles with deadly fighting skills.

 

Megan Fox, Raphael and Will Arnett in TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES, courtesy Paramount Home Video, 2014

 

To try and find originality in this project is like trying to explain the meaning of life to a one-year old. There is little to no back story to the turtles’ origin, other than the obligatory exposure to special chemicals which caused them to develop human-like abilities. Some story elements point to them and Splinter being subjects of a life-saving drug, but most of the focus sadly rests on their ninja skills and love of pizza.

Similarly to Transformers, there is very little room for innovation, and so the film invariably follows the same path as its much less convincing film predecessors, with the heroes and villains remaining the same. Blessedly, the Vanilla Ice soundtrack is missing in action, a small boon in an otherwise futile project.

 

 

You can check out the extras if you’re into seeing what the mo-cap actors look like with suits and dots on, with one of the guys having been voiced instead by Johnny Knoxville in post-production. A neat look behind the screen magic but adds very little to the film unless you’re really into CGI minutiae and pre-visualization.

And so, with a color-by-numbers premise and characters as flat at their cartoon counterparts, this incarnation of TMNT is destined to join its brothers in the mythical realm of the discount bin at Walmart. I’ve seen worse pablum as a critic and moviegoer, but this one scrapes the barrel for a morsel of respectability, in vain.

I had hoped we’d outlived the “Cowabunga” age, but in the search for the almighty dollar at the box office, nothing is sacred.

Well, at least it wasn’t another Battleship. Oy.

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: Guardians of the Galaxy Maintains that Marvel Brand of Entertainment

Blu-Ray Cover Art for GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, courtesy Disney/Marvel, 2014
Blu-Ray Cover Art for GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, courtesy Disney/Marvel, 2014

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Resident Marvel Expert

After six solid years of back to back hits filled with characters ranging from billionaire geniuses to scientists with breath-taking anger issues to Asgardian demi-gods by way of military super soldiers, where is a Marvel film to go for new inspiration?

Well, after the resounding box office success of this latest release, the answer is outer space, of course.

It would stand to reason that the good folks at Marvel Studios would dip into their comics archives in order to sculpt and fashion out the next phase in their cinematic continuity. The result is a highly entertaining, hilarious and engaging space adventure worthy of joining the quasi-superhero ranks.

 

Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and Chris Pratt in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, courtesy Disney/Marvel, 2014
Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana, Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) and Chris Pratt in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, courtesy Disney/Marvel, 2014

 

If you were cryogenically frozen over the summer and have completely missed this blockbuster event and aren’t too familiar with this ragtag group of rebellious space criminals, here’s a refresher: loosely based on a second wave of the Marvel title of the same name, GoTG (let’s use that acronym for short) focuses on the exploits of one Peter Quill, a Terran (re: Earthling) raised by an alien bounty hunter after being kidnapped off our planet at a young age. Now a galactic treasure seeker out to make a name for himself, Quill, aka Starlord (though the name isn’t picking up as much momentum as Quill had hoped) works various contracts locating precious items, all to the highest bidder, while two warring races, the Xandarans and the Kree, maintain an uneasy truce.

Quill comes across a mysterious orb, one rumored to contain an Infinity Gem, a powerful stone sought by the Titan named Thanos (see Easter Egg at the end of The Avengers), who dispatches a Kree fanatic named Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace) to retrieve it at all costs.

Helped by Thanos’ adoptive daughters Nebula (Karen Gillan) and Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Ronan tracks down the Orb’s whereabouts, but not before Quill and a handful of prison escapees (including Drax, Rocket and Groot) join him and a remorseful Gamora in trying to stop Ronan from annihilating an entire race in the process.

Opposites attract, as they say, and so the unlikeliest of renegades become allies in stopping planetary Armageddon, assuming they don’t die trying.

 

Lee Pace as Ronan the Accuser in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, courtesy Disney/Marvel, 2014
Lee Pace as Ronan the Accuser in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, courtesy Disney/Marvel, 2014

 

Like most of Marvel’s successful titles, the magic ingredient to GoTG‘s success is its ability to blend action, visual effects and humor into a seamless product, one most viewers can relate to.

Sure, the hardcore fans will have an easier time figuring out who the major players are (especially Thanos, Ronan, the Collector and Nova Prime, played by Glenn Close) while others will be happy to find a relatable equilibrium in the central character of Starlord, a human from the 80s with a wide knowledge of heroics and rebellion by way of Footloose, classic rock and gangster movies.

Similar to The Avengers, the winning formula rests in its team chemistry, with Bradley Cooper providing the bawdy and vicious humor while Zoe Saldana and Bautista provide the brawn. Add a bit of Indiana Jones to the Peter Quill role and a giant but very seldom vocal tree creature, and you’ve got yourself a galactic A-Team, with some typical quasi-Robert Downey Jr. type of witty banter to boot.

The film’s Walkman-inspired rockin’ soundtrack doesn’t hurt, either. With three volumes of it by this time, you’re probably going to want to put your hands on them for some good times.

For your enjoyment, find a hilarious excerpt from the movie’s blooper reel in the clip below:

 

 

Enjoy the movie for its engaging escapist space-faring sense of danger and adventure, similar to those late 70s films of the same ilk; think of this as this generation’s Star Wars, Battle Beyond the Stars or if you’re truly desperate, Ice Pirates.

A fun sci-fi piece on an unavoidable collision course with other Marvel titles in years to come, Guardians of the Galaxy is sure to keep you pinned down in your seat, rooting (no pun intended, Groot) for the underdog… or in this case, the Raccoon that could.

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: The Hundred-Foot Journey Earns its Michelin Stars

Blu-Ray Cover Art for THE HUNDRED FOOT JOURNEY, courtesy Dreamworks Pictures, 2014
Blu-Ray Cover Art for THE HUNDRED FOOT JOURNEY, courtesy Dreamworks Pictures, 2014

 

THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY, Directed by Lasse Hallstrom, Runtime 122 minutes, Starring Helen Mirren, Om Puri, Manish Dayal, Charlotte Le Bon and Michel Blanc. Rated PG, thematic elements, some violence, language and brief sensuality.

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor ad Home Video Critic

It seems that 2014 in film has been pretty good for movies with food themes, what with the excellent Jon Favreau piece Chef as a fine example of mouth watering good times.

Now, with the help of uber-producers Steven Spielberg and Oprah Winfrey, a popular book by author Richard C. Morais sees itself turned into reality, with a heartwarming tale of loss and redemption about an unlucky Indian family who suffer through hardships only to try a new life in rural France, hoping to bring their traditional cuisine to the locals via the second born son’s culinary ability passed on from his late mother. Simply delightful.

 

Manish Dayal and Dame Helen Mirren in THE HUNDRED FOOT JOURNEY, courtesy Dreamworks Pictures, 2014
Manish Dayal and Dame Helen Mirren in THE HUNDRED FOOT JOURNEY, courtesy Dreamworks Pictures, 2014

 

Hassan Kadem (Manish Dayal) and his family have been persevering through hard times since the accidental death of his mother, and the clan has moved to Europe in order to start over. Under the even guidance of patriarch Mr. Kadam (celebrated Indian star Om Puri), the family has made its way through most EU countries, eventually finding themselves accidentally stranded in rural France, after a vehicular mishap.

After soon locating themselves into a fixer-upper of a building opposite an existing one Michelin-starred French restaurant managed by a controlling Madame Mallory (Dame Helen Mirren), the Kadam family decides to open the Maison Mumbai, an Indian-themed locale fueled by its secret weapon,  Hassan’s recipes descended from his late mom.

With increasing competition between Le Saule Pleureur and Maison Mumbai, sitting a hundred feet across from one another, can both restaurants survive each other? Can two young aspiring chefs (Dayal and Canadian actress Charlotte Le Bon) settle their differences and find common ground in their love of good food and great ingredients? Can two seasoned adults (Puri and Mirren) find a middle ground from their quarrel? This and countless wonderful dishes are up for grabs in this tenderly produced, heartwarming piece about love, loyalty and humility.

 

Om Puri and Dame Helen Mirren in THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY, courtesy Dreamworks Pictures, 2014
Om Puri and Dame Helen Mirren in THE HUNDRED-FOOT JOURNEY, courtesy Dreamworks Pictures, 2014

 

Oh, where to start? under Lasse Hallstrom’s flawless guidance, The Hundred-Foot Journey quickly finds its footing, exposing us to an honest, down-on-their-luck family who are simply looking for a break. By pitting them against a formidable adversary in the form of the ever excellent Dame Helen Mirren, the film hits all the right marks, establishing a delicate balance between fine dining, self-discovery and culinary curiosity, all within the context of a friendly, albeit harsh, competitive setting.

Actor Manish Dayal is simply astonishing as the lead character of Hassan, a humble yet ambitious young aspiring cook looking to learn about French cuisine, yet holding onto his family’s cooking secrets, the key to his brilliance as a future chef.

Dame Helen Mirren and seasoned Bollywood actor Om Puri support Dayal extremely well as Madame Mallory and Papa Kadem, two very different voices of experience pitting their skills an ego against one another in a battle of wits, unaware of the raw talent sitting right under their noses.

As for Charlotte Le Bon, the young French Canadian actress infuses the French beauty of Marguerite with generosity and honesty, two ingredients vital to this incredible story about the rise and fall of excellence, as well as the quest for finding one’s true destiny, be it big or small, famous or humble.

 

 

An endearing piece of filmmaking which will leave your mouth watering with a yearning for either French Cuisine, Indian dishes or some innovative molecular cooking (don’t ask), The Hundred-Foot Journey is a definite worthwhile trip through food appreciation, worthy ambition and familial values.

Have a healthy bite before watching this film, lest you find yourself splurging on late night delivery of Indian dishes into the wee hours. And if you do, I won’t blame you. I’ll even join you.

4 out of 5

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

Now Playing: Hunger Games Mockingjay Part I Heavy on Propaganda, Light on Character

Theatrical Poster for THE HUNGER GAMES MOCKINGJAY PART I, courtesy eOne Films, 2014
Theatrical Poster for THE HUNGER GAMES MOCKINGJAY PART I, courtesy eOne Films, 2014

THE HUNGER GAMES MOCKINGJAY PART I, Directed by Francis Lawrence, Runtime 123 Minutes, Starring Jennifer Lawrence, Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore and Donald Sutherland. Rated PG-13 for scenes of violence and mature subject matter. Parental Guidance suggested.

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

After two successful film outings and millions of books sold, the Hunger Games saga is slowly but inevitably drawing to its conclusion. The continuing battle between teenage rebel Katniss Everdeen and dictatorial President Snow comes to a boiling point, in this first of two films based on the third installment in the series.

Whereas the previous films focused on variations of the titular game, the first half of this Mockingjay two-parter goes the political route, with moves and counter-moves designed to test major characters’ resolves and seek a way to end it all, whether for the District rebels or the Capitol.

 

Jennifer Lawrence (center) as Katniss Everdeen in THE HUNGER GAMES MOCKINGJAY PART I, courtesy eOne Films, 2014
Jennifer Lawrence (center) as Katniss Everdeen in THE HUNGER GAMES MOCKINGJAY PART I, courtesy eOne Films, 2014

 

Having escaped the Third Quarter Quell with the help of Haymitch (Woody Harrelson) and Plutarch Heavensbee (Philip Seymour Hoffman), Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) finds herself transported to the secret District 13, where the leader of the rebels, President Alma Coin (Julianne Moore), recruits the young champion as a galvanizing force for opponents of the Capitol and its despotic leader, President Snow (Donald Sutherland).

With Peeta (Josh Hutcherson) having been captured and held by the enemy and fed propaganda, it’s up to Katniss to show the people of all districts of Panem how Snow deals with his subjects, by documenting various districts with the help of Gale (Liam Hemsworth) and a small group of gonzo journalists led by Cressida (Natalie Dormer).

Just how much is the price of freedom and saving those you love against insurmountable odds? That is the question on Katniss’ mind as she tries hard as she can to stoke the fires of insurgency, rescue Peeta and overthrow her evil enemy in this first half of the turning point in the Hunger Games saga.

 

Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore and Liam Hemsworth in THE HUNGER GAMES MOCKINGJAY PART I, Courtesy eOne Films, 2014
Philip Seymour Hoffman, Julianne Moore and Liam Hemsworth in THE HUNGER GAMES MOCKINGJAY PART I, Courtesy eOne Films, 2014

 

There’s certainly a lot of characters to keep track of in franchise films of this sort, and it may seem overwhelming to the average film goer. That said, as with all popular movies, this doesn’t become an issue, what with most of the action onscreen focusing on Katniss and her mission. I forgot to mention others like Caesar Flickerman, Effie Trinket, Beetee, Johanna Mason, Finnick Odair and several others. Each have their part in the play, without overwhelming the other.

While Mockingjay Part I isn’t a bad film in and of itself, it does lack the oomph of the previous two films, taking away from the sense of danger and slowly turning into a patient game of chess, one with very slow moving pieces, requiring the longer plot to split the story into two films. Not a bad idea if you’re reluctant to cut out elements of book fans have come to love.

Granted, there’s still action in this third chapter, but the majority of the scenes veer towards the political rather than the exciting, making this film the “Tom Clancy” version of the series: explanatory dialogue and negotiation, double crosses, etc… This will likely turn off some viewers, while the hardened fans will eat up whatever they’re served from their favorite book series turned to flesh.

I’ll give some credit to Jennifer Lawrence for still managing to infuse some level of plausible emotional instability in the role of Katniss, given that she could very well have played her as a cold and stoic heroine. she remains the cypher by which we as impartial observers can empathize with the shock and oppression at the hands of the evil Snow, still brilliantly played by Donald Sutherland.

Hutcherson fans may want to go into this movie with a fair warning, as this is a very Peeta-light chapter. You’ve been warned.

 

 

With the intensity of the story growing by leaps and bounds, leading to what is sure to be an explosive conclusion (disclaimer: I didn’t read the books so the films could surprise me), Mockingjay Part I is a great first step towards a worthwhile denouement. While I didn’t find it as exciting as the first two, I still managed to root for the good guys, while enjoying some of the finer acting, care of Harrelson, Moore and especially the latte Philip Seymour Hoffman, who passed earlier this year.

A decent chapter in an otherwise impressive series thus far, Part I will have to keep us fulfilled until the second installment comes out a year from now. In the meantime, should your patience hold until the sequel, may the odds be ever in your favor.

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 Babadook Offers a Different Kind of Scary Movie

Theatrical Poster for THE BABADOOK, courtesy eOne Films Canada, 2014
Theatrical Poster for THE BABADOOK, courtesy eOne Films Canada, 2014

 

THE BABADOOK, Directed by Jennifer Kent, Runtime 93 minutes, Starring Essie Davis, Noah Wiseman, Daniel Henshall and Haley McElhinney. Contains frightening scenes, coarse language and graphic images. Not recommended for young children.

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

Note: This film was screened at the 2014 Toronto After Dark film series.

Far too long have we been subjected to endless examples of horror/terror films based on classic jump scares which, while successful, still result in some inevitable repetition and viewer fatigue.

However, just once in a while, we’re treated to an intelligent tale that isn’t so much reliant on gore and violence but rather on sheer terror of the psychological kind. As The Blair Witch Project once wisely taught us, what scares us is often what we don’t see on the screen, allowing our mind’s eye to create even worse monsters. This is precisely what happens with Jennifer Kent’s The Babadook.

 

Noah Wiseman and Essie Davis in THE BABADOOK, courtesy eOne Films, 2014
Noah Wiseman and Essie Davis in THE BABADOOK, courtesy eOne Films, 2014

 

The film follow a single parent family, that of mother Amelia (Essie Davis) and her energetic son Samuel (young Noah Wiseman), living in a suburban Australian city, moving on with life after losing husband Oscar in a car crash while on the way to the hospital delivery room seven years earlier.

Overworked, underpaid and so very, very tired, Amelia finds herself fighting insomnia while caring for her boy, who is exhibiting increasingly agitated states of hysteria, especially after they read a bedtime story from a mysteriously new book called Mister Babadook. Rather than offer a pleasant Seuss-like tale, the red tome suggests horrific acts inside the house they live in, at the hands of this evil presence called the Babadook, who will knock three times before attacking its helpless prey. This doesn’t help things as it sends the boy into hysterical fits, proving quite difficult to manage.

Soon hearing spooky knocking sounds within the confines of the house and running on very little sleep, Amelia must figure out whether something is really haunting them…is it all a sleep-deprived hallucination? Is there really something inside the house? Are they safe? With their lives on the line, mother and son need to survive the next few days lest their lives be irrevocably changed for the worse.

 

A manifestation of THE BABADOOK, courtesy eOne Films Canada, 2014
A manifestation of THE BABADOOK, courtesy eOne Films Canada, 2014

 

The brilliance of this excellent horror tale lies in both its crisp editing and its ambiguity; is there really a creature hounding the poor mother and child? Is it all in the mother’s head after weeks of long days and short nights? By emphasizing the psychological aspects rather than the supernatural spook factor (though the film suggests plenty of that, too), the audience is left to its own devices to decide just exactly what is going on while exploring every nook and cranny of the otherwise normal seeming suburban house on the screen.

Actress Essie Davis is captivating as Amelia, offering us a crescendo of raw emotion ranging from reserved abandon to downright rage, all inside the all-too-quick hour-and-a-half running time. Young actor Noah Wiseman, who plays Samuel, shows some range but mostly relies on Davis for emotional heft.

The film is so tightly edited and so devoid of Hollywood artifice in terms of jump scares and superfluous strident music chords that we’re left with frequent spooky moments of emptiness and eerie quiet, giving us a chance to keep an ear out for danger within a given scene, adding to the sense of dread which permeates the story. A truly masterful stroke by director Kent, who used minimalism to maximum effect.

 

 

A must-see for seasoned horror fans, The Babadook is a truly mesmerizing, claustrophobic tale of terror which I must highly recommend. Despite a limited release throughout the world, you owe it to yourself to find a theatre playing it to get the best viewing experience on the big screen.

A perfect antidote to its overblown American cousins, the film will make you want to keep the lights on for a few nights, or at least compel you to get a good night’s sleep going forward…

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: The Sopranos Complete Series a Real Treat for HBO Fans

Blu-Ray Cover Art for THE SOPRANOS THE COMPLETE SERIES, courtesy HBO Canada, 2014
Blu-Ray Cover Art for THE SOPRANOS THE COMPLETE SERIES, courtesy HBO Canada, 2014

 

THE SOPRANOS THE COMPLETE SERIES, produced by HBO, Total Runtime 4980 minutes (adds up to 83 hours), Starring James Gandolfini, Edie Falco, Lorraine Bracco, Dominic Chianese, Steven Van Zandt, Tony Sirico and Michael Imperioli. Rated TV-MA for mature depiction of Mob-related violence, extremely coarse language, nudity and other questionable acts. NOT for children.

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

In this age of glorious pay TV and cable-produced shows, it only stands to reason that the television series which redefined the prime-time cable serial would eventually see a deserving release in the heightened HD format.

And so, with moderate fanfare, HBO has released their flagship late 90s show, The Sopranos, in a hefty box set that could easily be used as a gangster’s blunt instrument, packed with all seasons of the hit series.

 

Michael Imperioli, James Gandolfini, Tony Sirico and Steven Van Zandt in THE SOPRANOS THE COMPLETE SERIES, courtesy HBO Canada, 2014
Michael Imperioli, James Gandolfini, Tony Sirico and Steven Van Zandt in THE SOPRANOS THE COMPLETE SERIES, courtesy HBO Canada, 2014

 

As a whole, The Sopranos managed a tour de force which was both refreshing and yet familiar: a tragicomic story about a mobster named Tony Soprano (James Gandolfini) who takes care of the family, both his own and that of his crew in the organized crime milieu he leads as part of the New Jersey division of the American mob.

When work and home stresses become an issue, he ends up consulting a therapist (Lorraine Bracco) on the down low, lest it be seen as a sign of weakness to be used against him in his role as capo. Then begins the delicate game of mental healing while not spilling the beans on his daily misdeeds.

With a crew of eccentric yet lethal twitchy henchmen by his side, including his nephew Christopher (Michael Imperioli), Tony must find a balance between his work and his dysfunctional family before he loses himself, those he holds dear and very possibly his very life.

 

Dominic Chianese and James Gandolfini in THE SOPRANOS THE COMPLETE SERIES, courtesy HBO Canada, 2014.
Dominic Chianese and James Gandolfini in THE SOPRANOS THE COMPLETE SERIES, courtesy HBO Canada, 2014.

 

Much to its credit, the show had many positives rolling in its favor: a particularly salty brand of humor; continuous power plays by the most unexpected of supporting characters; a strong lead (the late Gandolfini) and wonderful co-stars who knew how to contribute to a solid storyline, and a showrunner, David Chase, who held it all together.

Over the course of six very busy seasons, we saw the evolution of a man who began with panic attacks and a sense of dread, only to become more than the sum of his own parts through violent and dangerous trials and tribulations.

It’d be hard to really discuss the specifics of the series without spoiling too much ahead of time, but suffice it to say that the plot evolves well enough to introduce colorful characters over the years, worthwhile opponents and new henchmen at that, keeping things fresh while Tony avoids jail time, rage fits from his incredibly patient wife Carmela (the excellent Edie Falco) and countless setbacks from all sources. Ahh, the life of a mob captain…

See below, an excerpt from one of the myriad interviews interspersed over the set’s numerous discs:

 

 

The Blu-Ray box set comes with plenty of great extras and some features that leave a bit to be desired. Look for an hour-long one on one with creator David Chase being interviewed by Peter Bogdanovich in the Soprano family kitchen, easily the best feature you’ll find; there’s a round table dinner with cast members and producers, but to find yourself limited to Robert Iler, Dominic Chianese and Aida Turturro when you’re craving input from the show’s bigger leads, makes you wonder why everyone else was so busy.

The set provides excellent video quality and sound to match; the one downside, while not technical in nature, results from the show’s origins, where the production values seem below par, likely because the series was still finding its footing. That said, still a great product, a fun suggestion for binge watching and a memorable series. I highly recommend it for fans of mob films like Goodfellas, The Godfather and other such classics.

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: The Newsroom Season Two Continues to Showcase Aaron Sorkin’s Brilliance

Blu-Ray Cover Art for THE NEWSROOM THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON, courtesy HBO Canada, 2014
Blu-Ray Cover Art for THE NEWSROOM THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON, courtesy HBO Canada, 2014

 

THE NEWSROOM THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON, Rated TV-14, Starring Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer, Thomas Sadoski, John Gallagher Jr., Alison Pill, Dev Patel, Olivia Munn and Sam Waterston. Contains mature political and satirical content, coarse language and minor use of sexual references. For mature fans and Aaron Sorkin fans.

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

 

With its third and final season underway, Aaron Sorkin’s highly popular ode to the 24-hour news cycle, The Newsroom, continues its trip through recent news events, with the usual melange of interpersonal issues, ethical debates regarding world crises and some great writing and comic timing, of course.

While Season Two had more of a seasonal arc than compartmentalized stories, it still made for good TV, showcasing the importance of journalistic integrity, accuracy and honesty regarding the audience.

 

Emily Mortimer, Jeff Daniels, Thomas Sadoski, Olivia Munn, Dev Patel and John Gallagher Jr. in THE NEWSROOM THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON, courtesy HBO Canada, 2014
Emily Mortimer, Jeff Daniels, Thomas Sadoski, Olivia Munn, Dev Patel and John Gallagher Jr. in THE NEWSROOM THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON, courtesy HBO Canada, 2014

 

The bulk of the season is spent on a lead story regarding a military conflict involving American troops, in an engagement codenamed Genoa; an ambitious young producer named Jerry Dantana (Hamish Linklater) who comes in to the New York ACN office from the Washington bureau when Jim (John Gallagher Jr.) is sent out on the Mitt Romney campaign trail. It’s soon discovered that the Genoa story might not be as fascinating as it seems, until Dantana cleverly manipulates the edit of an interview with a high ranking general, so to give the impression of an admission of guilt in the illegal use of sarin gas.

This fraudulent move by the visiting staffer puts Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) and MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer) in hot water with their boss Charlie (Sam Waterston) and the network owner (Jane Fonda),  putting into question the station’s reputation and integrity, forcing an on-air retraction.

While all this is going on, not all is rosy in the halls of ACN: Will and Mack are still bickering over past dalliances and do the will-they-or-won’t-they dance around the idea of reconciling; the bizarre love triangle of Jim, Don (Thomas Sadoski) and Maggie (Alison Pill) continues, with Maggie running off overseas to an assignment which will traumatize her and cause her to make drastic changes to her appearance; sexy and smart financial analyst Sloan Sabbith (Olivia Munn) deals with a case of sexual humiliation; Neal keeps trying to push some story ideas to his superiors, to no avail.

 

Alison Pill and John Galagher Jr. in THE NEWSROOM THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON, courtesy HBO Canada, 2014
Alison Pill and John Galagher Jr. in THE NEWSROOM THE COMPLETE SECOND SEASON, courtesy HBO Canada, 2014

 

The brilliance of this show so far has been its use of the recent past to help support character stories within the context of news coverage of events we’re already familiar with. By setting the show back a matter of months to a year, Sorkin is able to create conflict within his setting while still reminding us of important world events like the U.S. Presidential Election, the Cairo uprising and other current events.

There’s not as much of the patented “walk-and-talk” seen on The West Wing, but the rapid fire witty repartee is a must and is ever present in this series of episodes, with much of the banter evolving between Daniels, Mortimer and some staffers.

Thankfully, everyone gets to shine, whether the scene appears emotionally charged or occasionally comical. Therein lies the brilliance of a Sorkin script: the perfect marriage of comedy and drama without loss of quality.

 

 

I highly recommend this show to TV viewers who enjoy great writing, flawless cast chemistry and rapid-fire dialogue which still manages to tackle the big issues. I shall miss this show after its final season airs, another Sorkin product concluded leaving fans in withdrawal until he reveals another high-end concept for mass consumption.

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: Angelina Jolie Successfully Embodies Maleficent Role in New Disney Film

Blu-Ray Cover Art for MALEFICENT, courtesy Disney Home Video, 2014
Blu-Ray Cover Art for MALEFICENT, courtesy Disney Home Video, 2014

 

MALEFICENT, Rated PG, Directed by Robert Stromberg, Starring Angelina Jolie, Elle Fanning and Sharlto Copley. Runtime 97 minutes, contains moderate battle scenes, fantastic creatures and no swearing. Relatively safe for family viewing.

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

As a seasoned Disney aficionado, I’d have been the very last person to expect a literal interpretation of the classic 1959 animated film about a bitter fairy witch who curses a beautiful young princess out of petty hatred and jealousy. Imagine my delight upon finding out that the House of Mouse not only chose a different direction, but a creatively pleasant one at that.

Angelina Jolie is perfectly cast as the aptly named titular character, a powerful sprite wronged by an ambitious young king (Sharlto Copley) whose baby blonde daughter ends up on the receiving end of Maleficent’s wicked curse, that of falling into an eternal sleep save for true love’s kiss, upon pricking her finger on a spindle on her sixteenth birthday.

The fun twist this time around occurs when young Aurora (who grows into a lovely teen, as portrayed by Elle Fanning) is so ineptly raised by her three fairy godmothers (Imelda Staunton, Lesley Manville and Juno Temple) that the Dark One has no choice but to laugh at the poor young beastie’s predicament, before watching over her every move for her own safety.

 

Angelina Jolie is MALEFICENT, courtesy Disney Home Entertainment, 2014
Angelina Jolie is MALEFICENT, courtesy Disney Home Entertainment, 2014

 

To call this film villain-centric does it a great injustice. Like all great storytellers, the scriptwriters have found ingenious ways to turn the age old tale on its head, plausibly turning Maleficent into a flawed and reluctant mother figure to young Aurora, whilst presenting King Stephan (Copley) into an obsessive symbol of human greed and pettiness. Quite a refreshing twist on the classic Disney template.

Parents fearing that their children might lose sleep over the film’s more terrifying scenes needn’t worry: the film’s fairly predictable plot can seem a bit scary at the onset, however the tale spins itself into a positive outlook, turning the once vindictive villain into a reluctant hero, so expect the kids to follow along with glee.

 

Elle Fanning and Brenton Thwaites in MALEFICENT, courtesy Disney Home Video, 2014
Elle Fanning and Brenton Thwaites in MALEFICENT, courtesy Disney Home Video, 2014

 

I reluctantly admit that the bonus features on the Blu-Ray combo pack reviewed here, was remarkably light on Jolie herself, a real disappointment. Much is made of the rich history behind the character, as well as the inevitable comparisons with the animated film which inspired it. All the same, when a film is titled after the lead character, it wouldn’t hurt to add a bit more of its star and her thoughts on the process, rather than elaborate ad nauseum about the lavish costumes.

 

 

A surprisingly pleasant early summer hit, Maleficent has turned out to be an excellent fantasy adventure film at par with Labyrinth and Legend, films designed to terrify through amazement and wonder, yet filled with enough story twists to delight even the most discerning critic, including yours truly…

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: Brett Ratner’s Hercules a Step Forward in Heroic Action

Blu-Ray Cover Art for HERCULES, courtesy Paramount Home video, 2014
Blu-Ray Cover Art for HERCULES, courtesy Paramount Home video, 2014

 

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

At the current rate Tinseltown is recycling and reinventing every concept exploited over the last few decades, imagine how refreshing to see a popular fixture re-imagined into a pretty decent action piece that focuses on action precision and cohesiveness, rather than gratuitous visual wizardry and lack of direction.

Much like Christopher Nolan did in revamping the Dark Knight after several terrible versions by previous directors, Brett Ratner offers us a Hercules for the 21st Century, a hero more man that demi-god, helping us absorb the myth behind the man, while adapting to the fact that much of it was probably boastful bullshit to begin with.

 

Rufus Sewell, Aksel Hennie, Dwayne Johnson, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal and Reece Ritchie in HERCULES, courtesy Paramount Home Video, 2014
(From Right to Left) Rufus Sewell, Aksel Hennie, Dwayne Johnson, Ingrid Bolsø Berdal and Reece Ritchie in HERCULES, courtesy Paramount Home Video, 2014

 

Hulking Hollywood star and semi-retired wrestler Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson plays Hercules, fabled Greek hero now turned mercenary muscle, who travels with his group of skilled warriors from region to region, destroying enemies in exchange for gold, hoping to eventually leave civilization behind and retire to a life of solitude and peace away from war.

When a princess comes to Herc asking for help in supporting her father Lord Cotys (John Hurt) in defeating a bloodthirsty enemy named Rhesus (Tobias Santelmann), the alleged son of Zeus travels to Thrace with his companions, knife and blade man Autolycus (Rufus Sewell), seer Amphiaraus (Ian McShane), mute ax wielder Tydeus (Aksel Hennie), lady archer Atalanta (Ingrid Bolsø Berdal) and nephew storyteller Iolaus (Reece Ritchie) in order to defend the innocent…or are they?

Add some political intrigue, treachery and some pretty impressive set designs, and you find yourself with a perfect, action-packed thrill ride for a new generation.

 

 

Dwayne Johnson as the titular hero in HERCULES, courtesy Paramount Home Video, 2014
Dwayne Johnson as the titular hero in HERCULES, courtesy Paramount Home Video, 2014

 

There have been many iterations of this legendary character over the years, from Steve Reeves to a dubbed Lou Ferrigno to a tongue-in-cheek Kevin Sorbo to an abominably bad Kellan Lutz in a previous film this year, The Legend of Hercules.

It took a considerable film budget and a proven action director to truly convey the might and sheer power of a single man turned godlike hero through tall tales, one who turns out to be a hero based on his own values rather than his Olympian parentage.

Dwayne Johnson infuses the title role with the perfect mixture of humility, guile, and righteousness to convincingly portray a mortal man with considerable strength, working a script that depicts him as a likely regular human being whose feats and reputation have helped him become a larger character than reality would allow.

Rather than turn him into an unstoppable superhero, director Brett Ratner turns down the dial and makes Hercules a warrior who can bleed, but who can still demonstrate above-average abilities, allowing the audience to watch him drop kick a cart, flip a horse one handed and punch an opponent ten yards back. Think of Captain America without the Super Soldier formula.

This fallible specimen of a man is assisted by a ragtag group of equally skilled athletes, with fellow actors who provide excellent group chemistry without feeling forced or silly.

See below, an extended scene from the film’s first major battle. It demonstrates Johnson’s prowess, a sample of the sheer strength shown in the film…with help from special effects, but to great results:

 

 

Though the story is fairly predictable in its narrative arc, I still praise the production team for creating as much of the setting using practical effects, until such a time as it becomes unfeasible, especially during the flashbacks regarding the Twelve Labors, a portion of the tale blessedly mentioned only in passing as a means to a prologue.

Any fan of ancient adventures is sure to get a kick out of this feature, a fun sword and spear action piece infused with timely humor and plenty of well choreographed battles, starring a well-worn group of willing actors not above hamming it up without overselling it.

3.75 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: Tammy Disastrously Aims for Previous McCarthy Success

Blu-Ray Cover Art for TAMMY, courtesy Warner Home Video, 2014
Blu-Ray Cover Art for TAMMY, courtesy Warner Home Video, 2014

 

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

 

Hollywood is a fickle mistress. Chase the dream that one time and you may strike it rich and get critical success. Try repeating that formula and you may very well trick the masses into buying your pabulum a second go around. But fool me thrice? Shame on you twice over.

With Tammy, comedic actress Melissa McCarthy tries as she may to capture the golden standard that was her career changing performance in Bridemaids, paired with the residual popularity of The Heat and tries to carry on with her own script and directorial effort by hubby Ben Falcone, hoping to deliver Tammy as her latest surefire hit.

Well, it made some money, but it’s a damn shameful attempt at worthwhile entertainment.

 

Susan Sarandon and Melissa McCarthy in TAMMY, courtesy Warner Home Video, 2014
Susan Sarandon and Melissa McCarthy in TAMMY, courtesy Warner Home Video, 2014

 

Tammy (McCarthy) is a boorish miser leading a miserable life in smalltown America, with a crappy job, a boring marriage and a lifetime spent complaining about failures and missed opportunities without so much as trying.

When a series of unfortunate events cause her to be late for work for the latest (and as it turns out, last) time, she finds herself jobless, coming home to her hubby having an affair, and her mom (Allison Janney) and crabby grandmother (Susan Sarandon) berating her on her life choices.

Fed up, Tammy decides to leave town on a road trip, reluctantly taking her grandma along, since she has a hefty wad of dough handy to bankroll the trip.

Deciding to head to Niagara Falls, the pair encounter misadventure, danger, sexual conquests and criminal activities as they try to survive out on their own, hopefully learning a few important life lessons in the process.

 

Mark Duplass and Melissa McCarthy in TAMMY, courtesy Warner Home Video, 2014.
Mark Duplass and Melissa McCarthy in TAMMY, courtesy Warner Home Video, 2014.

 

From the get go, the film tries way to hard to elicit laughs, going for the easy crass and the shows of ignorance in the hope we find some giggle-worthy material to keep us interested long enough to make it to the second act, where a soupçon of redemption and possibly love awaits our dour protagonist.

Then again, by the time a decent fellow (Mark Duplass) shows up to remind Tammy that there is still hope out there, the film’s already done all it could to win you over, but the overwhelming amount of bad jokes and aimless subplots have numbed the senses, quickly making you reach for the Blu-Ray box in the hope of figuring out how much running time is left.

 

 

The sad thing is, the supporting cast is so noteworthy (with co-stars like Kathy Bates, Dan Aykroyd, Gary Cole and Sandra Oh, among others) that you’d expect quality material to stick somehow, but it’s all for naught.

In the end, you’re left with a tiring, depressing, rudderless attempt at recapturing lightning in a bottle, confirming that audiences won’t so easily be duped into thinking that a clever movie trailer makes for a good film.

The Blu-Ray extras prove that McCarthy has great comic timing (especially when watching the gag reel), but sadly this quality is lacking in the material at hand, leading one to wonder if the lead star has overextended her reach to win fans over.

Personally, I’ll just go watch Bridesmaids again, a much better example of her comedic capabilities, best used in an ensemble effort.

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.