Now on Blu-Ray: Godzilla Reboot Visually Impressive but Short on Story

The latest summer offering in a half century’s worth of reinventions of the famous Toho-created monster from the deep who rises to either destroy or save us, Gareth Edwards’ 2014 Godzilla benefits from state of the art visuals but suffers from terrible one-dimensional acting and a cast with very little to do but stand around looking dazed and concerned.

Despite some impressive behind-the-scenes insights into the making of such a gigantic CGI monster with attitude, Godzilla lacks in many areas,

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

 

The premise is simple enough: an apparent accident at a Japanese power plant led by an American scientist (Bryan Cranston) costs him the life of his wife and several other co-workers when an overload allegedly turns the entire area into a radioactive wasteland. Years later, the grieving widower discovers the accident left no trace of radiation and a large creature has been gestating via nourishment from the waste under the watchful eye of a secret organization. The creature emerges and flies off towards America.

The military attempts to mobilize before the winged creature makes it to the West Coast, but not before a Japanese researcher (Ken Watanabe) shares an amazing secret: the American atomic tests in the Bikini Atoll weren’t tests at all, but attempts in the 1950s to destroy a gigantic lizard like monster they call Godzilla, an “alpha-predator” from time immemorial, who emerges from the ocean deep in times of need to help nature keep a balance. Now with not one but possibly two giant monsters at large, the titanic sea monster must arise and destroy the radioactive creatures before they mate and destroy humanity as a result.

Though this reboot is an upgrade form previous films, it’s faithful to the core material from the olden days, rather than recent attempts (and failures) at the iconic character. Seriously, go rent any of the Godzilla films you can find, except maybe the 1998 Roland Emmerich debacle. That was a terrible mess. Sorry, Roland.

 

"ACK!" The titular GODZILLA roars, courtesy Warner Brothers, 2014.
The titular GODZILLA roars, courtesy Warner Home Video, 2014.

 

This isn’t your Mom and Dad’s monster film. No more stunt guys dressed in a rubber lizard suit destroying small scale models of foreign cities. The visual effects are top notch, the CGI-based collateral damage is as impressive (and irresponsible) as that of the Superman/Zod fight in Man of Steel, and the music and editing do well in helping set the somber, apocalyptic mood.

The monster fight scenes (however few) are pretty much the only reason to see this film. Aside from some cheap casting (suffice it to say some of the marquee names and their inclusion in promo materials are largely misleading), the dialogue and actor involvement is flimsy, the premise is laughable and the plausibility — aside from the given that this is indeed a giant monster battle movie — is completely absent.

At the mere mention of two giant monsters out to destroy America, no one — civilian or military — seems to bat an eye or question some scientists’ knowledge of a giant benevolent lizard whose existence has been known to them for half a century. Is this Godzilla on payroll? Has he been briefed on Pentagon operating procedures? Also, as much as Aaron Taylor-Johnson tries to emulate the concerned military family man, his role (and that of his co-stars) quickly becomes that of a pointless spectator mesmerized by the giant animal behemoths overhead.

Too much time spent setting up the next action sequence and not enough time investing in the human characters affected by the catastrophe in progress. This is but one of many problems afflicting this nifty looking but terribly misguided debacle.

 

"Oh man, that monster's huge, I'll never be able to cook enough meth to knock it down...we better call Saul." Bryan Cranston and Aaron Taylor-Johnson in GODZILLA, courtesy Warner Brothers, 2014
Bryan Cranston and Aaron Taylor-Johnson in GODZILLA, courtesy Warner Brothers, 2014

 

Let’s be honest: no one expect Shakespeare, over here. While much effort was put into the visual effects, it’d have been nice to have a bit more structure to the story, or at least something worthwhile for the human characters to do rather than just stand around speculating, running away or worrying about people they can’t seem to locate.

The next Godzilla sequel should have the titular lizard living alone on an island, defending his food stash against the entire roster of film monsters. Now that is something I’d pay good money for. Imagine two hours of pure monster fighting, with no real need for dialogue or pesky human tertiary roles? Pure gold.

Score: 2 out of 5

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

Now on Blu-Ray: Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Season One Has Ups and Downs but Off to Good Start

Blu-Ray Cover Art for MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. SEASON ONE, courtesy Disney Home Video, 2014
Blu-Ray Cover Art for MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. SEASON ONE, courtesy Disney Home Video, 2014

 

As Marvel Films’ first TV offshoot from its popular roster of films, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn’t exactly have as much star power going for itself from week to week, but very much like any new TV series in its freshman year, it doesn’t take long before its ragtag group of actors start to meld into something worth caring about.

 

Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg, center) leads his team composed of Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen, left), Fitz and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge and Iain De Caestecker, back) and Grant Ward (Brett Dalton, right) in MARVEL'S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. SEASON ONE, courtesy Disney Home Video, 2014
Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg, center) leads his team composed of Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen, left), Fitz and Simmons (Elizabeth Henstridge and Iain De Caestecker, back) and Grant Ward (Brett Dalton, right) in MARVEL’S AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. SEASON ONE, courtesy Disney Home Video, 2014

 

Keeping up with events from the films, this Marvel equivalent of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead (i.e. the art of seeing the action in the next room during a much bigger project) takes us backstage into the everyday operations of the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division, specifically the investigative team led by Nick Fury’s trusted lieutenant, the down-to-business Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg), back from the dead after being impaled by Loki’s scepter during The Avengers a few years back.

While the show does try to explain Coulson’s survival as a recurring bit throughout the season, most of the plot focuses on the team’s assignments, chief among them the retrieval of Earth/Alien hybrid tech, dubbed “Centipede”, tech that can enhance a human’s physical abilities not unlike Captain America, albeit sans the Super Soldier serum.

They meet resistance in the form of a devious foe only known as “The Clairvoyant”, a resourceful villain who seems to always be two steps ahead of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s action team.

Along the way, Coulson and his group encounter more alien tech, some familiar Asgardian faces, cyborg assassins and, yes, a few appearances by an eyepatch-wearing director we all know and love.

 

Samuel L. Jackson in a special guest star appearance as Nick Fury on MARVEL'S AGENTS OF SHIELD, courtesy Disney Home Video, 2014
Samuel L. Jackson in a special guest star appearance as Nick Fury on MARVEL’S AGENTS OF SHIELD, courtesy Disney Home Video, 2014

 

To be brutally honest, this show does what it can, given the very limited resources it has, not to mention the restrictions of a one-hour show format (40-odd minutes plus commercials), network Standards and Practices and the inability to rely on big marquee actors from the films to simply pop up week to week.

And so, while not expecting a bi-weekly appearance by the likes of Cap, Tony Stark, Thor or the Hulk, we are instead presented with alternative stories still possible and valid within the Marvel Universe, with the introduction of the cyborg Deathlok, Glenn Talbot, Victoria Hand and an Asgardian siren, to boot.

The show deftly manages to weave itself into events leading up to and the aftermath of both Thor: The Dark World and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In other words, a series not as extensive as its film cousins, but acting as an indispensable companion piece, a bookend of sorts for the larger story arcs showing in theatres.

 

 

The team’s chemistry is well maintained, with Clark Gregg’s Coulson as their mentor. Authority and experience appear in the form of seasoned agents Melinda May (Ming-Na Wen) and Grant Ward (Brett Dalton), ingenuity and resourcefulness in the form of geek geniuses Fitz and Simmons (Iain De Caestecker and Elizabeth Henstridge) while the rebellious team rookie with a mysterious past (Chloe Bennet) is last to join the fray as a notorious hacker with an high IQ but reliant on street smarts.

In regards to the DVD/Blu-Ray bonus features, I can certainly attest to its offering as usually gifted by the Marvel folks, with some field reports (behind the scenes snippets), visual effects setups and the always beloved blooper reel; this show’s valiant effort to perform admirably in comparison to the roster of Marvel film releases.

With a second season about to hit the airwaves, there’s bound to be more familiar faces popping in and out, and a plethora of Marvel characters to explore.

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: Rediscovering the Rebooted Trekverse with the Star Trek Compendium

Blu-Ray Cover Art for STAR TREK THE COMPENDIUM, courtesy Paramount Home Video, 2014
Blu-Ray Cover Art for STAR TREK THE COMPENDIUM, courtesy Paramount Home Video, 2014

 

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

 

Space: the final frontier…or is it?

Divided fans have either hailed or clamored J.J. Abrams’ reimagining of a half-century old sci-fi staple for the last five years, debating the merits of recasting beloved actors with younger counterparts in order to take the leap where the franchise had once gone before: to the big screen.

While I myself enjoyed the 2009 introduction to the likes of Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto and company, I made no secret of my dubious apprehension towards its sequel at one time, an argument I colorfully made on the very pages of this website. I believe my main beef had something to do with the pointless rehashing of familiar tropes, especially after making such a valiant effort to justify changing a legendary timeline in favor of new stories: so why revisit old villains, especially after only one movie?

 

Benedict Cumberbatch as a familiar villain from the past in Star Trek Into Darkness, part of STAR TREK THE COMPENDIUM, courtesy Paramount Home Video, 2014
Benedict Cumberbatch as a familiar villain from the past in Star Trek Into Darkness, part of STAR TREK THE COMPENDIUM, courtesy Paramount Home Video, 2014

 

As it turns out, there is a definite benefit to having access to an enormous amount of behind-the-scenes footage, interviews, audio commentaries and repeated late night viewings on Netflix.

I originally hated Star Trek Into Darkness, but I found myself learning more and more about the character build-up and motivations while watching over two dozen mini-documentaries on the film’s production, giving me insight into Benedict Cumberbatch’s performance, as well as the overall intent of the film’s plot and its plot to help set up future films and the state of the Federation in general.

 

Zachary Quinto and Chris Pine in the 2009 reboot of Star Trek, included in STAR TREK THE COMPENDIUM, courtesy Paramount Home Video, 2014
Zachary Quinto and Chris Pine in the 2009 reboot of Star Trek, included in STAR TREK THE COMPENDIUM, courtesy Paramount Home Video, 2014

 

Though the original 2009 film did contain several bonus features in its late fall home video Blu-Ray release, the later release of Into Darkness fell remarkably short in the extras department, with nary a blooper reel nor any real insights into its more ambitious plot. This was cheerfully amended by the good folks at Paramount, who spared no expense gathering every little relevant nugget as to the pre and post production of both films.

With the inclusion of both feature-length flicks in glorious HD and an additional disc for each installment, there is finally no excuse to view this pair of films in preparation of the next few films, albeit sans Abrams, who’s taken the reins on the first of the new Star Wars sequels.

Even though I can’t viably copy all of the bonus features in this review, here’s a glimpse of the goodies you can find on the four-disc set, with my favorite of all extras, a brief snippet of the Into Darkness blooper reel:

 

 

I’ll cheerfully give my original review of the sequel an extra point, having let some time pass to get over my initial fanboy rage over plagiarist approaches to new story lines. The emotional side of me still harbors harsh feelings towards said decision, but after hearing ol’ JJ discuss his perspective on the matter over the course of several interviews, the logical, emotionless critic side of me finally accepts that despite its similarity and unwillingness to discover strange new worlds, the 2013 film still makes for a great time at the movies.

 

 

I’ll also admit that I haven’t given as much love in this review to the first film, but then again, I feel I’ve already made my appreciation of that inventive tale known over the years. Just hit up this site’s search engine and type in ‘Star Trek’ and see what I’m driving at.

Is STAR TREK THE COMPENDIUM worth watching and purchasing? I’d say absolutely. The sheer amount of additional companion data tied into both films makes this an indispensable addition to the Blu-Ray shelf in your rec room, at least until the next few films are released, inevitably leading to another compendium.

Then again, any self-respecting Trekkie probably owns all the films in various formats from VHS to DVD to Blu-Ray to Digital Copies. Let the compulsive completist side of you take over and add this great box set to the fray. It’s the human thing to do.

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: Captain America The Winter Soldier a Solid Thriller with 70s Film Era Flavor

Blu-Ray Cover Art for CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, courtesy Disney Home Video, 2014
Blu-Ray Cover Art for CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER, courtesy Disney Home Video, 2014

 

The latest in the carefully planned series of Marvel films, Anthony and Joe Russo’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier has all the feel of a Cold War era thriller, with super-heroics and great fight scenes thrown in for good measure.

Very much like the events in Thor: The Dark World last fall and Iron Man 3 before it, Winter Soldier takes place in the year following Loki’s Chitauri-assisted invasion of New York City as seen in Marvel’s The Avengers. Captain Steve Rogers (Chris Evans), aka Captain America, still works as a weapon for truth, justice and what passes for the modern American way, taking orders from Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D., alongside Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) aka Black Widow.

When signs of an internal plot to overthrow the secret organization emerge and Fury gets sidelined by a new and dangerous cybernetic opponent known as The Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), top ranking security Secretary Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) declares Fury the source of the conspiracy and declares Rogers and Romanoff fugitives and treacherous abettors. With the help of military flight specialist Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) aka Falcon, the trio tries to clear Fury’s name, stop the return of dormant organization Hydra to the forefront and save the world while at it. Just your basic superhero workday.

 

"Oh, apologies, Comrade, this is your Vibranium shield, Da?" Sebastian Stan as The Winter Soldier in CAPTAIN AMERICA THE WINTER SOLDIER, courtesy Disney/Marvel, 2014
Sebastian Stan as The Winter Soldier in CAPTAIN AMERICA THE WINTER SOLDIER, courtesy Disney/Marvel, 2014

 

The folks over at Disney and Marvel Films (since the former owns the latter) know how to draw upon decades of material, utilizing some of the more obscure characters from the Cap’s canon of villains going back to the 1940s. In order to appeal to some of the newer readers, the introduction of the Winter Soldier (whose true identity is sort of obvious to seasoned Marvel fans) is a fitting element in the continuation of the Captain America mythos. Ditto the inclusion of Sam Wilson, a Cap sidekick from the 70s whose ability to glide using mechanical wings is excellently displayed in this sequel without seeming like a needless add-on.

I won’t bother commenting on just how excellent Samuel Jackson is, returning as spymaster Nick Fury, but I will tip my hat to the writers and directors of this fine Marvel product by praising the choice casting of Robert Redford, a decision which adds gravitas to an already high profile project. His participation in 1970s conspiracy films (not to mention All the President’s Men) gives him the background and ability to help this sequel acquire the same sense of dread and threat to national security, albeit with a super soldier doing the investigating this time around.

That being said, I’m sad to realize that Johansson’s Black Widow will never likely live to see her own standalone film, having played second fiddle in both Iron Man 2 and The Avengers. Her character’s background is rich enough to warrant a thriller of her own, since she is Marvel’s closest thing to a Jason Bourne-type assassin with issues. Here she has a juicer part, but still isn’t given her own story, instead coming off as Fury’s lethal assistant more than anything else. Ditto Cobie Smulders as Maria Hill, in a similar role. Great to see them back but an otherwise arbitrary choice.

The only other downside to this latest installment is the overuse of many obscure secondary characters clearly thrown in for the sake of the hardcore fans. As much as I’m a more discerning follower of the works of Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, unlike myself Joe Average may not be as enthused with with inclusion of Batroc the Leaper, Arnim Zola (sort of) and other fringe figures from the immense character catalog.

 

"You know, Natasha, I don't think Director Fury enjoyed my one-eyed pirate reference. What do you think?" Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson in CAPTAIN AMERICA THE WINTER SOLDIER, courtesy Disney/Marvel, 2014
Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson in CAPTAIN AMERICA THE WINTER SOLDIER, courtesy Disney/Marvel, 2014

 

Look for a handful of trivial tidbits, such as Agent Sitwell mentioning Stephen Strange (aka Doctor Strange, possibly referencing an upcoming film?) as well as an inside joke featuring a popular biblical passage by another famous Sam Jackson character from a certain Tarantino film.

The highlight of this Blu-Ray set, as is the case with most of Marvel’s home video products, lies in the gag reel, a soothing balm to remind fans that it isn’t all business on set, and even actors can make mistakes on screen. Hilarious and worth checking out.

A solid, action-packed Marvel thriller with an impressive minimalist approach mostly free of CGI (except when absolutely called for), this film is both a fitting tribute to 1970s genre films as well as another obvious ‘thank you’ to the millions of Marvel fans who poured over a billion dollars into Disney’s coffers after the release of the Avengers movie. It’s always great to see familiar faces returning in popular roles; Winter Soldier is a perfect example of this.

I strongly suggest that interested parties do their homework and watch the Phase I films from the Marvel canon, if only to get a better perspective on the overall mega story arc. There’s plenty of material drawn from modern versions of the comics (including the Ultimates series) while offering nods to the classic stuff.

All in all a thoroughly entertaining film, hopefully the first in a busy summer with equally grandiose titles lined up. Good job, Marvel!

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.

Book Review: Plague by C.C. Humphreys an Infectious Period Read

Cover Art for PLAGUE by C. C. Humphreys, courtesy Random House, 2014
Cover Art for PLAGUE by C. C. Humphreys, courtesy Random House, 2014

 

Book Review by Naomi Szeben, Contributor and Book Critic

 

If you enjoyed reading Cue For Treason and are looking for another mystery set in the world of English Theatre, then this might be one of your next selections. C.C. Humphreys’ latest tale is set in Restoration England and involves a menagerie of characters including a highwayman, a thief-taker (a sort of freelance lawman of that era), two actresses, a maniacally religious stalker and two noblemen.

 

One of the noblemen is having an affair with actress Lucy Absolute, leaving her pregnant. Her nearest relation and guardian, Captain Coke, makes a living robbing coaches on the highway but makes a point of not killing his victims.   He suffers from what by today’s terms would be Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, having served bloodily in the King’s Army.

 

Meanwhile, Lucy’s friend, Sarah, has a religious zealot following her every performance. She makes her unease known to her over-protective husband, who sets out with the intention to dissuade the gentleman from the delusion that Sarah is secretly in love with him.

 

Destitute thief-taker Pitman needs to capture a criminal in order to make enough money to pay rent and feed his starving family of five. He comes across a coach where Captain Coke has recently left his pistol – but strangely, left jewels on what remains of the throat of a wealthy lady. A passage in bible verse is scrawled in blood on the coach.

 

During all this, the threat of the bubonic plague looms over London and also infects the city with panic. As death claims the poor and the wealthy alike, the city becomes more frantic in its behavior; religion becomes more zealous in nature, ranters become more frantic in their determination to dance and fornicate until the end of days.

 

Does Pitman think the pacifist Coke capable of murder? What plans do the religious extremists have in store for Sarah? What is the secret one nobleman carries with him under the guise of religious austerity?

Author C.C. Humphreys, courtesy of cchumpreys.com
Author C.C. Humphreys, courtesy of cchumpreys.com

 

If you’re a reader into the historical mystery genre but who requires a measure of accuracy, this may not be the ideal choice, but there is consistency enough in language and geography to maintain the narrative illusion. The four concurrent story lines do come together but the big reveal is hinted at early enough that there is no real surprise by the end of the book.

Still, it’s an entertaining enough read, and aside from a jailbreak scene, it doesn’t include too gory descriptions of the bubonic plague. A decent short read for fans of the author’s earlier works, which include the Runestone Saga, the Jack Absolute series and the French Executioner books.

3 out of 5

Naomi Szeben is Pop Culture Landscape’s leading authority in all things hardcover and paperback, and is plagued by a voracious appetite for novels on a daily basis.

Now on Blu-Ray: Ivan Reitman’s Draft Day one of the Most Gripping Football Films Without Any Football

Blu-Ray Cover Art for DRAFT DAY, Courtesy Summit Entertainment, 2014
Blu-Ray Cover Art for DRAFT DAY, Courtesy Summit Entertainment, 2014

 

Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Film Critic

When it comes to sports films, especially football, everyone’s got their favorite: The Program, North Dallas Forty, The Longest Yard (with or sans Adam Sandler and Burt Reynolds), Any Given Sunday… the list goes on.

So what happens when a revered Hollywood director known for his 80s comedies decides to make a football movie with…..how shall I put this…little to no football in it?

The resulting film is Draft Day, an unassuming little piece about the business side of the NFL, when team managers are given very little time before the Draft to make back room deals, giving them an edge in the coming season.

Denis Leary and Kevin Costner in DRAFT DAY, Courtesy Summit Entertainment, 2014
Denis Leary and Kevin Costner in DRAFT DAY, Courtesy Summit Entertainment, 2014

 

Kevin Costner plays Sonny Weaver Jr., the son of a famous Cleveland Browns coach who acts as the current Team General Manager, as the Browns head into Draft Day, hoping to select top players to recover from a terrible season the year prior.

When the possibility of grabbing the number one pick rears its head, albeit at the expense of several first round picks for years to come in exchange, Sonny must figure a way to maximize the outcome of each carefully planned decision which follows as the clock runs out, leading up to the golden hour when the NFL commissioner starts naming teams and their picks for the season.

With a belligerent head coach (Denis Leary) nipping at his heel, a business manager/lover (Jennifer Garner) at his side and family members looking to put recently deceased Dad to rest according to his last wishes, can Sonny, much less the Cleveland Browns, come out ahead before the night is through?

 

Kevin Costner and Jennifer Garner in DRAFT DAY, Courtesy Summit Entertainment, 2014
Kevin Costner and Jennifer Garner in DRAFT DAY, Courtesy Summit Entertainment, 2014

 

The magic of this warm film truly lies in its intricate series of moves and counter-moves, each of them tense and uncertain as the lead character, an unseasoned manager, tries his best to come out on top and save his own hide, when not busy dealing with difficult family members or an opinionated, entitled team owner (Frank Langella).

The film prefers to focus on the chemistry of a winning team rather than the hype of a heated debate over who the best picks are during the much contested draft.

Costner doesn’t have much to work with past some snappy dialogue and witty repartee with his character’s staff, so it’s up to Ivan Reitman’s editors, Dana E. Glauberman and Sheldon Kahn, to liven up the proceedings with some carefully planned cuts, turning otherwise bland business deals into life-or-death decisions (career-wise) for the people on screen.

 

 

So, is Draft Day a great football film? Well, yes and no. Never before have you had the chance to explore the inner workings of the sport as a serious business, without ever seeing a single play on the field. Think of this movie as a distant cousin to another popular title, Cameron Crowe’s Jerry Maguire.

The film isn’t necessarily dramatic nor comedic, an nice change for Ivan Reitman, the brilliant filmmaker behind your favorite films like the Ghostbusters franchise, Dave, Twins, Three Men and a Baby, Stripes, Meatballs and several others.

To be frank, I didn’t expect this sort of film from Reitman, nor did I expect the final result to work the way it would. In the end, it turned out to be an enjoyable glimpse at a rarely seen side of a product everyday people so often take for granted.

A harmless sports film with some witty moments, Draft Day is bound to make you appreciate the NFL, even though you’d thought you didn’t care about the sport to begin with. Hell, you may even start to care how you spend your Sundays during  football season.

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: Once Upon a Time Season Three Flips Once Heroic Disney Characters

Blu-Ray Cover Art for ONCE UPON A TIME SEASON THREE, courtesy Disney, 2014
Blu-Ray Cover Art for ONCE UPON A TIME SEASON THREE, courtesy Disney, 2014

 

Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and TV Critic

Whenever each new season of this hit Disney/ABC hits the airwaves, I’m always fascinated by how the writing team that once invited us to join a band of survivors following a plane crash on a mysterious island for six seasons, can fill a small Maine town with so many real-life fairy tale characters yet still manage to pull a few tricks up their sleeves.

With a decent and fairly solid third season under its belt, Once Upon a Time took some beloved characters and turned them around for the sake of entertaining storytelling.

 

Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) confronts Peter Pan (Robbie Kay) in ONCE UPON A TIME SEASON THREE, courtesy Disney, 2014
Emma Swan (Jennifer Morrison) confronts Peter Pan (Robbie Kay) in ONCE UPON A TIME SEASON THREE, courtesy Disney, 2014

 

After defeating Queen Regina’s mother’s dastardly plans in Season Two, the town of Storybrooke found itself one resident short when young Henry (Jared Gilmore), Emma Swan’s (Jennifer Morrison) son, gets kidnapped by mysterious visitors who take him through a vortex in a lake, bringing him to their leader, Peter Pan (Robbie Kay), in Neverland.

Refusing to allow this, Emma heads off with the help of Captain Hook (Colin O’Donoghue), Snow White (Ginnifer Goodwin), Prince Charming (Josh Dallas), Regina (Lana Parilla) and Rumplestilskin (Robert Carlyle) to retrieve the boy and stop Pan from pulling off whatever evil plan he has in wait.

Later on in the season, a way is found to reverse events from the first two years of the show, resulting in all the fairy tale characters returning to their homelands while Emma and Henry find themselves back in New York City, with no memory of their family or their time spent in Storybrooke. They make their way back, of course (otherwise there’d be no show, right?), and face a new threat with the arrival of the Emerald-skinned Wicked Witch of the West (Rebecca Mader), who holds a grudge against fellow magic user Regina.

With several new friends joining in on the fight, like Ariel the Mermaid (JoAnna Garcia Swisher), Tinker Bell (Rose McIver) and Robin Hood (Sean Maguire), our valiant heroes will need to rethink their priorities, focus on what’s most dear to them and decide how much they are willing to sacrifice, so to keep their families intact and survive to fight another day.

 

Rebecca Mader is Zelena, The Wicked Witch of the West, in ONCE UPON A TIME SEASON THREE, courtesy Disney, 2014
Rebecca Mader is Zelena, The Wicked Witch of the West, in ONCE UPON A TIME SEASON THREE, courtesy Disney, 2014

 

Very much like its similarly written TV cousin Lost, Once Upon a Times success stems from its ability to aptly juggle multiple story lines while utilizing over two dozen characters at any given time. By delving into this rich melange of potential interaction, the possibilities are endless and new plot arcs can emerge instantly.

While I question the need to pilfer new Disney properties for the sake of ratings (Season Four will apparently focus on Anna and Elsa, from the company’s latest hit Frozen), I’m hopeful that they can find ways not to jump the shark while trying to appeal to new and younger audience members.

I must still give the most credit to Robert Carlyle, whose portrayal of Rumplestiltskin is still the most elaborate and richest rounded person on the show. Other major characters still distinguish themselves admirably, but Carlyle’s ambiguous anti-hero draws your attention whenever he enters the room. His character’s absence mid-season was quite noticeable, though it did give the rest of the cast a chance to prove themselves.

Below, a glimpse at the season:

 

If you really dig this show, may I suggest you go to your nearest bookstore and seek out a great series by author Bill Willingham called Fables, a similar tale about real-life fairy tale characters living in the big city incognito as they manage their little community in Midtown? One could argue that this series copied from this concept, but at this point I’m willing to concede that the show writers have made enough of an effort to prove that they are two equally worthwhile projects. I suggest you try them both.

3.5 out of 5

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

 

Now on Blu-Ray: The Walking Dead Season Four Brings Confrontation to Boiling Point

Cover Art for THE WALKING DEAD SEASON FOUR, courtesy Anchor Bay Entertainment, 2014
Cover Art for THE WALKING DEAD SEASON FOUR, courtesy Anchor Bay Entertainment, 2014

 

Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and TV Critic

So many questions raised and few answers offered at the start of this fourth installment of AMC’s show based on the hit graphic novel series by Robert Kirkman, but none so important to me as this one:

If this is a zombie apocalypse, who’s been mowing all the lawns? No matter what small town is raided for food scraps each week, none of them appear to be overgrown due to neglect.

 

A teen dead from recent illness has turned and is feasting on his cell bunkmate in an early episode of THE WALKING DEAD SEASON FOUR, courtesy Anchor Bay Etnertainment, 2014
A teen dead from recent illness has turned and is feasting on his cell bunk mate in an early episode of THE WALKING DEAD SEASON FOUR, courtesy Anchor Bay Entertainment, 2014

 

All kidding aside, though, the pace and intensity of this series keeps building season after season, with survivors around heroic former cop Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) dwindling by the episode.

With the mysterious plague continuing to turn the recently dead into flesh hungry “walkers”, this fourth season shows Rick and his group safely tucked away within an empty fortified penitentiary, trying to adopt a “normal” way of life after their violent encounter with the scheming, sadistic Governor (David Morrissey) in the nearby town of Woodbury.

Able to perform quick supply raids in nearby town, the gang gathers the foods they can’t grow in their fenced-in makeshift gardens while the number of walkers start to pile up near the chain link walls of the outer perimeter.

Trouble stirs when illness befalls some of the prison inhabitants, possibly meaning a new threat from within, should any of them perish in their sleep.

 

Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs) seek out their missing friends in THE WALKING DEAD SEASON FOUR, courtesy Anchor Bay Entertainment, 2014
Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln), Michonne (Danai Gurira) and Carl Grimes (Chandler Riggs) seek out their missing friends in THE WALKING DEAD SEASON FOUR, courtesy Anchor Bay Entertainment, 2014

 

Meanwhile, the disgraced Governor mounts a new offensive to secure the prison for himself and his own group, forcing Rick’s growing gang out to find a new home, or at least momentary salvation.

Things get interesting when new characters join the fray, especially Sgt. Abraham Ford (Michael Cudlitz), a valiant but heartbroken military man who’s escorting a socially awkward genius named Eugene (Josh McDermitt) who may or may not know what caused the zombie outbreak.

With the help of a young woman named Rosita (Christian Serratos), the trio are headed to Washington to help find a cure when they run into some of our favorite show regulars.

 

The Governor (David Morrissey) and his lieutenants plot to overtake the prison stronghold in THE WALKING DEAD SEASON FOUR
The Governor (David Morrissey) and his lieutenants plot to overtake the prison stronghold in THE WALKING DEAD SEASON FOUR

 

You’d think that this series would have been stricken with its own plague by now, that of a redundant plot device involving a weekly rote ritual of walking, finding, killing and disposing of the slow but populous undead, repetitively dispatched by our reluctant heroes.

While some of this does occur, it doesn’t drive the story in the least, instead giving preference to deep character development, many of them between unlikely allies.

After the major mid-season dénouement following the latest attack on the prison shelter, the entire group is broken down in smaller bunches, with Carl (Chandler Riggs) and Michonne (Danai Gurira) joining Rick, Glenn (Steven Yeun) being separated from his love Maggie (Lauren Cohan), Daryl (Norman Reedus) left to protect young Beth (Emily Kinney), and former exiled group member Carol (Melissa McBride) returning to the fray once she learns of the prison’s fate.

The show’s success lies in this chemistry between actors as well as the clever and inventive new ways the showrunners create complex but solvable problems stemming from the Post-America zombie apocalypse.

Below, a glimpse into Season Four:

 

 

It’s my sincere hope that this show will keep getting stronger with each coming year on the air. While the premise offers absolutely no job security for its cast members (many have left the show, having been killed off or turned, plot-wise), it’s still one of the richest character-based thrillers on prime time television.

With Kirkman’s graphic novel series continuing strong, there should be no shortage of new story arcs to draw from, as we continue to root for our faves each week, hoping they make it to relative safety until the next episode.

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 in Theatres and VOD: Oh, My…To Be Takei Looks Back at Life of Star Trek Icon

Theatrical Poster for TO BE TAKEI, courtesy Dodgeville Films, 2014
Theatrical Poster for TO BE TAKEI, courtesy Dodgeville Films, 2014

 

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

With the iconic pop culture phenomenon that is Star Trek about to celebrate its 50th anniversary come 2016, we’ll have thought we’d have seen everything there is to see about the public and private lives of its cast members, whether revealing or shocking, depending on who you ask.

Then again, while William Shatner is known for his shameless business sense while Leonard Nimoy prefers to discuss his excellent passion photography, little is said about the remaining crew members of the Starship Enterprise.

Now comes Hikaru Sulu himself, George Takei, former helmsman of the Starfleet flagship, offering a glimpse into his long career, from his difficult childhood stemming from wartime internment to his later decision to come out of the closet, so to share his love for his longtime partner, Brad Altman (now Brad Takei.)

George and Brad Takei take in a tractor parade in the Midwest in TO BE TAKEI, courtesy Dodgeville Films, 2014
George and Brad Takei take in a tractor parade in the Midwest in TO BE TAKEI, courtesy Dodgeville Films, 2014

 

Yes, it’s true that most pop culture fans know him best for his Trek work, as well as his resurgence in the media via his infectious “Oh, My” catchphrase, along with various cameos on shows like The Big Bang Theory. This film takes a slightly different route, serving as a magnifying glass into the less public version of Takei.

Thankfully, director Jennifer M. Kroot’s camera is unapologetic in its access (a condition for this docu to be made), allowing us to see the good and not so good moments in the Takei household, including the occasional tiff or argument about the little things.

More importantly, it allows viewers to get a better picture of a life lived under criticism, racism and ostracism, and an adult lifetime spent in the public eye as Takei uses his status to promote important social causes, from gay rights to the recognition of the treatment Japanese Americans suffered at the hands of fellow citizens, following Pearl Harbor.

 

George Takei in "The Naked Time" from STAR TREK, courtesy Paramount Pictures, 2014
George Takei in “The Naked Time” from STAR TREK, courtesy Paramount Pictures, 2014

 

For those wary of being bombarded with a heavy biographic format while seeing this insightful and informative docu, fear not; Kroot ensures that the narrative jumps back and forth between Takei’s milestone moments and some lighter interludes, including brief interviews with his fellow surviving Trek mates. Yes, this includes Bill Shatner, who seems unsure of what he should say, awkwardly playing down his relationship with his former TV helmsman.

 

 

A late highlight of the film is seeing the continuing struggle in Takei’s fight to get his semi-biographical musical Allegiance to the Great White Way. With the show having met great success in smaller venues, you’d think it would finally get its chance on or off-Broadway. Here’s hoping he and his cast gets their chance.

Whether you watch this movie as a Trekkie or simply as an admirer of a great actor who overcame adversity to serve as a role model for countless others, you’ll find it a treat. Try not to poke too much fun of Brad’s idiosyncratic tendencies to worry for the both of them. You can tell these two have been in love for decades.

No matter where you stand, either on the issue of gay marriage or on who the better Ship’s Captain is, this film will definitely show you it’s okay To Be Takei.

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.

A Day at Fan Expo 2014 Toronto Filled with Real Thrills and Disappointments Alike

Meet the Invincible Ironpool! All photos courtesy Dom Messier, 2014
Meet the Invincible Ironpool! All photos courtesy Dom Messier, 2014

 

Fan Expo Coverage by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and All Around Pop Culture Critic

 

T’was another great and busy year for Ontario fans as the increasingly popular Fan Expo opened its doors for another fun-filled 4-day run during the extended Labor Day weekend with more collectibles, merchandise and cosplayers than you can swing your mighty Mjolnir hammer at.

There were plenty of celebrity panels to be had, appearances by the likes of lead stars from various TV shows and upcoming movies and two full floors overrun by fans who had traveled from as far as Quebec City to Calgary (and a few Upstate New Yorkers in between) to meet their favorite stars and share in their love of their personal pop culture obsessions.

So, despite this, why is it that you can still overhear grumblings on the show floor, year after year? Curious to get a sample of the Expo’s vox populi, I decided to ask around to hear about the fans’ biggest disappointments.

One particular American visitor, who asked that I only refer to him as Kyle S., was in town with his wife and two young daughters. All of them enthusiastic Whovians, they’d traveled to the Great White North to meet Matt Smith, Karen Gillan and Arthur Darvill, lead stars of the last few years’ run on the hit BBC show.

“I mean, it’s great that they could manage the trip up here, well, almost all of them,” (Karen Gillan was a last minute cancellation at the show) “but it’s terrifying how steep the prices for photo ops and autographs are now, compared to years back, when money wasn’t as big a factor in convincing stars to meet with their fans.”

Having pointed out to me just how costly and how strict the signing and picture-taking was with their idols, Kyle and his wife (who refused to give her first name during this brief chat), who had hoped for a bit more time meeting the former Doctor, finally revealed the final tally for a brief but worthwhile moment with Smith, pic, authograph and all.

“Let’s just say it’s in the hundreds,” said the tired Vermonter, who also quipped about the drive back towards the Green State. I’m guessing most of their budget went towards the Expo, so flying a family of four through Pearson was out of the picture.

A pair of Assassin's Creed aficionados at Sunday's Expo
A pair of Assassin’s Creed aficionados at Sunday’s Expo

 

So were most fans happy to get the chance to meet, or at least glimpse at their favorite stars? Ironically, the general consensus around the celebrity signing area was that the whole process was, for lack of a better word, pushy and greedy.

Jeff, a first-time attendee whose love of Star Trek was evident by his choice of a clever tee-shirt centered around Bones McCoy’s “I’m a Doctor” pun, was quick to vent off his frustration regarding the whole process of trying to meet someone famous, a once harmless endeavor.

“These guys make so much money on TV shows that are still on, or are making residual cash from re-runs, and that’s because of us. Why are we being asked to pay so much for so little?” (Fans were often given strict guidelines and time restrictions about interacting with said guests.)

In the end, however, the high cost of meeting famous folk didn’t deter a sizable group of fans from separating their dollars from their wallets, all in order to meet a former Time Lord in real life, one who gave them brief seconds of his time but didn’t seem to want to bother removing his sunglasses for the timeless occasion. Jet lagged? Who knows. But thousands of Expo bucks in profits will cure that right up.

 

An impressive Hellgirl during Sunday's final Expo day.
An impressive Hellgirl during Sunday’s final Expo day.

 

While the aforementioned mood was very apprehensive in the autograph section of the North Building, the atmosphere was considerably more cheerful in the South Building,  a zone mostly populated with vendors, graphic novel artists, comic book sellers and independent artisans in town to peddle their various wares.

Whereas the high-strung lineup for celebrity signatures was a tense affair, the general feel around the Space TV booth was a much different creature. With approachable hosts like Teddy Wilson, Ajay Fry and Morgan Hoffman being very happy to meet with their fans (at no cost, from what I could discern), the InnerSPACE team also allowed fans to get up close and personal with cast members from various shows airing on the network, with the stars of Bitten dropping by on this particular afternoon, the last of the weekend.

Elsewhere, fans were able to see a full-size replica of the new Batmobile as featured in the upcoming Batman game Arkham Knight or were able to try out the various games offered by Ubisoft Canada in a booth area which came complete with a full-size mockup guillotine, inspired by the series of Assassin’s Creed games.

The crowd was mostly broken down into three distinct groups composed of every day fans (myself included), serious collectors and fully engaging cosplayers, the latter group having spent countless hours on their costumes, armor and makeup, whichever the case might have been. Impressive results, to say the least. Find a sample of them in the gallery at the end of this article.

Yours truly, with popular author, Vampire Slayer (the sparkly ones) and Frequent Twitterer Blake Northcott! See her published titles in the Amazon links at the bottom of this article!
Yours truly with popular author, Vampire Slayer (the sparkly ones) and Frequent Twitterer Blake Northcott! See her published titles in the Amazon links at the bottom of this article!

 

Traffic flowed more smoothly in the lower section, but this didn’t deter the countless volunteers from doing their job, that of preventing attendees from taking unpaid camera shots of luminaries like Stan Lee.

All in all, the mood of this year’s Expo was positive for the most part, with the best interaction occurring between perfect strangers, people from various walks of life but similar interests in Batman, Captain Picard, Starcraft or even Anchor Bay’s Wolfcop  (one of the more unusual but fascinating properties being promoted during the weekend).

In the end, there’s very little fans can do about the cost of meeting their favorite actors. “People gotta earn,” said one exhausted Twin Peaks fan as he slowly made his way back to the nearest public transit.

Has Fan Expo become too cost-prohibitive? Perhaps. Then again, no one is forcing potential buyers into their dream of owning a small moment of quasi-intimacy with their lifelong idols. I suppose the moral of this tale has to be “Caveat Emptor”, or “Buyer Beware.”

At the end of the long weekend, Fan Expo 2014 will have succeeded in its primary mission: providing a venue where people of all sorts can gather and share in their love and interest of all things geeky and cool.

Well, mission accomplished.

Were you at this year’s Fan Expo? Below is a gallery of the various cosplayers, authors and artists in town for the occasion. See yourself here? Share this article on Facebook, Twitter and other social media!

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.