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.

Graphic Novel Review: Michael Cho’s Shoplifter High on Thrills but Short on Plot

Cover Art for Michael Cho's SHOPLIFTER, courtesy Pantheon/Random House, 2014
Cover Art for Michael Cho’s SHOPLIFTER, courtesy Pantheon/Random House, 2014

 

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

 

Michael Cho’s first graphic novel, “Shoplifter” is a slim volume, one that is economical in its use of colour and lines. It’s no steal (ha!) at $23.95, but it is an entertaining read for its look into a young writer’s frustrated life.

Living in the big city on her own after graduating, Cho’s main heroine, Corrina, faces the tough questions anyone’s ever had in making the choice between making a living or living a dream.

Frustrated by the limitations of her career in advertising as well as the limitations of her social life, Corrina finds satisfaction in shoplifting. “It makes me feel alive,” she claims. Petty theft as a substitute for what passes for an adrenaline rush is the only high in this short novel.

The plot is a bit thin, and the motif of bored twentysomethings’ adult onset angst has already been seen (and frankly, better executed) in Douglas Coupland’s Generation X or JPod.

Cho’s talent lies in the execution of the illustrations. The spare palate still provides a range of expression and subtlety that is rarely found in full colour pages. Its minimalism gives voice where the dialogue seems stilted. This book is good look at what it means to be a young, contemporary Asian woman without making it necessarily about race. It’s a pity that Corrina’s dialogue and interactions are limited; she would be an interesting character to follow, should she be fleshed out a bit further.

2.5 out of 5

Naomi Szeben is the also known as the Book Guru here at Pop Culture Landscape. Her continuing goal to read all of the books she can ever get her hands on continues, while our site benefits from such an endeavour. See other reviews by Naomi under the Book Reviews header.

Great Summer Reading: The Girl With All the Gifts Resurrects the Zombie Novel

Book Cover Art for THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS, courtesy Orbit Books, 2014
Book Cover Art for THE GIRL WITH ALL THE GIFTS, courtesy Orbit Books, 2014

 

Book Review by Naomi Szeben, Contributor and Book Critic

 

M.R. Carey (aka Mike Carey), writer for DC and Marvel comics, is no stranger to writing about apocalyptic backdrops and heroes with mythological characteristics.   Carey is known as the head writer for Lucifer, the excellent graphic novel series spawned as an offshoot of Neil Gaiman’s take on The Endless.

If you enjoy Greco-Roman classical myths and Gaiman’s modern bent on how eternal god-like creatures dominate contemporary life, you’ll likely enjoy a similar interpretation of an apocalyptic version of the timeless Pandora tale.

Carey’s subtlety is appreciated and well used in The Girl With All The Gifts. The legend of Pandora described a gifted girl who opens a box that leaches out trouble with one lone hope at the bottom. Carey’s version depicts England, and possibly the rest of the world, one mostly cut off from communication and burned from bombings in several unsuccessful attempts to eradicate an infestation of zombie-making fungi. The lone shining hope at the bottom of this box, so to speak, lies in a few scientific outposts surrounded by an evil outpouring of zombies and marauding humans who survived only to kill and raid other outposts.

Unlike the stereotypical zombie summer read, The Girl With All The Gifts brings up some interesting and three dimensional characters in a wasteland setting. In a military-run science research base, five characters bring humanity in to high relief. The Pandora-like heroine, a zombie girl named Melanie, is able to reason, talk, and walk like a normal human girl though she is aware of her appetite for human flesh.

Surviving a scavenging raid, Melanie, the aforementioned zombie child with a genius IQ, Miss Justineau, a child psychologist who was employed by the military to teach the “Hungries” under the guise of feeding data on brain activity to Dr. Caldwell (a Mengele-like scientist whose single-mindedness in cutting up children indicates either sadism, or aggressive ambition in finding a cure, or both) escape in a vehicle retrieved by hard-wired soldier Sergeant Parks and the green, recently recruited Private Gallagher who has never known a world prior to event they came to call “The Breakdown.”

Author M.R. Carey, photo courtesy MikeandPeter.com, 2014
Author M.R. Carey, photo courtesy MikeandPeter.com, 2014

 

Pandora’s box in this tale functions as an allegory for a world that is filled with all the world’s ills, with one lone hope that will either save everyone or destroy them. The same metaphor applies to the group itself. Will the trigger-happy Sergeant kill Melanie before Justineau can intervene? Or will Dr. Caldwell’s quiet determination help her find a way to dissect the creature she refers only to as “Test Subject Number One?” The threat of being infected by a fungus called Ophiocordyceps, or being infected from a Hungry infected with the strain, looms over all.

Carey injects that glimmer of hope in this bleak landscape in the form of discovering small pleasures such as a cache of food, or escaping death in confined spaces, making this seem like an especially bleak science-fiction/horror genre piece.

A great read for people in The Walking Dead withdrawal as they wait for the next season to premiere, or an alternative for those who want a new spin on the zombie genre.

4.5 out of 5

Naomi Szeben is the Lead Book Critic for PopCultureLandscape.com, and is also a voracious reader known for her zombie-like appetite for new books. See other book reviews by Naomi throughout the site, under Book Review.

Now on Blu-Ray: Boardwalk Empire Season Four Ups the Gangster Ante

Blu-Ray Cover Art for BOARDWALK EMPIRE SEASON FOUR, courtesy HBO, 2014
Blu-Ray Cover Art for BOARDWALK EMPIRE SEASON FOUR, courtesy HBO, 2014

 

Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and TV Critic

With four seasons in and another to go, we’ve quickly learned from HBO that crime does indeed pay…or at least it did in the Prohibition days, if we don’t count Tony Soprano and his gang on the same turf 80 years on.

With time jumps ahead and lesser and lesser players remaining on the chessboard, things get dicey and bloody in Atlantic City as the ever resourceful Nucky Thompson (Steve Buscemi) seeks new sources of revenue for his criminal empire.

Steve Buscemi (right) and Patricia Arquette in BOARDWALK EMPIRE SEASON FOUR, courtesy HBO, 2014
Steve Buscemi (right) and Patricia Arquette in BOARDWALK EMPIRE SEASON FOUR, courtesy HBO, 2014

 

Having nearly exhausted his alcohol import options after his confrontation with the now-late Gyp Rosetti last season, Nucky seeks a new deal by heading South and getting some booze from a Miami source. There he meets Sally Wheat (Patricia Arquette), a no-nonsense, tough as nails bar owner with an attitude and intellect that rivals Nucky’s. She is quick to give him the lay of the land (amongst other things), brokering meetings with local suppliers, shady as they may be.

Nuck’s brother Eli (Shea Whigham) finds himself under pressure to deliver proof against familial goings-on when an ambitious young assistant to J. Edgar Hoover plans to blackmail him by threatening his son. If that weren’t enough, Eli has to help his brother contend with a new player in town, that of Dr. Valentin Narcisse (Jeffrey Wright), a highly cultured and educated Harlem crime lord and promoter of minority rights, that is, when he’s not busy growing his heroin trade under Nucky’s nose. This doesn’t sit well with Chalky White (Michael K. Williams), who’s rebuilt on top of the ruins of the old Babette’s to operate the lavish Club Onyx with Nucky as his silent partner.

Jeffrey Wright as Valentin Narcisse in BOARDWALK EMPIRE SEASON FOUR, courtesy HBO, 2014
Jeffrey Wright as Valentin Narcisse in BOARDWALK EMPIRE SEASON FOUR, courtesy HBO, 2014

 

Meanwhile over in Chicago, Al Capone (Stephen Graham) manages to grab onto more and more power under his aging boss Johnny Torrio (Greg Antonacci), soon posing a threat to other local elements. He even successfully recruits a reluctant Nelson Van Alden (Michael Shannon), still on the run from authorities and still living his life as “”George Mueller”, his shaky alias.

Capone’s rise to power leads Lucky Luciano (Vincent Piazza) and Meyer Lansky (Anatol Yusef) to seek out their own business leads while keeping minor dealings with a down-on-his-luck Arnold Rothstein (Michael Stuhlbarg).

Plenty of backstabbing, tons of back room deals, and more bloodshed than you care to admit to enjoy, this latest season of the hit HBO show is obviously setting itself up for what promises to be an explosive final year, this fall.

All these characters a bit too much to absorb all at once? Check out the clip below for a quick trip around the block, introducing the latest batch of additions to the show…

 

 

It’s easy to dismiss this series as overly creative with its distortion of infamous historical facts. Then again, you must always leave room for dramatic license and narrative purposes. After all, the central character of this show, Buscemi’s Nucky Thompson, isn’t even a real person, being an amalgamation of character traits based on real-life New Jersey gangster and politician Enoch Johnson.

The advantage here is that HBO hires the best writers and producers to make it work as a captivating piece of drama, one with well rounded characters and a gripping true crime element built in. Add this to the already impressive sets, lavish period clothes and catchy tunes of the era, and you can rarely go wrong.

Show creator Terrence Winter shows that he knows when to trim the fat, and has relegated some of the past seasons’ lesser figures to the back burner. This has resulted in barely present appearances by Kelly McDonald as ex-Mrs. Thompson Margaret Schroder, and the phasing out of Arnold Rothstein, while younger faces like Capone, Lansky and Luciano take the reins.

Stephen Graham is Al Capone in BOARDWALK EMPIRE SEASON FOUR, courtesy HBO, 2014
Stephen Graham is Al Capone in BOARDWALK EMPIRE SEASON FOUR, courtesy HBO, 2014

 

So what’s in store for the fifth and final season? An empire’s downfall, no doubt. I mean, when you think about it, none of the Prohibition Era’s notorious gangsters went on to lead productive lives into retirement.

I give much credit to Steve Buscemi for finding new ways to explore what could have been a worn-out role two seasons in. I also tip my hat to Jack Huston from bringing humanity to the damaged Richard Harrow. Both actors are worthy of awards, but are sadly underrated by the Emmy voters.

Season Five of Boardwalk Empire premieres September 7th 2014 on HBO.

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: Under the Skin a Keen Outsider’s Look at Human Condition

Blu-Ray Cover Art for UNDER THE SKIN, courtesy Mongrel Media, 2014
Blu-Ray Cover Art for UNDER THE SKIN, courtesy Mongrel Media, 2014

 

Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Film Critic

Too few movies are ever produced with the unpopular topic of the human condition in mind, much less one from the point of view of a non-human.

Granted, such an attempt was made with moderate success with David Bowie’s The Man Who Fell to Earth, a late 1970s arthouse film about an alien who comes to Earth in search of our precious water resources for his dying home planet.

In Jonathan Glazer’s recent outing Under the Skin, starring a very muted Scarlett Johansson, we discover that the mission itself becomes secondary when the discovery of humanity’s quirks and perks trigger unrealized yearnings in an alien visitor.

Scarlett Johansson in UNDER THE SKIN, courtesy Mongrel Media, 2014
Scarlett Johansson in UNDER THE SKIN, courtesy Mongrel Media, 2014

 

Johansson plays an unnamed girl who comes to Earth and adopts a seductive female guise in modern-day Scotland in order to attract human males, seemingly seeking the absorption of their body content, drawn to her makeshift home where they slowly sink into a featureless black lake of black goo, never to be seen again.

A quest for industrial-scale digested human fat? Genetic ingredients for the re-population of her race? A vampiric consumption of bio-waste? This is never explained, adding to the mystique of the visitor’s quest.

Aided by a mysterious high-speed biker (one assumes he is one of her kin arrived here as her wingman), she meets and ensnares more and more of these men and starts to discover the goodness in some of them, causing her to question her mission altogether.

Another poor Scotsman falls for Scarlett Johansson's charms (literally) in UNDER THE SKIN, courtesy Mongrel Media, 2014
Another poor Scotsman falls for Scarlett Johansson’s charms (literally) in UNDER THE SKIN, courtesy Mongrel Media, 2014

 

The film redefines the sci-fi indie genre with its captivating vagueries and thought-provoking perspectives, causing the viewer to join Johansson in her experiment, witnessing the everyday goings-on of Scottish folk.

Largely filmed in a sort of semi-cinema-vérité format, Under the Skin isn’t as interested in the mission itself, instead focusing its lens on us wee Earth folk and our foibles. Who’s to say we aren’t as interesting to aliens as they would be to us?

 

 

Admittedly, this won’t be a movie for everyone. I’d place it within the eclectic realm of Kubrick and Lynch, what with its haunting soundtrack and minimalistic production values, allowing us to fill in the blanks and assert for ourselves whether an alien visitor or its perception of us is more interesting a film subject.

Personally, I’d vote for the latter. There’s plenty to look at and explore right here on Terra Firma. This film is a perfect example of this. Try it out for the sake of something different, allowing yourself the chance to see the young American actress try something creatively new for a change.

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: Batman Assault on Arkham Spotlights the Ambiguous Villains

Blu-Ray Cover Art for BATMAN ASSAULT ON ARKHAM, courtesy DC/Warner Home Video, 2014
Blu-Ray Cover Art for BATMAN ASSAULT ON ARKHAM, courtesy DC/Warner Home Video, 2014

 

Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Film Critic

Given the plethora of available characters in the DC Comics stable, it’s no surprise that an average of two to three direct-to-video releases based on current titles would see the light of day. Just recently, we’ve seen appearances by Batman and his son Damian, a new Justice League piece where they fought Darkseid, and an earlier release late last year where The Flash ran so fast he switched realities altogether.

(Okay, it was a bit more complex than that, but you get the idea.)

So imagine my surprise when DC decided to pull a bit of a switcheroo by shifting the focus from the Dark Knight of Gotham towards some of his enemies, namely those undesirables known as the Suicide Squad…

The resulting title, Batman: Assault on Arkham, is pretty impressive and gives lesser known characters a bit of a chance to shine and make a name for themselves, at least on the home video front.

 

Meet the Suicide Squad, in BATMAN ASSAULT ON ARKHAM, courtesy DC/Warner Home Video, 2014
Meet the Suicide Squad, in BATMAN ASSAULT ON ARKHAM, courtesy DC/Warner Home Video, 2014

 

In the moderately short feature film, various criminals are recruited by shady government operative Amanda Waller (a popular figure in several titles in both the old DC arcs and the New 52 as well) and implanted with a explosive chip in their spine so to keep them in line with their mission or at least dissuade them from defecting or going AWOL.

And so, Deadshot (Neal McDonaugh), Harley Quinn (Hynden Walch), King Shark (John DiMaggio), Captain Boomerang (Greg Ellis), Black Spider (Giancarlo Esposito) and Killer Frost (Jennifer Hale) head off on one of Waller’s missions, in this case the infiltration of the Arkham Asylum prison in order to retrieve a data key from the Riddler’s sceptre, and hopefully nix the puzzler in the process.

Things get complicated when Batman (Kevin Conroy, back in the voice role) tracks them down while hunting down a dirty bomb set up by the imprisoned Joker (Troy Baker) which could destroy Gotham City entirely.

It’s up to the ragtag group of inglorious anti-heroes to help save the day, thwart their bat-eared nemesis and escape alive, so long as Waller doesn’t flip the switch on their explosive restraints…

 

The Dark Knight Tracks Down the Suicide Squad in BATMAN ASSAULT ON ARKHAM, courtesy DC/Warner Home Video, 2014
The Dark Knight Tracks Down the Suicide Squad in BATMAN ASSAULT ON ARKHAM, courtesy DC/Warner Home Video, 2014

 

It’s incredibly refreshing to see a Batman Blu-ray title which contains minimal appearances by the caped crusader. As a result, much time is positively spent exploring the shaky dynamic between the Suicide Squad members, quickly revealing that there is truly no honor among thieves.

The film gets a PG rating due to some of the more mature passages (flashbacks include Harley Quinn biting off a nurse’s ear out of irritation) but contains plenty of clever one-liners and lighthearted twists, and is well paced enough to keep viewer attention as needed.

Blink and you may even spot the animators’ Easter Egg relating directly to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight, though this film is based on DC/Warner’s Arkham Knight video game.

The movie gives villains a rare chance to interact up front, allowing us to see that the dark side can be just as interesting as the heroic deeds we’ve seen from the pages or related animated shows.

In the end, the outcome still works out in favor of the good guys, but the journey there is a real hoot; here’s hoping DC come up with more villain-centric titles in years to come.

If you’re keen on learning about the Suicide Squad, I encourage you to check out the title in stores under the DC New 52 banner, or check out a mid-season episode of the CW’s Arrow, in which we learn that Oliver Queen’s friend John Diggle worked with said squad, under orders from Waller. A neat look into the live action version of the above story.

3.5 out of 5

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

Now in Theatres: Expendables 3 Cheesy yet Best Sequel Yet

 

Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Film Critic

Is the third time really the charm?

Well, it all depends on who you ask. In the case of the nostalgic revival that is The Expendables franchise, it could very well prove true.

The latest go at bat by veteran Hollywood beefcake Sylvester Stallone and his company of equally dated co-stars, The Expendables 3 makes a valiant effort to keep the story going, albeit with mixed results.

Harrison Ford and Sylvester Stallone in THE EXPENDABLES 3, courtesy Lionsgate, 2014
Harrison Ford and Sylvester Stallone in THE EXPENDABLES 3, courtesy Lionsgate, 2014

 

First, a bit of background: Barney Ross (Stallone) and his band of titular mercenaries are off to retrieve one of their old team members, Doc (Wesley Snipes), from certain death in a foreign prison. Within moments of this daring rescue, the old gang learns through their government contact (Harrison Ford, replacing Bruce Willis) that a founding member of the team, Conrad Stonebanks (Mel Gibson), is now a megalomaniac billionaire hellbent on providing warlords and criminals worldwide with contraband weaponry of the highest grade.

When a revenge mission against Stonebanks goes South and Barney’s latest batch of mercenary recruits (Kellan Lutz, Ronda Rousey, Glen Powell and Victor Ortiz) get captured by his former friend, Barney sets out to rescue his new team members with the help of his old gang (Jason Statham, Jet Li, Dolph Lundgren, Terry Crews, Randy Couture, with Arnold Schwarzenegger, Antonio Banderas and a cameo by Kelsey Grammer), finally tracking down and eliminating their rogue and former colleague down once and for all.

Jason Statham and Wesley Snipes find themselves with an equal set of deadly skills in THE EXPENDABLES 3, courtesy Lionsgate, 2014
Jason Statham and Wesley Snipes find themselves with an equal set of deadly skills in THE EXPENDABLES 3, courtesy Lionsgate, 2014

 

Very much like the first two installments, this third chapter is just as rife with machismo, testosterone-fueled banter, massive explosions and impressive hand-to-hand combat. Then again, what it lacks is well rounded characters, at least the type we can invest ourselves emotionally, rather than treat the entire endeavor as just one big-budget video game emulator flooded with familiar Hollywood action stars’ faces.

Another argument not in favor of this nostalgic attempt at recapturing the 80s, is its terminal case of ambitious overcrowding. Yes, having Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Mel Gibson and Harrison Ford is every fanboy’s dream, hence the justification and rationale behind whatever box office this flick will earn (despite a highly publicized case of online pirating last month); all the same, you just can’t expect people to cheer on when you have 20 high profile actors in one two-hour film, expecting each of them to appear in any more than ten minutes each. It’s just not sound math, in any entertainment medium. Might as well call this film Ocean’s Seventeen.

 

Call it what you will, this film is a pretty looking, trailer-perfect popcorn movie, one devoid of any real cinematic value past that of its cast makeup and set effects (though one motorcycle stunt has to be seen more than once to be believed). If anything, it has more structure and plausibility than the previous chapters.

In the end, The Expendables 3 delivers exactly what it advertises. No one’s expecting any Shakespearian verse from these gentlemen. Bloody without being deep or insightful, violent without being too gratuitous, it will turn off your brain for a good two hours, guaranteed.

And sometimes, that’s exactly what the Doc ordered.

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.

Please Don’t Watch This Clip Unless You’ve Already Seen Guardians of the Galaxy

Here’s a mid-August treat from the folks at Marvel/Disney, for those of us who’ve already enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy this month.

Enjoy. And please, do go out there and hug a tree.

You never know, right?

 

By all means, do go out and see this entertaining and fun film which just broke $200 million domestically, a well-deserved milestone for such a goofy but fun sci-fi romp!

 

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: Muppets Most Wanted, But No Takers

Blu-Ray Cover Art for MUPPETS MOST WANTED, courtesy Disney, 2014
Blu-Ray Cover Art for MUPPETS MOST WANTED, courtesy Disney, 2014

 

Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Film Critic

Y

ou know how they always say “the proof is in the pudding?” Well, in the case of this latest Muppet Caper, the box art is eerily accurate: this film truly provides an “unnecessarily extended cut” of a product which, in my honest opinion, should never have seen the light of day.

Seriously, folks, just because some corporate juggernaut buys over a franchise, doesn’t necessarily mean said product will bat a thousand every single time.

Granted, the last outing, The Muppets, was a middling to half decent piece, what with Jim Henson’s characters’ performances having gone relatively absent since their last, pre-Disney acquisition flick Muppets in Space, which fared pretty well with seasoned audiences. Unfortunately, other than recapturing the nostalgic effect of a long gone franchise’s resurgence, the late 2011 film did little more than introduce a friendly character in Walter, and helped viewers connect with their puppet friends via Jason Siegel’s mostly transparent über-fan role.

And so, what else could happen to our friendly bunch of characters since three years ago?

Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) sweet talks the Muppets into a shady deal, in MUPPETS MOST WANTED, courtesy Disney Home Video, 2014
Dominic Badguy (Ricky Gervais) sweet talks the Muppets into a shady deal, in MUPPETS MOST WANTED, courtesy Disney Home Video, 2014

 

Well, very little, as it turns out. Rather than maximize on their valuable new franchise, the new folks at Disney apparently decided to jump on the first plausible scripted plot based on the populous group, to hell with integrity or reputation.

As the Muppets successfully saved their old studio from the last film’s evil oil baron, they are approached by a shady production manager (Ricky Gervais) and talked into a world tour which just so happens to coincide with evil plans to steal precious artifacts leading up to the most desirable item of them all, the British Crown Jewels in the Tower of London. And so, the questionable Dominic Badguy (Gervais) arranges the somewhat iffy Muppets tour to take place, all the while Number One World Criminal mastermind Constantine, a doppelganger for Kermit the Frog, replaces his lookalike and plots his heists with maniacal precision.

Whether our furry but cuddly friends figure out this dastardly plot before the whole of them end up in a Siberian gulag with Kermit is up to Ol’ Cinematic Lady Fate. Then again, much of this story is poorly telegraphed, so expect a few questionable ditties, some bad puns and a criminally low level of Pepe the Prawn appearances, and you’ve actually got yourself a really shoddy sequel.

 

Kermit the Frog encounters his nemesis, the dastardly Constantine the Frog, in MUPPETS MOST WANTED, courtesy Disney, 2014
Kermit the Frog encounters his nemesis, the dastardly Constantine the Frog, in MUPPETS MOST WANTED, courtesy Disney, 2014

 

Sadly, much of this sequel feels half-baked and gratuitous, from the truly pointless cameos to the bare use of the full range of Muppets to choose from. Yes, it’s fun to watch Ty Burrell play out a Clouseauresque Interpol inspector opposite Sam the Eagle’s American opposite. Then again, much of the film feels barely touched upon, with the voice talents resembling each other to the point where one man could voice the entire cast (we miss you, Jim and Frank!) and a supporting cast of willing actors hoping to add a Muppet film to their pedigree just prancing and overacting in order to compensate for their meager roles (I’m looking at you, Tina Fey and Ray Liotta.)

 

 

Like them bonus features? There’s a blooper reel mostly composed of Muppet ad libs cracking up the camera crew, but little else really stands out unless you’re a fan of Flight of the Conchords, what with Jemaine Clement starring as a gulag convict and Bret McKenzie penning the better tunes in this flick.

Do yourself a favor: keep a pristine impression of your favorite Muppets by either seeking out releases of the original run of The Muppet Show on DVD, or watch any of the films up to late 1999.

Just because you acquire a popular title doesn’t always mean you can always spin it into gold. Somebody page Miss Piggy and have her judo chop this dud in half.

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.