Fantastic Four a Clustercuss of Disorderly Disregard for Source Material

Theatrical Poster for FANTASTIC FOUR, courtesy 20th Century Fox, 2015
Theatrical Poster for FANTASTIC FOUR, courtesy 20th Century Fox, 2015

 

Review by Dominic Messier, Founder and Editor

In the realm of film rights and ownership regarding popular properties from the printed page, there comes a fine line between ambition and desperation, especially when one is contractually bound to produce a new film within a given time frame lest said rights revert back to the original owner, which is exactly the case when it comes to Marvel, Fox and the classic Fantastic Four franchise.

In the same way that Sony plunders and pounds the Spider-Man franchise by producing bad movie after bad sequel while Marvel goes on to financial success with its in-house properties, Fox is hoping to bank the same level of coin by repeating the process with a new cast and a new series of FF films.

The resulting effort, I’m sad to report, is one messy discombobulated disaster.

I’m no lawyer, but I say this with brutal fan-like honesty: just sell the thing back to Marvel, won’t you? It’s not like they can’t afford it, these days…

 

Michael B. Jordan and Kate Mara in FANTASTIC FOUR, courtesy 20th Century Fox, 2015
Michael B. Jordan and Kate Mara in FANTASTIC FOUR, courtesy 20th Century Fox, 2015

 

The concept for this latest version of the FF story is fairly similar, insofar as having four friendly characters develop fantastic powers after a scientific mishap (all which depends on which version you’re watching, they tend to vary) only to fight evil, usually in the form of their nemesis Dr. Doom or in other installments, planet devouring entities named Galactus.

And so, this latest version has the remaining members of the foursome coming together to help Reed Richards (Miles Teller) complete a prototypical teleportation device which could not only allow instant travel across the globe, but possibly to other dimensions as well.

When the trip across to what is dubbed “Planet Zero” (in other dimension altogether) affects Richards, Victor Von Doom (Toby Kebbell), Johnny Storm (Michael B. Jordan) and as a side effect of their return to the Earth lab, Susan Storm (Kate Mara), all five of them see their DNA affected in extraordinary ways which we, the audience, get to witness in all its F/X glory.

 

Toby Kebbell as Doctor Doom (or what passes for him) in FANTASTIC FOUR, courtesy 20th Century Fox, 2015
Toby Kebbell as Doctor Doom (or what passes for him) in FANTASTIC FOUR, courtesy 20th Century Fox, 2015

 

Now, if you’ve been anywhere near a comic book rack in decades past, this is nothing new to you, what with the usually colorfully clad foursome unmistakeably fighting Doom or some other cosmic-level threat.

What galls me and most other semi-regular fans of FF and its ilk, however, is how such an ambitious project designed to reinvigorate a well-aged concept can disregard source material to such an extent as to turn what should be an easy exercise in fictional regurgitation into a veritable farce of a film which, although pretty and full of explosions, turns out to have a little too much fun reinventing itself to the point of unrecognizable nonsense.

Granted, the film has the best looking Ben Grimm/Thing yet, thanks to the justified use of CGI to do away with the man-in-a-rock-suit approach. What doesn’t make sense is how a once feared villain the likes of Victor Von Doom, usually a power-mad ruler of a small European country called Latveria, now finds himself reduced to an anti-social pseudo-American expat who sounds like he grew up in the Five Boroughs. Where is the back story? Sigh.

Miles Teller seems ill at ease playing the lead given that he goes missing for portions of the film, while actor Jamie Bell barely gets his time on screen before he gets replaced with his rocky alter-ego. Not that this wasn’t unexpected, but you can barely manage to associate these two actors registering as “best friends” before you stop giving a crap about them.

Kate Mara gets a few minutes of screen time here and there while Michael B. Jordan hands in a variation of the hot-headed rebellious teen with resourcefulness to spare.

What we get all around is wooden performances that reek of inner-studio interference, something confirmed by director Josh Trank’s less-than-private tirades on the subject.

 

 

What we end up with is what feels like an unfinished film, or at least a half-written one. The first half of the film rings true to the usual origin story seen many a times over the past iterations of this Marvel team. What follows is a rudderless miss-mash of promising ideas that simply don’t connect in any logical way.

There’s already talk of an approved sequel which I feel may be necessary if only to give these poor saps a chance to find themselves, or at the very least a decent script which would give them purpose, equal screen time and a villain that isn’t reinvented to the point of usurping the original’s good name.

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.

 

Now on DVD: Disney’s Descendants Predictable Squeaky Clean Teen Fun

DVD Cover Art for DESCENDANTS, courtesy Disney Home Video, 2015
DVD Cover Art for DESCENDANTS, courtesy Disney Home Video, 2015

 

DVD Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Reformed Disney Villain-At-Large

By tapping into the mass consciousness of hardened Disney fans, the House of Mouse has been able to successfully evoke new storylines by adapting most fairy tale characters to a new drama form by way of TV’s Once Upon a Time, a highly successful show on Sunday nights on ABC.

With that show containing most if not all the major players of the Disney universe, where does that leave their fictitious offspring? Well, assuming that the known villains would indeed have kids of their own, according to the new family-friendly movie Descendants, said teens would either be left to roam the streets creating mischief or even worse, be shipped off to prep school with the children of their nemesis do-gooders. Hijinks and musical numbers are sure to ensue.

 

Kristen Chenoweth and Dove Cameron in DESCENDANTS, courtesy Disney Home Video, 2015
Kristen Chenoweth and Dove Cameron in DESCENDANTS, courtesy Disney Home Video, 2015

 

In essence, Descendants plays like a neon-colored Glee meets The Mickey Mouse Club. Though the full parentage is never full explained, we are told that four of the most villainous, nefarious foes in the land, Maleficent (a scene stealing Kristen Chenoweth), the Evil Queen (a miscast Kathy Najimy), Cruella De Vil (Wendy Raquel Robinson) and Jafar (Maz Jobrani), have spawned kids of their own, wildly rebellious teens with a talent for mischief.

When Beast and Belle (Dan Payne and Keegan Connor Tracy), the rulers of the benevolent United States of Auradon, are about to pass the throne down to their dashing son Ben (Mitchell Hope), his first decree is that the children of their enemies be given a chance to be included into their society, since up to this point all evil people have been exiled to a remote island.

With the foursome of Mal (Dove Cameron), Evie (Sofia Carson), Jay (Booboo Stewart) and Carlos (Cameron Boyce) heading off to Auradon’s top prep school, fireworks of both the good and bad kind are about to explode as a clash of attitudes brews within the school’s halls.

As Maleficent charges Mal and her friends with stealing the Fairy Godmother’s wand in order to find escape through the magic barrier surrounding the Isle of the Lost, it’s up to them to try and blend in best they can, unaware that they may find some form of redemption or even happiness around the corner.

 

Villain Parents and their offspring in DESCENDANTS, courtesy Disney Home Video, 2015
Villain Parents and their offspring in DESCENDANTS, courtesy Disney Home Video, 2015

 

This is definitely a mixed bag of tricks for viewers, especially those well versed with Disney lore and its minutiae, now presented with unknown new characters that don’t quite seem to add up and fuzzy logic that skips over obvious questions that would otherwise come up in normal conversation.

Nevertheless, the film, while vanilla in true Disney Channel fashion, is harmless and safe for family viewing, with the usual slapstick and tongue-in-cheek references, not to mention the occasional musical number.

Disney player Dove Cameron, already a staple of previous projects Liv and Maddie and Cloud 9, convincingly plays Mal, a punkish beauty who clearly takes from her mother, the melodramatic Maleficent, played to perfection by Kristen Chenoweth.

I say convincingly in that it takes courage to play alongside one of the most famous face from Broadway. Chenoweth goes in a different direction than Angelina Jolie and plays the evil fairy for laughs and pomp, chewing the scenery whenever she can.

With the rest of the cast paling in comparison, you need to pick your battles as much of the dialogue is a bit too weak, the musical numbers a bit too long and the lack of realism a bit too nauseating.

I’m not saying these kids should start stripping bare and swearing up a storm, but when I say the story is too vanilla, you can taste the syrup overdose.

 

 

With nary a threatening line nor the potency of a movie-of-the-week or after school special, Descendants surely won’t go down in the history books as an indispensable piece of Disney history, at best it’ll keep your kids busy for an hour or two.

Do yourself a favor, though: do show your kids the original animated source material. All kids should be well versed in the Classic Disney films.

Well….the deserving ones, anyway.

2.5 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.

Tom Cruise and the Gang Save the Day Once Again in Mission Impossible Rogue Nation

Theatrical Poster for MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION, courtesy Paramount Pictures, 2015
Theatrical Poster for MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION, courtesy Paramount Pictures, 2015

 

Theatrical Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Accepter of Impossible Writing Missions

 

Death defying stunts, dazzling hand-to-hand combat, dizzying chase scenes and innovative gadgets: all in a day’s work for the Impossible Missions Force, right?

Why mess with a tried, tested and true formula if it works every time?  That seems to be the case with Tom Cruise’s fifth outing as Agent Ethan Hunt in almost twenty years, with stories that keep pushing the envelope in order to provide new thrills for a willing audience hungry for more.

Mission accomplished, sir.

 

Rebecca Ferguson and Tom Cruise in MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION, courtesy Paramount Pictures, 2015
Rebecca Ferguson and Tom Cruise in MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION, courtesy Paramount Pictures, 2015

 

It’s been several months since the events of Mission Impossible Ghost Protocol in which Ethan Hunt (Cruise) and his IMF cohorts managed to stop a missile from destroying San Francisco, and the CIA and an congressional oversight committee are looking to shut the Impossible Missions Force down permanently, having deemed Hunt’s methods risky and dangerous.

This news couldn’t come at worst time, since Hunt is about to expose the existence of a global criminal organization known as The Syndicate, a network of former spies and special ops men and women who were either disavowed or reported as dead.

Led by a calculating mastermind named Solomon Lane (Sean Harris), this Syndicate (sort of an Anti-IMF, if you will) seeks to spread worldwide terror through precise missions of havoc, hoping to acquire a secret stash of funds in the billions to carry out its agenda.

With the help of Benji (Simon Pegg), Luther (Ving Rhames)  a reluctant Brandt (Jeremy Renner) and a seductive newcomer (Rebecca Ferguson), Hunt won’t stop until he can stop the Syndicate by capturing its figurehead dead or alive.

 

Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames in MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION, courtesy Paramount Pictures, 2015
Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames in MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION, courtesy Paramount Pictures, 2015

 

Movies that have the concept of an exact opposite as a nemesis has always worked well as a formula, allowing for a hero to challenge himself by facing an equally skilled opponent. Think Sean Bean Vs Pierce Brosnan in GoldenEye, or Wolverine Vs Sabertooth in several X-Men films.

Here, Cruise’s Hunt faces an enemy not quite as athletic but just as brilliant a character in Sean Harris’ Solomon Lane, billed as a former British Intelligence agent with years of experience in counter-espionage and spycraft. The quiet type with a steely gaze and lithe countenance, Harris’ Lane proves to be a frustrating thorn in the IMF’s side, intent on bringing them down to stand unopposed.

The brilliant advantage of this film, similarly to Ghost Protocol, lies in its mixture of humor with excitement, avoiding too serious a tone while still throwing in enough action every few minutes to remind us we’re not watching a comedy. Simon Pegg still provides comic relief to level out the drama, while Cruise does offer the occasional zinger in the heat of battle.

Alec Baldwin makes an appearance as the IMF’s latest foil Stateside, while the team hops the globe tracking down the Syndicate before it strikes again.

 

 

A question I’ve been asked by my readers in the past few weeks has been: “Do you think this film will be as good, if not better, than the previous ones?” The answer, my friends, is a resounding “YES!”

With a star like Tom Cruise always willing to push the stunt limits to the extreme in order to deliver a solid film to fans who won’t be insulted with anything less than his best, you can rest assured that this film is thoroughly entertaining and opens the door to a possible sixth installment. I’ll gladly choose to accept that mission when the time comes.

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: It Follows a Steadily Sustainable Creepy Horror Thriller

Blu-Ray Cover Art for IT FOLLOWS, courtesy Mongrel Media, 2015
Blu-Ray Cover Art for IT FOLLOWS, courtesy Mongrel Media, 2015

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Long-Distance Runner Away From All Evil Things

Remember 80s horror films where sexually promiscuous teens would invariably be stalked by a crazed killer, whether said killer was sporting a goalie mask or a warped and faded Captain Kirk latex mask? Those were good times, weren’t they? Sure they were.

Of course, the horror genre has found itself keeping up with the times, no longer forcing viewers to wonder how a steadily paced stalker would appear to catch up to terrified victims in survival sprint mode.

A new film by David Robert Mitchell, It Follows, hearkens back to those times, introducing a shape-shifting entity that will never stop walking up to you lest you doom some other poor soul into suffering the same fate.

 

Lili Sepe and Maika Monroe in IT FOLLOWS, courtesy Mongrel Media, 2015
Lili Sepe and Maika Monroe in IT FOLLOWS, courtesy Mongrel Media, 2015

 

Jay (Maika Monroe) is a normal late teen living in suburban Detroit in the late 20th Century. Like all other girls her age, she goes to school, hangs out with her friends, swims in the family pool and goes on dates with cute guys.

One night, she and her date Hugh (Jake Weary) make out in a desolate parking lot, eventually having sex in the back seat. Shortly thereafter, she finds herself chloroformed by her suitor. When she comes to, terrified, disoriented and bound to an old office chair, she learns that she’s been transmitted a demonic disease that will make her the target of some malevolent entity that will “follow” her until it kills her violently, before moving on to the previous carrier and so forth up the long list of carriers of this plague.

Determined to avoid being killed by a force that can only be seen by her, can change appearance to look like anyone and that seems unstoppable, how long does Jay have before It catches up to her?

 

Ingrid Mortimer in IT FOLLOWS, courtesy Mongrel Media, 2015
Ingrid Mortimer in IT FOLLOWS, courtesy Mongrel Media, 2015

 

At first glance, the concept of this film is pretty straightforward and unimaginative: a poor girl is being chased by an evil creature, and there’s very little to stop it from succeeding.

As the story progresses, however, you soon realize the simple elegance of this idea, one which spawned from the filmmaker’s recurring nightmare about being chased by a similar creature.

Rather than make the antagonist a familiar icon bent on teenage destruction, this entity can look like someone you trust, can interact with the world while unseen by all but you and worst of all, will NEVER stop chasing you until you are dead before moving on to the one who made you its latest target.

Such simplicity in execution makes It Follows a wonderfully entertaining, tense horror thriller even if it doesn’t seem so original when considering the plot contained therein.

The cast members are effective without being too flashy, the visual effects are modest but thoroughly convincing and the location (a grim, colorless, desolate Detroit in decay) could make you think the film is occurring in any year in the modern age.

Much effort is spent making the film look like a mid-80s set tale, but the inclusion of a cell phone and a cleverly concealed e-book reader inside of a seashell-shaped compact makes one wonder whether these were deliberate anachronisms, when the rest of the movie features old model cars, crappy old tube TVs and other last-century technology. Who knows. Could be clever misdirection, could be oversight by the ambitious filmmaker.

I credit the film’s tangible creep factor to the plethora of actors who portray “It”, with a steady pace always walking toward camera, never speaking but ever so intent on reaching its goal.

 

 

I wholeheartedly recommend this film to all fans of good horror, the types who like to watch but would rather do so with their faces hidden behind a pillow. This isn’t a gory film but a psychologically potent piece of cinema, the most original horror film in years. Don’t miss it.

4.5 out of 5

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

Now on Blu-Ray: X-Men Days of Future Past Rogue Cut Adds New Layers to Best Installment Yet

Blu-Ray Cover Art for X-MEN DAYS OF FUTURE PAST: THE ROGUE CUT, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015
Blu-Ray Cover Art for X-MEN DAYS OF FUTURE PAST: THE ROGUE CUT, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Long Time Mutant and Proud of It

 

In the age of film marketing, it’s no surprise that a studio will want to bank on a product more than once, if there is demand for additional footage of an already popular film so to satiate the masses, not to mention earn extra coin in the studio coffers.

Very much like the special features associated with a home video release that made DVDs and Blu-Rays so popular, the Director’s Cut has been around for years and often conveys a closer vision of what a filmmaker intended, before the studio heads made judgment calls on the final cut.

In the case of the profitable summer box office hit X-Men: Days of Future Past, the additional bits only serve to improve an already solid storyline drawn right from the Marvel Comics it’s based on, adding layers of character to existing roles on screen, not to mention more screen time for Anna Paquin’s Rogue, hence this version’s clever moniker “The Rogue Cut.”

 

Shawn Ashmore and Anna Paquin in X-MN DAYS OF FUTURE PAST THE ROGUE CUT, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015
Shawn Ashmore and Anna Paquin in X-MEN DAYS OF FUTURE PAST THE ROGUE CUT, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015

 

The excellent premise hasn’t changed: the film starts off in a grim future where most of the planet’s been ruined, overrun by large adaptable robot Sentinels designed to hunt down and destroy any mutant life that survives, along with the humans who help them.

Having managed to escape up to this point, the remaining members of the X-Men have devised a plan in which they will use Kitty Pride’s (Ellen Page) nascent mutant ability to send a person’s consciousness back in time to their earlier body (Huh? This is new…), thus using Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) to go back to the year 1973 in order to change a pivotal moment in history: the day Raven/Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) assassinated the Sentinels’ inventor, Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage), thus justifying the need to build these robots and spelling doom for all mutantkind.

With the help of a disillusioned Charles Xavier (James MacAvoy), Hank McCoy (Nicholas Hoult) and a recently freed Magneto (Michael Fassbender), Wolverine needs to convince everyone of the need to change events in order to save the future.

 

Nicholas Hoult and Jennifer Lawrence in X-MEN DAYS OF FUTURE PAST THE ROGUE CUT, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015
Nicholas Hoult and Jennifer Lawrence in X-MEN DAYS OF FUTURE PAST THE ROGUE CUT, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015

 

At first glance, the changes to the storyline are cosmetic at best: an additional line here, an extra scene there, a whole lotta Anna Paquin added.

Personally, I prefer this version better. Usually, a studio will scrounge up whatever salvageable footage off the editing room floor in order to rush out a different version of a film just for the hardcore fans.

Here, meticulousness was key, and the additional scene between Hank and Raven feels right, as does the side mission to head back to a Sentinel-infested X-Mansion to rescue a captive Rogue (Paquin), whose ability to absorb powers can help replace Kitty (Page) after being badly wounded by an agitated Logan (Jackman.)

Out of respect so to not lose focus of the worth of this version of the film, I’ll opt out of ranting against the plot holes and reinvented powers shown on screen, but try to get past the whole Kitty Pride “mental time travel” bit and you should be fine.

I’ve always found that if you’re having trouble locating the additional content in an alternate version of a story, then the producers are doing it right. This is definitely the case here.

 

 

Is this a frivolous purchase? Well it depends on who you ask…if you’re a serious X-Men fan and wish to own this arguably much better version of the film, then you owe it to yourself to add this to your collection.

Concerned that you’ll have spent more money and be forced to dispose of your original Blu-ray copy from last year? Not to worry: this Rogue Cut contains both versions, if only to allow you to shop and compare and judge for yourself.

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: Ex Machina Pits Man Against Machine in Devious Mind Game

Blu-Ray Cover Art for EX MACHINA, courtesy Mongrel Media, 2015
Blu-Ray Cover Art for EX MACHINA, courtesy Mongrel Media, 2015

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Amateur Futurist

 

For years, films like The Terminator have warned of an age when the machines would take over, having achieved sentience and realizing that humanity is a potential threat against its existence. Perhaps so, but every robotic discovery into self-awareness must begin somewhere.

In 28 Days Later director Alex Garland’s latest sci-fi piece, the thought provoking Ex Machina, the question becomes whether robotic sentience is possible, whether a human can be fooled into believing an artificial life form has a soul and feelings, and whether such a life can use this to its advantage in a crisis situation.

 

Alicia Vikander in EX MACHINA, courtesy Mongrel Films, 2015
Alicia Vikander in EX MACHINA, courtesy Mongrel Films, 2015

 

In the film, a gifted young programmer (Domhnall Gleeson) at a Google-type company called Blue Book wins a corporate lottery which will allow him to spend a week at a reclusive estate owned by the CEO, a reclusive multi-billionaire genius and inventor who’s been working on a secret project in isolation from the world.

Upon arriving, the timid office drone learns from his eccentric boss (after signing an aggressive NDA) that he is to conduct a Turing Test on an advanced female android prototype named Ava (Alicia Vikander) in order to ascertain whether it could convincingly pass for human.

With each session revealing more about Ava, who in turn tries to learn more about her young interrogator, questions arise: was the mad inventor too successful in creating his robotic creature? If “she” is self-aware, is a relationship possible with her new friend? Is the robot’s creator a savior or a threat? How far would a new life form go to protect its own existence?

 

Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac in EX MACHINA, courtesy Mongrel Media, 2015
Domhnall Gleeson and Oscar Isaac in EX MACHINA, courtesy Mongrel Media, 2015

 

While modestly produced with a small budget by Hollywood standards, Ex Machina is remarkably effective in its conscientious use of visual effects, preferring to focus on the psychological interaction between man and machine.

The central use of the Turing Test in the plot is a clever one though not a new one by any standards, but by taking away any sort of action thriller aspect to the usual man vs. machine tale and boiling the story down to a confrontation of the mind and will, the film takes on a whole new aspect that will surprise viewers on more than one occasion.

Shot in the beautiful remote Norwegian Juvet Hotel in the lush hills of Valldalen, the setting is both hauntingly remote and architecturally beautiful, becoming a passive player in the story, with the inventor’s home reminding us of tales about smart homes such as Bill Gates’ sprawling Redmond, Washington abode.

Oscar Isaac finds new ways to continue to impress, this time playing out the billionaire genius role as a lonely, socially unrefined recluse prone to binge drinking and bouts of absolute brilliance. Isaac’s interaction with the employee, played as smart but shy and impressionable by gifted young Brit Domhnall Gleeson, makes for a parallel set of conflicting ethical views along the central plot relating to the Turing Test with Ava.

Swedish actress Alicia Vikander gets the tough job as the half-constructed Ava, emoting just enough to force the audience to question whether her facial expressions are clever programming or genuine emotions bubbling up to the surface. She brilliantly leaves us to wonder whether an artificial life form could feel fear or is simply programmed to give us the same impression.

 

 

Plot-wise, the film is nearly flawless, providing just enough ambiguity without necessarily telegraphing its intent. With about four actors at most populating the screen during the entire running time, Ex Machina is both clinically sterile looking, hauntingly claustrophobic, morally ambiguous and psychologically complex.

Decide for yourself whether the test has been passed by the time you reach the end credits, and ask yourself what the future has in store.

If you like this film, I recommend a British series called Humans, which explores a similar vein about synthetic life forms who may have developed a soul of their own.

4.5 out of 5

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

 

Now Playing: Ant-Man a Visually Impressive Second Tier Marvel Tale

Theatrical Poster for ANT-MAN, courtesy Disney/Marvel, 2015
Theatrical Poster for ANT-MAN, courtesy Disney/Marvel, 2015

 

Theatrical Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Reluctant Lover of All Things Great and Small and Six-Legged

 

It’s summertime, and that means the Marvel Movie Machine is in full force, continuing to add to its cinematic continuity with every possible property great and small (excuse the pun), adding to their list of films contained within their waves known as Phases.

With this latest, Peyton Reed’s Ant-Man, we the audience get to discover some lesser known characters of the Marvel Universe, all while discovering some facets of the older stories before the age of Avengers.

The result, while visually stimulating and inventive, doesn’t make up for its pretty basic premise which goes light on plot but heavy on special effects. Then again, what would you expect from a superhero-based film?

 

Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) rides an out of control toy train in ANT-MAN, courtesy Disney/Marvel, 2015
Scott Lang/Ant-Man (Paul Rudd) rides an out of control toy train in ANT-MAN, courtesy Disney/Marvel, 2015

 

Beginning with a minor flashback to the good ol’ days of S.H.I.E.L.D. in the late 1980s, we see a brilliant doctor and physicist named Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) announce to his superiors that he is denying the spy organization access to his discovery of Pym Particles, which allows for the instant reduction and enlargement of molecular structure, for fear they would turn this into a weapon of war rather than a force for good.

Fast-forward to Present Day, and a semi-retired reclusive Pym is informed by his estranged daughter Hope Van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) that his former protege Darren Cross (Corey Stoll) is about to make the same breakthrough in the hope of selling to the highest bidder, either S.H.I.E.L.D. or possibly worse, Hydra.

Unwilling to let this happen for the sake of the world at large, Pym and Hope recruit Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) a gifted thief in dire need of a second chance at redemption, in order to train him in the use of the Ant-Man suit, an outfit allowing him to shrink to miniature size while retaining full-size strength and capable of communicating and controlling ants of all species.

Together, they try to stop Cross from developing his own version of the suit, a weaponized Yellowjacket armor that could very well be the most dangerous item to come from scientific discovery in years.

 

Corey Stoll as Darren Cross/Yellowjacket in ANT-MAN, courtesy Disney/Marvel, 2015
Corey Stoll as Darren Cross/Yellowjacket in ANT-MAN, courtesy Disney/Marvel, 2015

 

At its core, Ant-Man means well, what with a relatable tale about the need for redemption and the importance of family. At the same time, the story seems a world apart from the previous Marvel films which up to this point have been tailor-made to fit well with each other as pieces of a greater whole, namely the Avengers films where each individual hero teams up for the greater good.

You don’t quite get this feeling while watching this film, instead getting a familiar vibe while still being aware that you are witnessing events in the legit Marvel universe, while not necessarily being front and center.

At best, Ant-Man feels and looks like it could have been a serialized Netflix show alongside its cousins Daredevil, Iron Fist and Luke Cage, the former already airing with the other two lined up in the near future.

Granted, the Ant-Man character isn’t exactly as popular as Iron Man or Captain America, but in the hands of Paul Rudd, a comedian who can still convey an impressive range of emotions when called for, the Scott Lang role isn’t necessarily played for laughs but acts as a worthwhile counterpoint to his new mentor Hank Pym, stoically played by Michael Douglas as an aged hero filled with the regrets of mistakes and battles past, a man haunted by events he couldn’t control.

Look for a brief appearance by a new Avenger and the usual Stan Lee cameo, as well as some pretty juicy Easter Eggs in the credits.

 

 

Is Ant-Man the beginning of a slew of other standalone Marvel films destined to link up to other major summer flicks? Well, who knows… theoretically, the character is a founding member of the Avengers in the source material, though I couldn’t see Scott Lang holding his own as well with the core team, now disbanded and a new team of Avengers having taken over.

It’ll be interesting to see how this film fits within the greater framework, but for now be content to enjoy Ant-Man for what it is: a pleasant, visually creative pit stop along the way to a much bigger confrontation of heroes and villains ahead, namely the Civil War event for next summer, along with the inevitable confrontation with the Titan Thanos by 2017.

Marvel: Keeping it busy and profitable, and we get to reap the rewards no matter how big or small.

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: House of Cards Season Three Raises the Political Stakes

Blu-Ray Cover Art for HOUSE OF CARDS THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON, courtesy Sony Home Entertainment, 2015
Blu-Ray Cover Art for HOUSE OF CARDS THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON, courtesy Sony Home Entertainment, 2015

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Diabolical Political Schemer

 

If there’s one show fans have been flocking to in the last three years that new market player Netflix has been able to provide, it would arguably be Beau Willimon’s American adaptation of the British series House of Cards, starring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright as ruthless Washington power players making their way up the echelons of power.

With Spacey and Wright’s Frank and Claire Underwood having finally made their way to the White House, it’s only a matter of time before what has gone up must invariably fall down…like the titular house of cards…

 

Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in HOUSE OF CARDS THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON, Courtesy Sony Home Entertainment, 2015
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in HOUSE OF CARDS THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON, Courtesy Sony Home Entertainment, 2015

 

Having schemed, lied and blackmailed his way into the Oval Office after engineering a scandal forcing out the sitting President, Frank Underwood (Kevin Spacey) is now Commander in Chief and is hoping to leave a lasting legacy by way of a controversial job creation plan using emergency disaster funds normally used for hurricane season.

Having shoved an appointment as U.N. ambassador for his wife Claire (Robin Wright) down Congress’ throat, Frank seems to have no shortage of enemies while in office, given that he was sworn in mid-term and electoral Primaries are coming up.

When it’s not the manipulative Russian Premier (Lars Mikkelsen) forcing his hand in the Middle East, it’s a new front-runner for the Democratic nomination (Elizabeth Marvel) or a member of his staff (Mahershala Ali) agonizing over losing his former lover (Molly Parker) to a political marriage. There’s never a dull day on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Given the mounting pressures of daily life as the POTUS, it’s easy to see how cracks may start to appear in Frank and Claire’s relationship, with both seeking power and independence in their own way, without realizing the true cost of power.

Can their marriage survive this latest hurdle? Can the White House?

 

Molly Parker and Mahershala Ali in HOUSE OF CARDS THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON, courtesy Sony Home Entertainment, 2015
Molly Parker and Mahershala Ali in HOUSE OF CARDS THE COMPLETE THIRD SEASON, courtesy Sony Home Entertainment, 2015

 

There is a distinct addictive quality to watching this show, either in measured amounts or through bingeing, that makes you miss the busy days of The West Wing and other political shows with high intensity drama on a weekly basis.

Having arguably outshone its British source material, this U.S. House of Cards has eclipsed other such genre shows by way of a masterful presence by Kevin Spacey as the ruthless yet charismatic Frank Underwood, still regularly breaking the fourth wall in order to share his Machiavellian plans with the audience in the occasional aside.

Robin Wright still keeps up with Spacey after three seasons, playing Claire as a seductive but controlling power player who isn’t afraid to destroy others if it means getting her way. Like husband, like wife, in this case.

The season plays out on multiple fronts, despite a few weak subplots (the one involving former aide Doug Stamper, played by Michael Kelly, draws on forever), but on the whole we as the audience are constantly reminded of how easily Frank and Claire managed to get themselves into the highest office in the land, and how easy it would be for their past deeds to catch up with them and make them lose it all.

The show benefits from great dialogue (though nothing to the level of Aaron Sorkin’s type of writing), some excellent story lines interwoven into a gripping quilt of political intrigue and international crises while still focused on the internal struggle maintained by the Underwoods as they fight to keep their lies an misdeeds under the carpet so to retain power at all costs.

 

 

Having expected the show to lose steam and intensity by now, I can only say that it got better and better as the stakes keep rising and the risks keep getting bigger and more dangerous for all involved. I am gleefully counting the weeks until next February, as the fourth season comes rolling in on Netflix, probably full of new twists and secrets waiting to see daylight, causing further irreversible damage to Frank Underwood’s legacy.

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 Forger a Toned Down Heist Film with Honest Heart

Poster for THE FORGER, courtesy VVS Films, 2015
Poster for THE FORGER, courtesy VVS Films, 2015

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Love of Hidden Movie Gems

 

There is a downside to the world of movies, theatrically anyway, when high profile popcorn films will displace the smaller, independently produced or modestly budgeted projects which, despite their meager production limitations, often signify a lesser product in the eye of the average film goer.

This is rarely true, with some of the more heartfelt and honest stories coming out of small art house studios, as if they were trying harder to sing for their meal, like a college basketball player roughing it unlike the multi-million dollar pro calling in a performance in a game, too busy enjoying endorsement deals.

Despite a soporific performance by its star John Travolta, The Forger has a decent set of bones to its body that promises much, delivers just enough and offers some decent lessons about family bonds.

 

Christopher Plummer, Tye Sheridan and John Travolta in THE FORGER, Courtesy VVS Films, 2015
Christopher Plummer, Tye Sheridan and John Travolta in THE FORGER, Courtesy VVS Films, 2015

 

While many pundits preferred to dismiss this movie in favor of cheap shots at Travolta’s hairpiece, I prefer to focus on the effort by the actor to convey the affection he holds for his onscreen son, playing Ray Cutter, a former forger released from jail early through a shady arrangement with a shady criminal (Anson Mount) so he can spend time with his teenage son (Tye Sheridan) who’s been diagnosed with a Stage 4 tumor in his brain.

With the help of his curmudgeonly father (Christopher Plummer), Ray takes one last job to pay back the terms of his early release by creating a forged copy of a famous Monet painting that is to be sold by his debtor to a rich corrupt mobster, all in exchange for being left alone to look after his son.

With the cops on the watch, time running out and a burgeoning reconnection with his dying son, Ray must endeavor to pull off one final heist so he can focus on what he cares for the most while finally abandoning a life of crime behind.

 

Anson Mount in THE FORGER, Courtesy VVS Films, 2015
Anson Mount in THE FORGER, Courtesy VVS Films, 2015

 

On the surface, The Forger is pretty basic, not a masterpiece of crime films nor a head scratcher of a puzzle designed to confuse the average movie fan.

Travolta does seem a bit disinterested in the project, sporting a soul patch and looking a bit bloated, but whether this is an artistic character decision or the sign of an actor phoning in a performance is up for debate.

He still conveys enough care to convincingly portray Ray as a man whose life mistakes weigh heavily on him, leaving him with very little time to make amends, finally making a deal with the devil to afford himself a chance for one last hangout with his son.

The feel of Travolta’s performance gives off the vibe of us seeing Vincent Vega from Pulp Fiction, had he not been as worldly and educated.

Young Tye Sheridan plays innocent and frustrated well enough as the dying teen hoping to help his dad and live the excitement of the criminal life, if only to get a feel of his dad’s former world while Christopher Plummer, known for Shakespearian roles and a movie classic involving Von Trapp singers, lets loose by playing a potty mouthed, angry old man who puts his disappointment in his son aside for the sake of his grandson’s happiness.

I’m serious. If you dismiss my assessment of this movie in favor of the general consensus calling it a piece of indie trash, then at least watch it so to watch Mr. Plummer swear up a storm like a demented grandpa with Tourette’s.

 

 

Listen: The Forger isn’t Ocean’s Eleven nor is it Goodfellas. It’s part family drama, part heist film (a very minor part), but mostly a tale about a desperate dad forced to take desperate measure for a few redemptive moments in a life otherwise lived in misery and repentance, sandwiched between an eccentric performance by a veteran actor supporting a Hollywood pop culture icon and a young actor game enough to follow their lead.

Oh, and wait for that moment until you realize the bad guy in this film is the lead star of TV’s Hell on Wheels, until you notice you didn’t recognize him without the beard. Wow.

Check out this film as an experiment is something a little different. You could be surprised.

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 Wolfpack Looks at Sheltered Life to the Extreme

Theatrical Poster for THE WOLFPACK, courtesy Magnolia Pictures, 2015
Theatrical Poster for THE WOLFPACK, courtesy Magnolia Pictures, 2015

 

Theatrical Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Lover of the Outdoors

 

The writer Eudora Welty once said, “A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within.”

That quote kept resonating in my mind as I kept watching The Wolfpack, one of the most frustrating and yet original documentaries of late, the story of six male siblings (and a sister) who had spent the better part of their lives confined to a small lower East Side apartment in New York City, out of their parents’ fear that the cruel world out there might ruin their pure spirit.

While my first instinct was to cry foul murder at the poor kids’ plight, the means by which they kept busy and entertained despite some questionable parental decisions is nothing short of remarkable, with the brothers resorting to the world of movies to learn — and emulate —  the world outside their window.

 

The Angulo Brothers Re-Enact Reservoir Dogs in THE WOLFPACK, courtesy Magnolia Pictures, 2015
The Angulo Brothers Re-Enact Reservoir Dogs in THE WOLFPACK, courtesy Magnolia Pictures, 2015

 

Meet Bhagavan, Govinda, Jagadisa, Krsna, Mukunda and Narayana Angulo, six boys whose life up until fairly recently amounted to creating their own fun and existence within the confines of a cramped four-bedroom apartment in New york City.

Raised by a Peruvian father whose distrust of American Government and Big Money is palpable, and a Midwestern American mother who hoped to have over a dozen kids, the Angulo boys (along with baby sister Visnu) were rarely ever allowed to leave home, having been home schooled by Mom and with Dad having the only key to the front door.

And so, throughout their childhood and their teens, the boys would pass the time by reading and playing, but mostly by watching copious amounts of movies.

When this became repetitive, they took the next step in their quest for diversions: to type up, write and act out scripts from their favorite Hollywood hits, a feat they’d do with remarkable creativity and ingenuity when it came to resources and material.

Armed with a video camera and a number of cardboard props, the Angulos would memorize films like Reservoir Dogs, Pulp Fiction, The Dark Knight, The Dark Knight Rises and countless others, line for line, shot for shot.

Then, one day, one of the eldest boys decided he’d had enough of living indoors while the world passed them by several floors below, and he ventured out into public, wearing a homemade Michael Myers mask out of fear his father would run into him on the streets while running errands.

Eventually, they acted as a group and made their parents realize that there would come a point when they’d have no choice but to leave home having come of age. Gradually, the boys start making small trips outside the building, venturing further and further until they discovered so much the Big Apple could offer with the real world not being as threatening as they’d been made to believe…

 

One of the Eldest Angulo Brothers as Batman in THE WOLFPACK, courtesy Magnolia Pictures, 2015
One of the Eldest Angulo Brothers as Batman in THE WOLFPACK, courtesy Magnolia Pictures, 2015

 

There’s a bittersweet feeling that overcomes you as you watch this deeply moving story; part of you feels for these kids and how they likely missed out on the fundamentals of childhood and social interaction. At the same time, you can’t fathom how this dynamic would ever have been allowed by the American justice system.

It’s really a double-edged sword of a moral quandary when you think about it: the kids have never been mistreated, never forced into slave labor nor abused in any physical way.  So the question becomes: were these kids ever in real danger? Can a parent’s rearing technique truly be held at fault in this context, considering no harm ever came to the children?

There’s an undeniable bond between this siblings, one that invariably comes from having spent a lifetime in the same room together, with only each other as company.

Filmmaker Crystal Moselle tells a compelling tale, having discovered these boys during one of their initial jaunts outdoors. At the same time, several points in the story are glossed over during the process…a case is made about the patriarch refusing to get a job in defiance of The Man, yet very little is said about the family’s source of income. How can a single income family afford shelter, much less food for seven kids, day in day out, for nearly two decades?

This somewhat important aspect of the story are remarkably absent, but the crux of the tale remains poignant nonetheless, especially in terms of the one-on-one testimonials.

 

 

This film will either shock you or fill you with empathy, or at the very least grateful to have seen trees of green in your childhood, unlike these poor boys.

The Wolfpack is aptly titled, introducing us with one of the strongest-willed siblings you’ll ever come across, brothers in fake arms who’d live and die for one another, as they learn to see the world outside of their movie collection.

Don’t miss this one. Also, go outside once you’re done. Please?

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.

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