Now on Blu-Ray: The Hobbit Battle of Five Armies a Redundant, Repetitive Conclusion to Prequel Series

Blu-Ray Cover Art for THE HOBBIT BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES, Courtesy Warner Home Video, 2015
Blu-Ray Cover Art for THE HOBBIT BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES, Courtesy Warner Home Video, 2015

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Shorter Saga Enthusiast

 

Sometimes, you just have to know when enough is enough…

As enthused as I was by the idea of Peter Jackson revisiting familiar fantasy lands we all partook of a good decade ago, I still shook my head at the concept of turning a moderately sized novel into an eight-hour plus trilogy, one padded with so much appendix and index-borne filler that the whole affair reeked of exploitation and profit.

Sadly, despite two relatively stronger installments, namely An Unexpected Journey and The Desolation of Smaug, this final chapter (thank the Gods of the North) is so stretched out it feels cartoonish in comparison.

 

Evangeline Lilly and Orlando Bloom in THE HOBBIT BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES, Courtesy Warner Home Video, 2015
Evangeline Lilly and Orlando Bloom in THE HOBBIT BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES, Courtesy Warner Home Video, 2015

 

To start off, it’s fair to say the title doesn’t mislead: hordes of armies, with Elves, Dwarves, Orcs, humans and other species converging onto the battlefield set between the town of Dale and the gold repository of Erebor, kingdom of the Dwarves of old.

The film briefly deals with the threat of the Wyrm Smaug (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch) before setting itself to the task of creating the conflict between the Middle-Earth races.

With Thorin (Richard Armitage) quickly laying claim on his birthright, it becomes apparent to Bilbo (Martin Freeman) that the exiled king is becoming sick with the same greed and paranoia that afflicted his forebears in ages past.

Meanwhile, all parties approach the mountain asking for their share of the loot, or at least what was owed to them in previous bargains and pacts designed to unite and defeat the dragon in the mountain.

When Thorin decides to snub them and barricades the front entrance, a battle begins that pits formidable adversaries against one another, with a plethora of creatures attacking in the most creative of ways. Think of Return of the King‘s decisive battle in the original Lord of the Rings trilogy, only with more oomph.

Whether any major characters remain standing once the smoke clears is a surprise to the audience, but not to the seasoned readers of Tolkien’s works.

 

Ian McKellan and Billy Connolly in THE HOBBIT BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES, Courtesy Warner Home Video, 2015
Ian McKellan and Billy Connolly in THE HOBBIT BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES, Courtesy Warner Home Video, 2015

 

At one point during the screening of this film, I absentmindedly found myself wondering why, at this juncture in the overly crowded narrative, the film should even be called The Hobbit, given this third chapter’s habit of relegating major characters to the sidelines. Barely seen are Ian McKellen’s Gandalf, Martin Freeman’s Bilbo and other familiar staples the likes of Galadriel, Elrond and Saruman. Despite their might and relevance to the overall mythic arc of Middle-Earth, their inclusion here feels shoehorned and superfluous, given the lead conflict between Thorin, Thranduil and the human leader Bard (Luke Evans).

Many subplots are wedged in only to be dismissed out of hand or underused, such as the Romeo & Juliet tryst between dwarf Kili (Aidan Turner) and She-Elf Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly), Legolas’ (Orlando Bloom) scouting mission to the Orc ramparts or the all-too brief “Sauron is Coming” subplot, an obvious nod to the later story, or in this case, the previous cinematic trilogy.

Despite this hodge-podge of characters and places, one thing is for certain: if you’re into copious battle scenes running for what feels like hours on end, well Merry Christmas to you, ladies and gents.

It’s incredibly difficult not to criticize the robotic, generic way in which CGI-battles start to look, at least when it comes to thousands of bland yet detailed figures vying for attention within an anamorphic movie screen.

Is the action, swordplay and carnage worth the cost of admission? Yes. Is said action overwhelming and possibly headache inducing? Also yes.

While I’ll concede that the whole point of this final chapter was to see the major players face off for a whole lot of loot, it just doesn’t make for that exciting a story, especially when factoring in over half a dozen subplots desperately fighting for space within the film’s last act.

See below, a quick glance at some of the marvelous CGI effects for the opening scene of the film:

 

 

Altogether, does The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies make for a visual spectacle worthy of the other five Peter Jackson films of the same ilk? Most definitively. As a piece of a larger franchise, it is finely crafted and pleasing to the eye, replete with your favorite characters and actors. That having been said, despite a great landscape built as a stage for these wonderful characters, as a doomed Shakespearian prince once said, “The play’s the thing.”

Despite all the bells and whistles of a LOTR-based film, prequel or not, you just can’t keep throwing spears, arrows, swords, daggers, giant bats, catapult-wearing giants and fireballs and hope that, much like its extraneous elements, something sticks to the wall as a result.

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.

Toronto’s 2015 Comic-Con A Geek Fan’s Modest Paradise

 

An enthusiastic Deadpool Cosplayer, photo courtesy Dominic Messier 2015
An enthusiastic Deadpool Cosplayer, photo courtesy Dominic Messier 2015

 

An Event Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Unapologetic Geek

 

It was that time again, the once or twice a year Toronto event where fans of TV, movies and all media in between got to converge at the downtown Toronto Convention Centre for a three-day extravaganza, a smaller affair than its older brother, the multi level, highly popular FanExpo which usually occurs in late Summer.

This didn’t stop a horde of enthusiastic and passionate cosplayers and fans of all ages to meet their favorite comic book artists, celebrity actors and other genre veterans for some quick — albeit costly — meet and greets.

 

Seasoned Cosplayer Debi Wong-Brennan as a Clockwork Droid from Doctor Who (with Dalek friend), photo courtesy Dominic Messier, 2015
Seasoned Cosplayer Debi Wong-Brennan as a Clockwork Droid from Doctor Who (with Dalek friend), photo courtesy Dominic Messier, 2015

 

As is my usual custom while covering this type of events, I dodged the often overcrowded, time-sensitive celebrity interview gauntlet in favour of interacting with the fans, getting a feel as to what they like out of these events, what their favorite shows are and their highs and lows of each Con they attend.

Not surprisingly, as I’d reported last summer during the FanExpo period, many of the convention goers griped at the long lineups and pricey autograph and photo sessions, while others understood that celebrities are people too, and still have bills to pay.

A fan who would only give her first name as “Jane” from Montreal, made the trip down to T.O. in order to meet her favorite Doctor Who companion, Karen Gillan. Money in hand and eager to meet her favorite cast member from Guardians of the Galaxy, Jane was most disappointed to learn that the Scottish actress had been held back by late filming in Boston, causing some distress amongst her numerous Canadian fans.

I kept a close eye on Gillan’s Twitter account during my time at the Con, and was happy to locate a downtrodden Jane in the merchandise isles, letting her know that some brilliant souls had worked out the means (not to mention copious cups of coffee) to get Gillan on a plane so she could make a late day appearance.

Whether the Montreal-based fan got to shill out her hard-earned cash to meet and pose with her idol remains a mystery, but it was probably well worth the wait.

For others, the disappointment lay with the unfortunate cancellation of Morena Baccarin, known to most as Inara from Firefly but also now appearing on Gotham.

This didn’t stop attendees to enjoy briefly speaking with the likes of Terry Farrell (Jadzia Dax from Star Trek DS9), Tony Curran, Shannen Doherty, Christopher Judge, Graham Greene, Jaime Murray and several others.

 

A group of ARCHER fans, photo courtesy Dominic Messier, 2015
A group of ARCHER fans, photo courtesy Dominic Messier, 2015

 

Aside from the restricted and heavily guarded big-ticket names at the Con, access to DC, Marvel and other publishers’ artists was a bit more accessible, with high end names like James O’Barr (creator of The Crow), Ty Templeton and Yanick Paquette eagerly interacting with their readers, ready to answer questions, providing advice to young artists and ambitious future graphic novelists alike.

Several independent artists looking to make their mark were also very open to questions and were offering their indie titles at excellent prices. This made for very pleasant encounters with new fans.

 

The cast of the Audio Play DOCTOR WHO DARK JOURNEY, (from Left to Right) Kate Elyse Forrest, Andrew Chalmers and MA Tamburro), photo courtesy Dominic Messier, 2015
The cast of the Audio Play DOCTOR WHO DARK JOURNEY, (from Left to Right) Kate Elyse Forrest, Andrew Chalmers and MA Tamburro, photo courtesy Dominic Messier, 2015

 

A few hours of browsing lead to some interesting finds for the discerning fan, such as the existence of a Doctor Who / Sherlock Holmes audio drama by the team at AM AudioMedia, whose latest project, Dark Journey, can be found on their website (amaudiomedia.com) or on iTunes.

Fans of Canadiana were able to locate a few recognizable names down the same row, with self-publisher Hope Nicholson promoting her volumes of Canadian Heroes such as Nelvana of the Northern Lights and the upcoming Brok Windsor, while Jason Loo worked away promoting his Toronto-based characters’ adventures, such as The Pitiful Human-Lizard.

An interesting development occurred during my browsing the numerous rows of vendors and comic book sellers: a buyers’ growing need for character-specific Funko bobble toys. You know, those “small-body-big-head” toys you see on store shelves, representing pop culture icons, including a dancing Baby Groot?

Well, as it turns out, this con’s Holy Grail of Funko toys turned out to be a hard-to-find Castiel (in trench coat or with wings) from TVs Supernatural. While I myself am not a collector of such toys (though I long pondered over whether to buy a The Crow Funko toy and have O’Barr autograph it), I couldn’t help but keep an eye out for the elusive Castiel item, if only to philanthropically help another attendee out.

(Note: I located three of them, but as you’d expect, rather than go for the average $13 retail price, the rare Castiel piece was a whopping $60.)

 

A zombie attacking the most uncanny David Morrissey (aka The Governor) lookalike I've ever seen, Photo Courtesy Dominic Messier, 2015
A zombie attacking the most uncanny David Morrissey (aka The Governor) lookalike I’ve ever seen, Photo Courtesy Dominic Messier, 2015

 

All in all, this year’s smaller and more densely populated Comic-Con was a roaring success in my book, though the comment I heard most often during the day was whether the admission price should be higher to account for the possibility of doing away with celebrity autograph fees. Who knows…anything is possible in the world of conventions. In the meantime, fans will always have Twitter…

 

For your pleasure, some other pictures from this year’s Comic-Con:

 

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: Exodus Gods and Kings a Visual Improvement on Classic Bible Tale

Blu-Ray Cover Art for EXODUS GODS AND KINGS, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015
Blu-Ray Cover Art for EXODUS GODS AND KINGS, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Historical Buff

 

In this age of technological advancement, a seasoned director is faced with an increasingly familiar dilemma, that of either locating new material to adapt to the screen — no small task nowadays — or revisit an existing film property, hoping to bring a new twist, or in the following case, offer better visual effects for a fickle audience looking for the latest 3-D dazzle.

As much as Ridley Scott tries, despite decades of experience and a legendary body of work, his latest piece, the Bible-inspired tale of Exodus: Gods and Kings, won’t be anywhere near the top of his list of achievements.

 

Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton in EXODUS GODS AND KINGS, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015
Christian Bale and Joel Edgerton in EXODUS GODS AND KINGS, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015

 

At the risk of repeating the details of a well-worn plot you’ve watched every Easter on TV while enjoying Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments, allow me to give you the bullet points: Moses (Christian Bale) is the adopted son of Pharaoh Seti (John Turturro) and brother to Rameses (Joel Edgerton), raised as one of their own, becoming a trusted general in the Royal Army.

When the Pharaoh prophesies that a brother would save the other and become a leader, only for Moses to save Rameses during a battle against the Hittites, doubt and suspicion arises between the once inseparable warriors, with Rameses fearing his position and future might be in jeopardy.

When it is revealed through the stories of Hebrew slaves that Moses was one of their own, abandoned as a baby and later rescued as a child, the once respected general is exiled out of the City, condemned never to return.

As he makes his way through hardships and eventually settles with a small tribe and marries a beautiful woman named Zipporah (Maria Valverde), Moses one day suffers an accident up in the mountains, and witnesses a burning bush and the apparition of a boy who speaks for God. The latter sets Moses on a quest to free his fellow men from slavery, lest they find themselves the victims of God’s coming plagues upon Egypt.

Moses heads back to the Royal City to warn his estranged brother, save the slaves and lead them out of Egypt towards the Promised Land. The plagues come and cause severe damage to the city and its inhabitants, causing Rameses to track down Moses and his people, swearing vengeance upon him for the unearthly plagues afflicting his family and realm.

I could go on, but chances are you’ve either read Exodus in the Old Testament or you’ve seen Charlton Heston pull off some nifty tricks on TV as you grew up.

 

The Parting of the Red Sea in EXODUS GODS AND KINGS, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015
The Parting of the Red Sea in EXODUS GODS AND KINGS, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015

 

I’ll say this much: despite an all-too familiar story retold yet again, this one looks incredible, what with its dazzling visuals, elaborate CGI landscapes recreating the might of the Egyptian Kingdom and the awe-inspiring fury of God’s wrath upon the masses. Never has a cloud of locusts looked so threatening.

If such an ambitious plan was put into place, then why not work up a script that is up to the task? For all the efforts Bale and Edgerton put into their roles, the film has all the feel of a reheated re-run, one without flamboyant Golden-Era acting, but none of the emotion either.

Christian Bale seems too deep in thought throughout the film, causing him to lose the heroic sheen one expects from a God-sent savior of a people. As for Joel Edgerton, he plays Rameses as stoic and steely eyed, but reminds viewers of a younger Terry O’Quinn, of TV’s Lost fame. He looks the part but feels miscast.

Forget about the hype about whether Ridley Scott should have cast non-whites in the lead roles, a much debated point in the media. While I respect and understand the ire of certain groups who question the decisions by Hollywood not to be more discerning while planning films of this type, I also won’t tell Van Gogh what type of paint or brush to use, and will be content to enjoy “Starry Night” as a result.

The star here is truly the state-of-the-art visual effects, though many won’t be as thrilled to see the Red Sea humbly recede off camera, rather than majestically split, à la Commandments.

Blu-Ray features enthusiasts will no doubt be seeking a plethora of goodies on this home release, however aside from an overly philosophical audio commentary by Ridley Scott and screenwriter Jeffrey Caine, as well as about 15 minutes of excised unpolished scenes, there isn’t much to rely on, though the “trivia track” does offer some nifty tidbits throughout, if that’s your thing.

 

 

Look for a handful of supporting actors, many of whom barely have a chance to prove themselves on the screen. Breaking Bad’s Aaron Paul plays one of the freed slaves, as does Sir Ben Kingsley as a wise Hebrew elder. Sigourney Weaver appears briefly, clad in robes and Egyptian-style makeup, only to have two scenes or so before disappearing altogether, almost as an afterthought.

If you are indeed a big fan of DeMille’s timeless epic, then watch this film for comparison’s sake, and enjoy what could have been done half a century ago, with better technology and production values. Then again, try to ignore the wooden delivery of this latest version, a pale imitation of an already great tale well told, unnecessarily repeated for modern audiences.

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.

 

Now in Theatres: The Cobbler a Slow Moving but Well Heeled Film

Theatrical Poster for THE COBBLER, courtesy Image Entertainment, 2014
Theatrical Poster for THE COBBLER, courtesy Image Entertainment, 2014

 

Theatrical Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Seasoned Walker in Shoes

(Note: This film was screened at last year’s Toronto International Film Fest)

 

I’ve spent the last little while convincing myself that comedic talent Adam Sandler has finally made the career leap from goofy angry doofus to an emotionally stable force in film.

Granted, the popular Happy Gilmore actor had done more serious fare before, with films like Punch Drunk Love or more recently, Men, Women and Children, rather than scream obscenities or resorted to potty humor in juvenile but lucrative comedc projects.

With his latest outing, Tom McCarthy’s touching and familiar tale The Cobbler, Sandler plays it down while making his audience wish this were the start of an adventure franchise, or at the very least, a cool idea for a TV show adaptation.

 

Adam Sandler in THE COBBLER, courtesy Image Entertainment, 2014
Adam Sandler in THE COBBLER, courtesy Image Entertainment, 2014

 

In this somewhat slow going pseudo comedy of errors, Sandler plays a Jewish cobbler named Max, an easy going but timid laborer whose family repair shop has been in his family for generations.

Unbeknownst to Max, an enchanted foot pedal style stitching machine has been sitting in the basement, a tool that had been offered as a reward generations ago for a selfless good deed by one of his ancestors.

When some clients’ shoes need urgent fixing and his electric gear fails him, Max finds himself using the fabled device only to discover upon trying a repaired pair that he can now appear and sound to be one of his own customers, namely the shoes’ proprietor.

Seeing some potential fun ahead, Max decides to try other peoples’ lives for a change, that is until he realizes the good that can come out of walking in another person’s shoes.

The honest cobbler uses this newfound ability to use any pair stitched by the old machine to try and stop an evil real estate magnate (Ellen Barkin) from taking over the neighborhood.

Mishaps and hijinks ensue, with an army of one standing up to the evil in the ‘hood.

 

Adam Sandler and a world of possible identities in THE COBBLER, courtesy Image Entertainment, 2014
Adam Sandler and a world of possible identities in THE COBBLER, courtesy Image Entertainment, 2014

 

As I patiently watched this film only to lament its slow start until the story picked up the pace by the end of the first act, I couldn’t help but think that this film had cleverly used the same premise as TV’s Quantum Leap, albeit without the time travel, hologram or Bakula/Stockwell component.

Instead, Sandler’s presence is very real, as are the people whose appearances he takes on, that is, as long as the shoes stay on. This makes for a few tempting but awkward situations which play well but don’t really go anywhere plot-wise.

There is a thread of touching moments having to do with the absence of Max’s father (Dustin Hoffman), a departure that has left the poor cobbler to look after his Alzheimer’s stricken mother. Some manipulative sentimentality there, a bittersweet contrast to an otherwise fun tale of opportunity and second chances.

The story redeems itself somewhat by focusing on Max’s good intentions rather than turn this film into a sad or disturbing tale of identity theft. It means well and lets us know often enough.

 

 

Look for Method Man, Steve Buscemi and Melonie Diaz to round up the cast of this harmless comedy which has all the feel of a pilot TV show that reveals a whole lot of options for future films come the end credits. A decent idea by a director mostly known for more serious fare, opening himself up to possible sequels unless someone jumps on the idea first, adding a new sole to an already successful concept.

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: Night at the Museum Threequel Finally Reveals Secret of the Tomb

Blu-Ray Cover Art for NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM SECRET OF THE TOMB, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015
Blu-Ray Cover Art for NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM SECRET OF THE TOMB, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Museum Membership Cardholder

 

With popular films always leading willing audiences to beg for more of the same, a handful of franchises have the advantage and wisdom to offer new adventures without jumping the shark, hoping to bring closure to a series of stories without allowing staleness to set in.

Though this final film in the NATM series feels familiar in many ways, it comes off as heartwarming, comfortable and family friendly without seeming weak and repetitive.

 

Mizuo Peck, Robin Williams, Crystal the Monkey, Ben Stiller, Rami Malek and Patrick Gallagher in NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM SECRET OF THE TOMB, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015
Mizuo Peck, Robin Williams, Crystal the Monkey, Ben Stiller, Rami Malek and Patrick Gallagher in NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM SECRET OF THE TOMB, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015

 

In this latest (if not final) film in the series, Larry (Ben Stiller) continues to dazzle museum visitors without letting on that the magical Egyptian tablet brings characters to life. Using this as a means to help the museum gain new contributors and donors for fundraising purposes, Larry’s plans go awry when problems arise with the golden artifact, which appears to be infected or contaminated.

Realizing that he may lose the ability to interact with his now more than animate friends, Larry and his circle of historical friends like Teddy Roosevelt (Robin Williams, in on of his final films), Attila the Hun (Patrick Gallagher), Sacajawea (Mizuo Peck), and Ahkmenrah (Rami Malek) head off to London, England, home of the Pharaoh’s exhibit, where Ahkmenrah’s parents (Ben Kingsley and Anjali Jay) are displayed.

Though the royal pair may know the secret to restoring the tablet and allowing the museum to animate in the night, the American visitors on a mission may discover new friends and threats in their British cousin’s hallowed halls.

With time running out, can Larry decipher the secret of the tomb without losing his friends forever?

 

Dan Stevens as Lancelot in NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM SECRET OF THE TOMB, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015
Dan Stevens as Lancelot in NIGHT AT THE MUSEUM SECRET OF THE TOMB, courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015

 

Though somewhat tamer and more laid back than its predecessors, this third installment in the Museum franchise doesn’t boast a villain per se, but rather an element of urgency that may spell doom for the roster of colorful museum inhabitants.

Director Shawn Levy continues to draw great performances from his populous cast, allowing for a little more variety much in the same way as the second film did by bringing the action to Washington’s Smithsonian.

This latest chapter allows Ben Stiller to downplay his usual cynical self, bringing more soul and heart to Larry who is now faced with the parental pressures of watching his now older son become a man about to leave the nest. The movie doesn’t spend as much time examining this relationship but one could argue that the metaphorical loss of his museum family reflects Larry’s fears over losing what’s left of his own, or at least control of it.

Downton Abbey fans will rejoice at the sight of former cast member Dan Stevens, here playing a Lancelot out of time and place. The actor provides many comic moments, a refreshing change from his stuffier and darker roles of late.

The film is also bittersweet, what with being one of Robin Williams’ final films before he left us in 2014, offering further honor and wisdom as Teddy Roosevelt. Still a guiding voice of reason, his final performance is a painful reminder of how impactful his presence in any project was and how much it will be missed.

The film hints at a passing of the torch to Ricky Gervais and Rebel Wilson (who plays a bumbling London security guard), without committing to a fourth film just yet. Great idea? Suggestive resolution to a great series? Time will tell.

 

 

A cute and harmless film you can enjoy with your kids, Secret of the Tomb acts as a potential goodbye to familiar friends on a final adventure. Look for plenty of cameos, returning faces and the usual assortment of great visual effects (I’m particularly fond of the fight scene in an Escher painting) as the tablet works its magic one more time. If you’re left wanting a bit more, do check out the added/deleted scenes and other bonus features on the Blu-Ray to watch the actors crack each other up on set.

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: Foxcatcher a Somber Tale of Ambition and Misplaced Loyalties

Blu-Ray Cover Art for FOXCATCHER, courtesy Sony Home Video, 2015
Blu-Ray Cover Art for FOXCATCHER, courtesy Sony Home Video, 2015

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Fan of Real Wrestling

 

When it comes to sports-based biopics in cinema, I’ll admittedly confess I often have to do some research the subject matter thoroughly in order to better appreciate actors’ performances in conveying the mannerisms and vocals of real-life, often obscure figures.

Very much like my need to YouTube some 1980 hockey footage when I’d seen Kurt Russell in Miracle, I found myself learning what I could about millionaire heir John E. DuPont upon watching Foxcatcher, a sad tale of misplaced trust and hope, about one rich man intent on making his mark in a sport he appears to have very little skill in.

 

Steve Carell and Channing Tatum in FOXCATCHER, courtesy Sony Home Video, 2015
Steve Carell and Channing Tatum in FOXCATCHER, courtesy Sony Home Video, 2015

 

Mostly set over a number of years between the Los Angeles 1984 Olympics and those in Seoul four years later, Foxcatcher follows the exploits of gold medalist Mark Schultz (Channing Tatum), a wrestler whose wins haven’t garnered him much attention, limiting him to school appearances and other low prestige events.

His exploits, however, do attract the attention of a rich benefactor, John E. DuPont, heir to the DuPont chemical empire. A multi-faceted man of many hobbies but of much influence, DuPont offers to house the Olympic Wrestling Team at his countryside estate, looking to guide them towards victory as their mighty (albeit inexperienced) mentor, earning himself a place in the annals of the sport.

DuPont offers Mark a comfortable existence and seeks to recruit Mark’s capable older brother Dave (Mark Ruffalo), an experienced wrestling coach and mentor to his impulsive younger sibling, to join Team Foxcatcher.

When it becomes apparent that DuPont is assuming too much of an unrequited position in Mark’s training and personal life, support for the team and their families may be at risk, proving that nothing in life is rarely ever truly free.

 

Channing Tatum an Mark Ruffalo in FOXCATCHER, courtesy Sony Home Video, 2015
Channing Tatum an Mark Ruffalo in FOXCATCHER, courtesy Sony Home Video, 2015

 

Despite some great work by the cast members of this production, their decision to resort to various useless prosthetic appendages to approximate its characters proved a real distraction rather than a boon, especially in the case of Steve Carell, forced to sport a bigger nose to evoke John DuPont’s profile.

Though comedian Carell goes dramatic to surprising effect, much of his muted performance sounds nasal and forced, taking away from a much more layered performance as a powerful but friendless tycoon who believes his wealth affords him personal relationships he insinuates himself into.

Mark Ruffalo offers a minimal but heartfelt performance as Dave Schultz, the film’s conscience and voice of reason, but it’s really Channing Tatum who’s the revelation here. Rather than being relegated to the role of hefty beefcake or straight man to a comedic co-star, the Magic Mike actor portrays Mark Schultz as determined, frustrated and impulsive, an awesome unsung performance.

The movie doesn’t quite delve into what makes John DuPont tick or what elements other than jealousy (mental illness, perhaps?) drove him to murder Dave Schultz in 1996. Vanessa Redgrave briefly appears as the DuPont matriarch, an all-too-short enjoyable performance which could have been stretched and helped the movie further, a memorable bit which required no prosthetic work whatsoever.

 

 

A film with great tone and an air of discomfort palpable through the screen, Foxcatcher will likely drive you to sympathize with Tatum’s character from the get-go, an ambitious but rudderless soul who’s torn between power and wisdom, an athlete willing to accept help to reach his goals, only to realize he’s in over his head.

Great acting all around, if you can get past the rubber noses.

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 Playing: David Cronenberg’s Maps to the Stars a Messy Movie About Messy Lives

Theatrical Poster for MAPS TO THE STARS, courtesy Prospero Pictures, 2014
Theatrical Poster for MAPS TO THE STARS, courtesy Prospero Pictures, 2014

 

Theatrical Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and One Who Tries to Enjoy Life

 

Hollywood has but one purpose: to entertain, to dazzle and to produce piece after piece of fiction designed to earn enough box office moolah to help repeat the process and line its creators’ wallets with wads of greenbacks.

No one really talks about the shadier aspects of the business…well, no one aside from TMZ anyway, but we are mostly content to hear about the happy lives of rich people and their idyllic existence in a sunny world where money is no object, while each of them is tended to by grumbling minions reduced to humiliating tasks, and so on.

Canadian director David Cronenberg opts to adapt a novel about the subject by Bruce Wagner, partly shooting his first film set in Los Angeles after decades spent filming in and around Toronto or Montreal.

The result? A bumbling mess of disconnected, almost clinical scenes filled with dysfunctional stereotypes, and capable actors whose performances aren’t at fault but which don’t connect cohesively to make much narrative impact. Sure, there’s the required Cronenbergian shock value sewn in, but not in the sense one usually finds his work on a cerebral level.

 

Julianne Moore in MAPS TO THE STARS, courtesy Prospero Pictures, 2014
Julianne Moore in MAPS TO THE STARS, courtesy Prospero Pictures, 2014

 

Peppered with various types of hangers-on, producers, sycophantic agents and other Hollywood types, Maps mainly focuses on the Weiss family, a well-to-do bunch with more issues than a magazine stand.

There’s Stafford (John Cusack), the father, a self-help guru whose entire dialogue is based on his own set of redundant nuggets of wisdom, a man self-absorbed by his own quest for wealth and success; there’s Benjie (Even Bird), a popular child star with a potty mouth and attitude to match, but with a squeaky clean rep to maintain as he emerges from rehab and set to work on a sequel.

He is coached and managed by his nervous wreck of a mother Cristina (Olivia Williams), a chain-smoking multi-tasker with a tenuous grasp on reality and sanity.

Missing from the family is older daughter Agatha (Mia Wasikowska), a mentally and emotionally disturbed teen who’d set fire to the Weiss home years earlier for secret reasons, and who’s been institutionalized on the other side of the country in a small Florida community.

Her return to L.A. potentially spells trouble for the cautious and defensive Weiss fam, especially since Agatha decides to go work as a personal assistant for an emotionally unstable has-been actress (Julianne Moore) whose world is consumed by a role she’s seeking playing her own dead mother (Sarah Gadon), a former actress who’d died in a fire. Did I mention said actress is a client of Stafford’s?

I could mention the aspiring actor/limo driver (Robert Pattinson) who somehow connects these characters together, but you get a pretty good idea of the melodrama that begins to occur between these scarred characters, with Tinseltown and its artifice set as a backdrop.

 

Mia Wasikowska in MAPS TO THE STARS, courtesy Prospero Pictures, 2014
Mia Wasikowska in MAPS TO THE STARS, courtesy Prospero Pictures, 2014

 

There’s plenty of conflict and paranoia to be had in this latest by Cronenberg, admittedly not a filmmaker necessarily known for his happy films but also not as notorious for depressing pieces as Lars von Trier is, for example.

Though his artistic decision to leave Toronto behind as a setting is bold and refreshing, this collection of scarred celebrity types don’t quite shock and provoke as intended, resulting in a laundry list of psychological issues, most of them sounding hollow, superficial and flat.

Julianne Moore hits the right marks as a petty aging actress known for getting her way, while the rest of the cast are stuck in one-note roles, seldom veering from their main motivational focus. I felt sorry for Robert Pattinson, reduced to a thankless role as the struggling actor/writer paying the bills as a limo driver.

The film makes great use of sunny L.A., but many narrative tools like flashbacks and hallucinations don’t really connect and take away from the immediacy of these damaged people’s problems. A gutsy move, once again, but one that doesn’t quite pay off in the intended manner, at least not for this writer.

There’s a dark secret hiding at the core of the Weiss family, one which may or may not shock the audience but which doesn’t come as much of a surprise considering how messed up that clan is to begin with. Take it or leave it.

 

 

Hollywood gossip enthusiasts may get a kick out of the melodrama that unfolds, albeit fictitiously, on the screen. It is a sober reminder of the possible reality that exists behind the curtain, how celebrities who smile in front of the spotlight can possibly be a Mr. Hyde in disguise behind closed doors.

A hodge-podge of psychological trauma shot in the way Cronenberg habitués have come to recognize, this long-conceived indie will either shock you or bore you, depending on what you’re looking for.

I failed to connect with it in any way, but you may see something there that I couldn’t manage — or bother — to look for.

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: Whiplash Drums Up an Intense Battle of Wits

Blu-Ray Cover Art for WHIPLASH, Courtesy Sony, 2015
Blu-Ray Cover Art for WHIPLASH, Courtesy Sony, 2015

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Banger of Slow Drums

 

In the annals of cinema, there have been mentors, taskmasters, inspiring teachers and other guiding voices steering young promising talent toward greatness. You’ve seen this in Lean on Me, Full Metal Jacket, Stand and Deliver, the list goes on.

Occasionally, a film comes along where maybe, just maybe, the teacher can go the distance to impress and inspire the student before the student starts inspiring and impressing the teacher in return.

Welcome to Whiplash, a violent meeting of the minds set in a New York City music school.

 

J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller in WHIPLASH, courtesy Sony, 2015
J.K. Simmons and Miles Teller in WHIPLASH, courtesy Sony, 2015

 

Andrew Neiman (Miles Teller) is a promising young drummer at a prestigious New York City Music School whose growing talent for jazz drumming seems to know no bounds.

Hoping to become the next Buddy Rich, Andrew pushes himself to new heights, but not before catching the attention of Terrence Fletcher (J.K. Simmons, in his Oscar-winning role), the school’s most demanding and difficult teacher.

Expecting to have earned the teacher’s respect in being hand-picked for the advanced class, Andrew’s illusions are shattered when he realizes how show of his goals he appears to be, especially when faced with difficult pieces with unconventional time signatures.

As Andrew struggles to reach his utmost potential, he must contend with his increasingly aggressive but perfectionist mentor whose motives are either brilliant or severely misguided.

As the film builds to a crescendo of intense playing/conducting, the game becomes whether the teacher or student will win out, either destroying the other or earning each others’ respect after the battle ends.

 

Miles Teller in WHIPLASH, courtesy Sony, 2015
Miles Teller in WHIPLASH, courtesy Sony, 2015

 

My first instinct while first seeing this film was, “Wow, great, a film about drumming…oh joy.” I couldn’t have been more wrong.

In the same sense that we could understand and appreciate the central dynamic between Private Mayo and Gunnery Sergeant Foley in An Officer and a Gentleman, we are immediately drawn to the intense clash created from seeing Simmons attacking Teller in this film.

The movie raises many questions, chiefly the ethical quandary of just how far is too far when pushing a student for greatness, with Teller’s Andrew offering us a variation on the defeated student archetype, that of a stubborn prodigy who simply refuses to bow down to his conductor. A battle of wits ensues.

J.K. Simmons is simply brilliant as Terrence Fletcher, a career-defining role which sees the veteran actor barking obscenities to his students with the bark and bite of a ferocious drill sergeant. Though some could misconstrue his performance as over the top, I’d argue that his performance is both believable and spot-on.

Miles Teller is no less impressive, though a bit of research will show that the on-screen magic may not all be his doing but the audio component having been his own handiwork (Teller has drummed since age 15 in real-life.) The actor fares well opposite his more intense co-star, but this is clearly Simmons’ game.

Glee star Melissa Benoist, soon to appear on TV as DC’s Supergirl, plays Andrew’s brief love interest, a wasted role that could have been written out as a distraction from the meatier scenes. Ditto Paul Reiser as Andrew’s dismissive but loving dad. Both roles try to add dimension to Andrew’s background but fail to leave any distinctive mark after the fact.

 

 

Whether you’re into music or just want to see another award-winning performance for the history books, you should give Whiplash a try. Though you shouldn’t spend too much time thinking about the logistics of how the magic is happening on screen, I urge you to enjoy the film’s final few scenes, a cheer-inducing finale that will keep you riveted for a good ten minutes.

4 out of 5

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

Now Playing: Kingsman The Secret Service a Kinetic Tribute to British Spies of Old

Theatrical Poster for KINGSMAN THE SECRET SERVICE, courtesy 20th Century Fox, 2015
Theatrical Poster for KINGSMAN THE SECRET SERVICE, courtesy 20th Century Fox, 2015

 

Theatrical Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Anglophile

Everyone has an origin story. Whether noble or obscure, each of us has had humble beginnings in some small town, some modest occupation, before becoming someone, or something else.

In the same sense that director Matthew Vaughn and graphic novelist Mark Millar made teenage superheroes relevant again with the film and book Kick-Ass, they have done so again by looking at the rise of a street kid into a refined secret agent in the modern spy adventure Kingsman The Secret Service.

The result is a mixture of James Bond, Jason Bourne and Jack Bauer with a dash of Cody Banks, all rolled into one.

 

Taron Egerton, Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson in KINGSMAN THE SECRET SERVICE, courtesy 20th Century Fox, 2015
Taron Egerton, Colin Firth and Samuel L. Jackson in KINGSMAN THE SECRET SERVICE, courtesy 20th Century Fox, 2015

 

While the film has several elements usually indicative of a typical Bond film (colorful rich villain, exotic locales, gadgets, etc…), Kingsman veers more towards an origin story than a full blown spy story.

Newcomer Taron Egerton plays teenage boy Eggsy Unwin, a gifted but disillusioned guy whose father used to belong to a secret organization known as the Kingsmen, spies who save the world from looming threats without public knowledge.

Fashioned in structure like the ancient Round Table of King Arthur’s Court, each agent is assigned a given moniker and is tasked with a dangerous mission, all while impeccably dressed and well-mannered to a tee.

Galahad (Colin Firth) seeks out the young Eggsy to serve as his mentor, soon offering him a chance to join the Kingsmen ranks by undergoing rigorous testing. Training moves fairly quickly as a villainous billionaire philanthropist Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson), a lispy eccentric internet guru, has plans to cull the human population to give Earth a chance to heal itself from the modern world’s damage.

With time running out and the world hanging in the balance, it’s up to the young teen to hone his skills, use his wits and agility in order to stop the bad guy, assist his teammates and save the world. No pressure.

 

Eggsy Unwin (Taron Egerton) and the other recruits in KINGSMAN THE SECRET SERVICE, courtesy 20th Century Fox, 2015
Eggsy Unwin (Taron Egerton) and the other recruits in KINGSMAN THE SECRET SERVICE, courtesy 20th Century Fox, 2015

 

If you give the film careful consideration, you’ll soon realize that it feels and sounds closer to the 1960s The Avengers than anything else, except perhaps for the more obvious Bond elements thrown in, namely a prosthetically enhanced henchwoman named Gazelle (razor sharp legs and all) as well as a big baddie with billions to spare and a secret mountain base.

Colin Firth is very much a John Steed for modern times as Harry “Galahad” Hart, a gentleman’s gentleman with excellent taste, manners and deadly skills to match. Firth’s fighting skill in this film is quite a sight, his speed and agility evocative of Matt Damon’s amnesiac assassin, with moves that defy the human eye.

He is accompanied by other members of the Kingsmen like tech wiz Merlin (Mark Strong), leader Arthur (Michael Caine) and previous members whose fate starts the movie off.

Samuel L. Jackson once again steals every scene he’s in, an almost childish power monger whose limited patience in seeing results makes him unstable and petty, though not to be so easily dismissed given his dastardly invention which I won’t mention here for the sake of keeping some goodies secret for you readers.

Taron Egerton and Sophie Cookson do their best as Eggsy and Roxy, two of the recruits, though they easily get eclipsed by their shinier co-stars, something neither of them can get blamed for. I’m sure in time, both of them will have had a chance to improve their craft to match that of their peers.

 

 

Director Matthew Vaughn, no stranger to extremely well choreographed action films, knocks this one out of the park with great kinetic scenes, impressive set pieces and a pace that will keep you riveted to your seat in anticipation and envy. After all, who doesn’t want to own and use spy gadgets?

Kingsman will definitely scratch that spy film itch you’ve had since Skyfall, a more accessible movie than its Bond cousins and definitely classier. Think of it as trying something new. Who knows, you might even like it!

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: Birdman a True Meta Experience with Mesmerizing Cinematography

Blu-Ray Cover Art for BIRDMAN (OR THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE), Courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015
Blu-Ray Cover Art for BIRDMAN (OR THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE), Courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015

 

Blu-Ray Review by Dominic Messier, Founder, Editor and Fan of Films with Hidden, Subtle Meanings

 

You’ve heard the expression before: “Life imitates art.” Then again, have you often seen a film where the exact reverse seems to be happening before your eyes, all in an apparent 2-hour long single take?

Okay, that last bit can be faked using a few tricks of the trade, but the undeniable fact remains that director Alejandro Gonzales Innaritu has pulled off a masterful feat of film making with the help of an incredibly patient and dedicated crew, a willing cast of actors game for long, uninterrupted takes and some stabs at their own professional lives.

 

Michael Keaton and his cinematic alter ego in BIRDMAN (OR THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE), Courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015
Michael Keaton and his cinematic alter ego in BIRDMAN (OR THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE), Courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015

 

I’m tempted to call the film a piece of pleasant surrealism, but that’d be cheating it out of the brilliance of its own simplicity and inventiveness, with much apology to surrealists out there.

Michael Keaton stars as Riggan Thomson, a once popular Hollywood actor known for playing a certain superhero for a handful of movies, before deciding to hang up in the cape in favor of more serious work and roles.

Now, decades later, his star has all but faded, and the aging actor opts to produce his version of a play based on a lesser literary piece by Raymond Carver, one that will prove difficult to market to audiences and more importantly, the critics.

To add to his troubles, one of his cast members isn’t quite cutting it, and so Riggan must resort to the talents of a gifted but reportedly difficult actor (Edward Norton) to help elevate the play during previews, only to realize said actor is trying to steer the show towards himself to further his career.

All of this in one long two-hour scene with a roaming camera which follows the action up, left, right and back down, through the halls of the St-James Theatre in New York City.

 

Michael Keaton and Edward Norton in BIRDMAN (OR THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE), courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015
Michael Keaton and Edward Norton in BIRDMAN (OR THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE), courtesy Fox Home Video, 2015

 

There’s a mental exercise built into the viewing experience of watching this Oscar Best Picture winner, that of becoming self-aware that one is watching the film without any noticeable edits or cuts to other camera angles, a veritable dreamlike visual trip into the world of a small, dysfunctional acting troupe.

Add to this the meta aspect of watching Keaton, himself a two-time Batman portrayor, poking at his own career by way of the movie’s story line. An aging but popular actor whose appearance in this film has not only brought him career-high notice and praise, his appearance in this movie mirrors his own return to the spotlight.

Add more meta to the hero’s worthy foil in the guise of Edward Norton, long hailed as an incredibly involved actor whose wish to modify the existing material has often put him at odds with his film making bosses, here playing a similar actor who dares breaking the rules to take the thespian art to the next level, even if he leaves damaged psyches in his wake.

The rest of the supporting cast, which also include Emma Stone, Zach Galifianakis, Lindsay Duncan, Andrea Riseborough and Naomi Watts, are all game in this experimental success, a film that demanded its players be able to absorb over a dozen plus pages of dialogue per shot scene, all for the sake of delivering a most original and unusual piece of cinema.

 

 

A mesmerizing piece of black comedy at its best, Birdman (Or the Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance) must be seen rather than explained. Don’t try to make sense of what’s happening on the boards of the stage. Unlike most other films, the play here is NOT the thing, but rather a metaphorical milestone of one man’s culminated life and the examination of success and failure.

A life not examined is not worth living. I agree with Socrates in this case. Examine this film. Examine the hell out of it.

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.

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