Dreamland (TV Review)

Dreamland (TV Review)

Originally called Utopia when it aired, the Australian series Dreamland follows the lives and projects of the folks at the National Building Authority, as they try to make Australia a better place with their grand projects for nation-building.

Naturally, it is the collision of big dreams and massive bureaucracy that provides Dreamland with the central conflict, and main comedy of the series. Right off the bat, there are many similarities between this show, and the British comedy Twenty Twelve, where they are trying to plan out the London Olympics (read my review of it here: Twenty Twelve).

With so many large projects on the go, it is the endless small things that continually get in the way for our likable nation builders at the NBA. Trying to keep everybody happy, while at the same time actually trying to get something done, provides for the humourous tension that we see throughout the series. It could also be compared, at points, to The Office, where incompetence provides a constant stumbling block for the characters actually determined to do their jobs.

dream2Dreamland serves as a political satire, and provides plenty of humour throughout. There are characters that are there to throw wrenches in all of the plans, and the seemingly endless issues that come up with each and every thing that the competent characters try to get done. It is fun to watch them struggle around, as their company is constantly spinning its tires, coming up with over-the-top new ideas, while simply trying to get to Stage 2 on any projects that they have actually been able to get green-lighted.

While every city has its troubles with planning and design, at times it feels like Dreamland ventures into the realm of reality. It could be easy to see planners in any place having to jump through the same hoops in order to get a project underway. Even the smallest project could be derailed by some fringe group that has one complaint or another about how it will be developed, or executed.

Dreamland is a fun watch. It is light, and full of enjoyable characters. From battles over the company logo, to appeasing bikers, to the prospect of building a massive bridge from Australia to Tasmania, the show is full of the ridiculous bickering that manages to stall good ideas and continue to contribute to the cycle of bureaucracy that helps get nothing done when it comes to government issues. Here, we are provided with a light look at how it all goes wrong, and are able to enjoy the ride. Dreamland doesn’t require a heavy viewer investment, and with an 8-episode season, it is easily digestible on Netflix.

The show is a good in-between when you are stuck in Netflix purgatory, and cannot decide which series will be next for you. A few enjoyable hours of watching bumbling Aussies just trying to get something done. Dreamland is fun.

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Jays Fever Sweeps Canada

Jays Fever Sweeps Canada

It’s good to have people talking about baseball again.

Normally at this time of year, 100% of the Canadian sports fan focus is shifted towards the debut of the new National Hockey League season. Games are underway, and it typically seems as though all other sports fall by the wayside once the puck drops each fall.

As a massive baseball fan, it is the time of year where I find the small group of people to talk ball with, with those few others that watch my favourite sport right through to the end of the World Series.

There aren’t many of us, especially in the desolate outpost of Edmonton.

But not this year.

This year, there are the Toronto Blue Jays, giving us something to cheer about once again.

bj3After their massive trade deadline deals and rise to the top of the American League East, and then a great comeback to dispatch the Texas Rangers in the first round of the playoffs, the Jays are back, and have created excitement across the country.

People are Jays fans now. And they are talking baseball once again.

Many people would argue that it is a bad thing that there are so many bandwagon jumpers at this point in the year. People who had ignored the Jays for the past 20 years are now back, glued to their TVs with every pitch, and talking about the team non-stop. But it’s not a bad thing. It is creating a buzz, an excitement for the game that has been absent in Canada for a long time. This Jays run is creating a new generation of baseball fans, who are learning the game, and loving watching our nation’s only team win. The Jays, simply put, are making new baseball fans, and while there is no chance that all of them will stick around if the team is lackluster next season, there is a good number that will enjoy the thrills of the sport, and be hooked on baseball for life.

bj4Even out here in Edmonton, thousands of kilometers away from Toronto, perhaps the most despised sporting city in Canada, people are all in on the Jays. Car flags, men dressed in blue unitards on the streets with signs asking for honks to support the team, packed bars in the afternoon to cheer on every big play, and seemingly everybody willing to talk baseball for the first time in a long time, it’s a great thing to see. The country has rallied around the team. There are even concerns that our federal election will be affected by the Blue Jays Game 3 on Tuesday. That is some powerful drawing power.

It doesn’t hurt that the 2015 Blue Jays are filled with fun players with big personalities. They are an exciting team to watch, and have provided some thrills along the way already. The cheers ringing to the rafters of the local pub I was at during that magical 7th inning in Game 5 against Texas reminded me of other nation-unifying events, like Canada’s run to Olympic gold medals.

The Jays games are being watched in schools, on in the background, or as a centerpiece to the lesson of the day. It reminds me of being a teenager in 1992 and 1993, when the Jays were winning their World Series titles, and us students being loaded into the library to watch the game on a painfully small tube television, the only place in the school where cable TV was available. It was a great time, back then, watching them win it all in epic fashion.

And it has started off being fun again.

While they are in really tough with the Kansas City Royals- the one team I feel they match up poorly against- it should be an exciting ride as they try to win the American League pennant for the first time in over two decades.

Edmonton, as well as the rest of Canada, is on board.

This Is the End (Film Review)

This Is the End (Film Review)

Recently released to Netflix Canada, the dark comedy This Is the End brings a little bit of Armageddon to the table for a group of Hollywood actors just trying to enjoy a good party at James Franco’s house.

end2Bordering between a black comedy and a gross-out comedy, This Is the End provides us with a fun view into a bunch of actors who are playing themselves in the film. A cast that includes modern funnymen such as Seth Rogen, James Franco, Jonah Hill, Craig Robinson, Danny McBride, and Jay Baruchel, interact together after an apocalyptic event stuns the city of Los Angeles and most people are pulled to the sky with mysterious lights. The survivors do their bumbling best to survive in Franco’s house, with meager supplies, and their fair share of idiocy standing in their way of survival, and ultimately, salvation.

end3There are a few laughs in the film, and it definitely takes on a darker tone than most might expect from a film with this ensemble cast. As the story moved forward, it came with it a surprisingly religious twist that I was not expecting. This is not the funniest film of the year, by any stretch, but there are enough light moments to make it entertaining enough to watch. The high Netflix star rating surprised me, as did the Rotten Tomatoes score of 8.3, and even a strong review from Roger Ebert.

end4Taking the film beyond the comedy aspect, however, it is a pretty decent movie, better than I would have expected. Going into it, I expected a film serving primarily as actors stroking their own egos by playing themselves, and forcing us to care about what would happen to them, above anybody else, should the end of days truly approach it. Instead, we like the characters as they are. There are feuds and issues between them, and they are more than willing to parody themselves in order to accentuate the gags of the film. As an audience member, it is fun to imagine Jay and Jonah hating each other in real life, and everybody seeming to have a man-crush on Rogen, as he serves as the glue that keeps the group together.

Overall, This Is the End is a better film than I expected, albeit a less funny one. With that, it is still worth a watch. There are many enjoyable cameos to enjoy, specifically from the initial party, which is a who’s who of Hollywood at this point in time. Not bad for some slightly more cerebral entertainment than expected.

Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (Film Review)

Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (Film Review)

Something very strange and unexpected happened when I decided to shut my brain off for a while and indulge in watching Hot Tub Time Machine 2.

I laughed.

This was a bit of a surprise. But, there was definitely more than one scene in which I actually laughed out loud, which for me, made this comedy sequel actually funnier than the original.

I know. Who knew?

tub2Hot Tub Time Machine 2 focuses on three quarters of the original cast (minus John Cusack) as they are living it up in their new reality that was created by changing the past in the first film. When one of the gang is shot in the crotch, they must travel back in time (which is actually an alternate future) in order to stop the murderer. It’s a little bit convoluted, the whole story, but really, who needs to discuss the plot of a sequel to a film titled Hot Tub Time Machine?

As with any comedic sequel, there is a play on many of the jokes that existed in the first one, but this time around, they seem funnier. Some of the best laughs occur when the guys see themselves in the mirror for the first time in their new future, and go off on their “You look like…” jokes. We’ve seen it before, and will probably see it again, but it definitely elicited some laughs for me.

Maybe I am getting dumber.

The insanity of the TV game show they participate in is also kind of funny. Shockingly stupid, but kind of funny. That’s the gist of the whole film: impossibly stupid, but kind of funny.

HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2 - 2015 FILM STILL - Adam Scott is Adam Jr. - Photo Credit: Paramount Pictures/MGM  © 2015 Paramount Pictures Corporation and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures Inc. All Rights Reserved.

To replace the departed Cusack, Adam Scott plays a larger role in the film, and brings his standard style of wit to the film. He serves as a welcome addition.

In HTTM2, there is exactly what you would expect. Plenty of bathroom and sexual humour. A lot of swearing. Some naked breasts. Many jokes about film references (“This reminds me of Terminator.”). Messing with historical events. Drinking and drug benders that are pretty humorous.

Bianca Haase is Sophie in HOT TUB TIME MACHINE 2, from Paramount Pictures and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures. HTTM2-FF-003
Bianca Haase is Sophie 

But at the end of the day, it does provide some laughs. This film is perfect for when you’ve had a long day at work, and want to do absolutely no thinking, but perhaps want to giggle a couple of times at how cruel these friends can be to one another, and the complete silliness that is the story line. Despite universally wretched reviews, I would actually say that this comedy is decent in comparison to the other slew of terrible comedies that are out there. It is tough to make people laugh, but Hot Tub Time Machine 2 did it for me.

And perhaps most surprising of all, I didn’t hate myself afterwards for watching this film.

2015-16 NHL Predictions

2015-16 NHL Predictions

I guess it’s that time of year, to make ridiculous predictions in relation to how the National Hockey League will play out this season, and to make an attempt at guessing the order of finish for the four divisions in the league.

The new year always promises excitement, with questions to be answered, and results to be seen.

Here we go!

(x- denotes playoffs)

Atlantic Division

  1. x-Tampa Bay Lightning: No reason to see any regression in one of the more exciting, young, teams in the league. Goalie health will always be the main question; the rest of the team is solid.
  2. x- Montreal Canadiens: Carey Price. PK Subban. That is all. Will all lead to another playoff flameout because of lack of grit and secondary scoring.
  3. x- Detroit Red Wings: It has become impossible to not pick them to make the playoffs. They always find a way.
  4. Boston Bruins: Weird off-season, no signs of improvement.
  5. Florida Panthers: A team on the rise, but there are still too many teams to overcome to be a serious threat.
  6. Buffalo Sabres: A lot of excitement around the changes to this bottom-feeder, and rightfully so. Should be entertaining to watch, at least.
  7. Ottawa Senators: Goalie regression. That is all.
  8. Toronto Maple Leafs: It’s great to have Babcock at the helm, but he is basically trying to coach a raging tire fire of a roster.

Metropolitan Division

  1. x- New York Islanders: They are one of the more entertaining teams in the league, filled with a ton of offense. There will be a lot of 5-4 games. Which is awesome. Time for them to take the leap.
  2. x- New York Rangers: Becoming a perennial contender. Good looking roster, with plenty of depth.
  3. x- Columbus Blue Jackets: A team destroyed by injuries last year. Their top line will rack up the points this year. An underdog, but should not be overlooked.
  4. x- Pittsburgh Penguins: I still see the same problems with the Pens: very top heavy, with very little depth once you get past the first line and a half of players.
  5. x- Washington Capitals: A trendy Cup pick that I don’t see doing much more than it usually does.
  6. Philadelphia Flyers: Not enough change on a roster that failed next year. They will be playoff contenders, however, and should make it interesting down to the end.
  7. Carolina Hurricanes: The team that most people forget even exists in this league. Nothing to really report on here. Just become the Quebec Nordiques already.
  8. New Jersey Devils: A weird looking roster filled with dinosaurs. The lone bright spot is Cory Schneider.

Central Division

  1. x- St. Louis Blues: So much depth. Need to break the playoff curse against the ‘Hawks.
  2. x- Minnesota Wild: Underachieved for most of last year because of terrible goaltending. The problem seems to be fixed, and it is time they made an upwards move instead of simply being a fringe team.
  3. x- Dallas Stars: The Islanders of the West. All offense, questions on whether or not they can actually prevent goals. Upgrades all around during the off-season. Tyler Seguin for the Art Ross?
  4. x- Chicago Blackhawks: They have to get tired after all the playoff games at some point, right? Right?
  5. x- Winnipeg Jets: A solid looking team (as long as Ondrej Pavelec gets fewer and fewer starts in net) stuck in a very good division.
  6. Nashville Predators: How many off-seasons can they have where they do nothing to improve their middling offense?
  7. Colorado Avalanche: Probably better than they were last year, with bounce-back years from their kids. But not good enough to take over from any of the teams above them, all of whom have playoff potential.

Pacific Division

  1. x- Anaheim Ducks: Just a strong team all around. They will grind their way to the top.
  2. x- Los Angeles Kings: The roster is too good to miss the dance for a second year in a row.
  3. x- Calgary Flames: All heart, wanting to prove that last year was no fluke. Many are calling for them to drop in the standings because of poor fancy stats. I don’t see much of a drop.
  4. San Jose Sharks: Maybe one of the tougher teams to get a read on. Questions in goal will doom them.
  5. Edmonton Oilers: After nearly a decade at the bottom, they will finally begin to rise. Should be entertaining to watch, and oh yeah, I see McDavid as a legitimate threat to win the scoring title in his rookie season.
  6. Vancouver Canucks: There is basically nothing to like about this roster. They have done very little from their heyday a few years ago, and now they look old and boring.
  7. Arizona Coyotes: A ton of potential and young talent with this team, and should be scary. In a couple of years.

Insane Stanley Cup Prediction

In the West, I see the Blues finally breaking through, beating the Kings in the Conference Final. On the other side of the continent, I’ll go with a crazy prediction and take the Islanders to top the Blue Jackets in the semis.

Blues vs. Islanders final. The Blues win the Cup, and the Islanders re-establish themselves as legitimate contenders for years to come.

How to Get Away with Murder (TV Review)

How to Get Away with Murder (TV Review)

Annalise Keating is a charismatic and intimidating lawyer and professor who teaches the notorious college course that she entitles, “How to Get Away with Murder.” Students cower in her presence, and do their best to not make fools of themselves on the first day of class. Keating is bold, determined, and damn good at what she does.

Each year, she selects a small group of her finest students that will help her out as members of her law firm. Here, they will work together to solve difficult cases, all the while revealing the dark secrets of their own.

murder2How to Get Away with Murder provides a nice combination of an episodical crime series, where there is a new mystery to be solved each week, all the while focusing on the background problem that ties the entire first season together: her law students have murdered someone, and are trying to cover it up.

A sorority girl ends up dead, and she is known to the group because she was friends with one of the students neighbors. Here we undertake a story where Keating’s husband is involved in her death, as he was having an affair with the dead girl. Eventually, he ends up dead, at the hands of the law students, who begin their quest to cover up their own dirty deeds, using the knowledge they are learning from Keating, both in and out of the class.

murder3While is seems tricky, it comes across very well on the screen, and makes for an intriguing show. It is non-linear, and will skip around in time frequently, to provide backing information on the central murder, all the while barreling the plot of each episode forward.

One thing that makes How to Get Away with Murder so entertaining and watchable is the cast. Led by Viola Davis, who has won a number of awards for her role as Annalise already, who plays her character with a fierceness rarely seen in a female lead on TV. As the series progresses, we see chips in her steely veneer, and Davis is able to bring an intense vulnerability to her character that makes her more fragile, real, and endearing. It is difficult to dislike Annalise, despite her being strongly set up as a dislikeable character from the beginning. She seems to care only for herself, and will stomp on anybody or anything that stands in the way of getting what she wants. While she acts as an anti-hero, it is intriguing to see what lengths she will go to to protect those that she cares about, keep her promises, and keep her own secrets in the dark.

murder5The rest of the cast is rounded out by strong performers. The five law students are strong (aside from Alfred Enoch, who plays the meek Wes of the group…he starts off as being pretty annoying, but gets better as the season moves along), and the rest of the supporting cast is good as well. The other people closest to Annalise include another lawyer, played by Gilmore Girls alum Liza Weil, and the not-sure-exactly-what-his-job-is Frank, played by Charlie Weber.

murder6The cast is rounded out by a character that becomes the focus of much of the story, Wes’ neighbor Rebecca, played by Katie Findlay, most famous from her time as Rosie Larsen on The Killing, and from roles in small films such as Premature. Findlay provides a solid backbone to the story, and she is an increasingly strong actor, even though she sometimes seems slightly miscast as the tough-as-nails, uncaring goth drug dealer Rebecca. Still, her acting is very good throughout, and her importance to the show cannot be denied.

murder4How to Get Away with Murder provides a ton of twists and turns, easily hooking the viewer into the plot of the show. A good backing murder, along with interesting cases along the way in each episode, and a cast that is able to create their own unique personalities when they could have just been lumped together (a credit to the solid writing), makes HTGAWM a very solid show, and well worth a watch on Netflix.

There are plenty of cliffhangers here, including the final episode, which will lend itself to what could end up being a very interesting second season of the show. I, for one, will be sure to watch once the second season rolls out, to see what has happened to the delicate circle created by Annalise, and to see if everything can be held together, as a bunch of students to their very best to get away with murder.

Taken 3 (Film Review)

Taken 3 (Film Review)

The first major issue with the third installment of the Taken franchise is that nobody is taken.

Following the under-the-radar hit filled with insane amount of awesome from star Liam Neeson, and the semi-respectable action-packed sequel, Taken 3 has sort of run out of ways for Neeson’s daughter Kim to be stolen away. So they set it up that he is framed for the murder of his ex-wife, in a plot involving a former Russian Spetsnaz soldier-turned-gangster who is owed some money. Neeson must prove his innocence while eluding the police, while doing his best to hunt down the bad guys in the film.

taken3The plot itself isn’t too bad, but Taken 3 lacks where the other films excelled. There just isn’t that much action, and when there is, it pales in comparison to the thrills of the first two movies. Neeson is definitely getting older, and the hand-to-hand battles are definitely lacking. They simply aren’t that good anymore, and odd editing makes the scenes somewhat choppy and lacking the seamless quality of before. Even the gun play is below average, and we are forced to believe that one of the best trained soldiers on earth is a poor shot with a machine gun from only a few feet away, aiming at an older target that is definitely not moving very quickly.

taken2What has been created is a film that is more story heavy, which is fine, but doesn’t deliver the extreme payoffs that we have become accustomed to with the rest of the Taken series. This is a film that is supposed to create tension, but offers none.

Taken 3 ends the series in a whimper, despite being a watchable action film. It is by far not the worst thing out there, but it definitely isn’t the best, and there are surely better current action options out there to satisfy the car chase, fist fighting needs of viewers.