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.

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.

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.

Wild (Film Review)

Wild (Film Review)

New to the Netflix Canada’s film lineup is the highly acclaimed Reese Witherspoon film, Wild, which in a way serves as the female counterpart to the excellent Into the Wild.

The story is about a bright, but very troubled young woman, who suffers after the loss of her mother to cancer. Once her mother dies, Cheryl goes off the rails, ruining her marriage through a number of meaningless sexual encounters, and a dark path towards heroin use.

wild3Needing to clear her head, Cheryl decides that she is going to hike the 1,100 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, one of the most difficult and lengthy trails in the United States. This gives her the chance to think about her life, about her self-destruction, and about the memories of her mother, that will keep pushing her feet forward on the arduous journey.

Wild is an excellent, and calming, film. It is sedate, allowing the viewer to undertake the harrowing journey with Cheryl. It is extremely well directed, and well edited. I will not often notice the editing in the film, but the way the flashbacks to her life are integrated with her journey is seamless, and manages to add realism and drama to her quest.

Pushed by the strong direction, Witherspoon gives a tremendous performance, which is more about her reactions and facial expressions than it is about the minimal dialogue that she mutters. Wild is a film, after all, where she spends the majority of her time on her own, so her dialogue is infrequent. It’s not about the talking, it’s about the walking, and the journey. She was nominated for an Oscar for this performance, and rightfully so. It is subtle, and introspective.

wild2As for the journey itself, it is filled with beautiful scenery and the fact that Cheryl is not an accomplished hiker. She makes many mistakes, including carrying a pack that she can barely lift, the wrong kind of fuel for her stove, and hiking boots that are the wrong size, causing her feet to appear out of a horror movie. We feel bad for her, at times, knowing that she is making a ton of rookie mistakes, but that is a part of it: to learn as she goes, just as it is with the recovery and acceptance of her mother’s death, and the stopping of her downward spiral.

It is quite the transformation to go from a sophisticated scholar, to a girl having heroin injected into her legs, to having sex with multiple men in alleyways, to taking off, alone, on a dangerous hike that has been able to make many experienced hikers call it quits. Her journey is a tough one, but her goal is simple: make it to the end, so that she can start all over again, even if that is a scary proposition.

Wild is a very good film. It is calm, and quiet, and allows us to see and understand the introspection needed by our main character in order for her to simply be okay. Definitely worth watching.

Narcos (TV Review)

Narcos (TV Review)

Narcos is the TV series that we have all been secretly waiting for ever since Vincent Chase took the risk to make Medellin on Entourage.

Here we are provided with an excellent 10 episodes of historical drama that outlines the life and times of Pablo Escobar, perhaps the richest, and greatest, criminal of his time, if not all time, as told through the view of the DEA agent that helped play a role in his hunt and capture.

narcos4To put it mildly, Narcos is fantastic entertainment.

From the very beginning, the Netflix original show provides grit and drama, taking us from the humble beginnings of the man that would become the greatest, and most feared, man on the planet, the most wanted man on earth. It truly is an incredible story, how one man developed the idea of exporting cocaine, a relatively new drug at the time, to Miami, and how he was- for better or worse- able to change the world.

Escobar went through many changes in his life as a crime lord. He began humbly, but incredible vision allowed him to create the largest drug empire the world has ever seen, where he was making upwards of $60 million per day, actually having more money than he knew what to do with. It got to a point where he literally gave money away to the poor of Columbia, trying to improve their lives with the exorbitant amounts of cash that he knew he would be unable to launder. He even buried money all over the country, creating for himself millions of dollars in an actual treasure map, just trying to hide the endless flow of money that was coming in to him from the cocaine trafficking trade. Eventually, he craved more power, even taking a brief turn in the Colombian house of representatives as an elected official, starting off a time of butting heads with the government that would last for the rest of his life.

NARCOS S01E06 " Eplosivos"

The story of Pablo Escobar speaks for itself, and stories like that manage to just write themselves. Sometimes the truth really is more interesting than any fiction that can be invented. His story is unbelievable, but it is always thrilling to watch. We get to see as he becomes more paranoid, as the law closes in on him, yet we continually see his genius, especially when it comes to creating the deal that would lead to turning himself in. What other criminal in the history of the world got a deal where he could build his own prison for himself, and ensure that government officials weren’t allowed within three miles of the place? Only Escobar.

The story itself provides 10 hours of great entertainment.

Narcos is such a strong show, and not only for the reasons of the story that was already there, ready to be told. It is a show buoyed by strong acting performances throughout, starting with the portrayal of Escobar himself by Wagner Moura. He embodies the man, making him the likable monster that he was in real life. He manages to create a sympathetic character in Pablo, despite the numerous atrocities that he commits over the course of his life of crime. He brings out the man of the people, and the family man, behind the killer who would be willing to sacrifice hundreds of lives in blowing up a plane just to kill one man, or start an all-out civil war on the streets of Bogota, just to ensure his power is maintained, and the fear of him is constantly on the minds of all Colombians.

narcos5A successful element of Narcos is that we get to see the story from both sides. This is not a pro-American show, where the good guys from the States come riding in to save the day in a poor country gripped in the ravages of a drug war from an all-evil man. We see the views of the cops being run out of the US Embassy, the Colombian military, Escobar and his confidantes, his enemies, and his partners. Narcos provides us with many views, which helps us to understand the story that much better. It really does give us insight in to not only the characters of the story, but the story itself, by providing these alternate viewpoints.

This is a very well-written and well-directed series, from start to finish. It is also mostly in Spanish, which helps in not taking away from the dialogue by having actors struggle through a second language, or having American actors put on weak Spanish accents. It contributes to the grittiness, and the reality, of the story. And it never feels cumbersome, having to read a good portion of what is being said over the course of the series.

NARCOS S01E03 "The Men of Always"

I instantly fell in love with Narcos, and can’t wait for there to be a second season in order to conclude the story that they have started here. The story of Pablo Escobar is so unreal, that it warrants more than a fake movie from an HBO series: it warrants its own TV series, where it can take its time in developing all the intricacies of the plot, and the many characters who in reality, brought to life the story of Escobar, and his virtual ruling of the world during the 1980’s. I would say that Narcos goes beyond a strongly recommended series, to one that is basically a must see. One of the best that Netflix has produced.