Life’s Too Short Season 1 DVD Review (Kirk Haviland)

Life's Too Short DVD Cover

Life’s Too Short Season 1 DVD Review

Starring Warwick Davis, Ricky Gervais, Stephen Merchant, Rosamund Hanson, Steve Brody and Jo Enright

Series created by Warwick Davis, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant

Written and Directed by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant

The team behind The Office and Extras, Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant, are back with another HBO/BBC co-production: Life’s Too Short, now available on DVD from HBO Home Entertainment. Life’s Too Short stars Warwick Davis, star of Willow and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, as he plays an egotistical and self centered version of himself. Returning to the faux documentary style with great success in the Office, the question remains will that style work for them a second time in Life’s Too Short?

The seven episode series centres on Warwick Davis, or a fictional version of him, who is one of Britain’s preeminent dwarf actors, or at least he is desperately attempting to hold on to the title. Warwick also runs an agency dedicated to finding for other dwarves: Dwarves for Hire, along with his dimwitted secretary Cheryl (Hanson). Some feel Warwik abuses this position in order to keep the roles for himself. Warwick is also going through a divorce from his wife Sue (Enright). Davis is also frequently visiting the offices of Gervais and Merchant, playing versions of themselves, who quite frankly cannot be bothered dealing with Davis and frequently offer him terrible advice.  We follow Warwick through a series of embarrassing and uncomfortable sequences, but despite his brash and callous posturing, we still find a way to cheer him on in the long run.

Life's Too Short 1

Life’s Too Short is sort of a mixed bag of a series. The show is very hit and miss, but when it hits the results are hilarious. A lot of the series focuses on putting Davis into very awkward social experiences, which can still be funny, but do tend to become monotonous as a lot of them focus on Warwick’s height. Warwick is really good here in the role of a smarmy, creepy and outright despicable at times former ‘star’ desperately trying to hold on. His treatment of people, especially the women in his life, is callous and unforgivable for the most part, but comes from a deep seeded desire to succeed as fame and fortune continue to slip away. Gervais and Merchant are here in supporting roles, popping up for a couple of minutes each episode in their office. Warwick’s right hand is the loveable Cheryl played with aplomb by Hanson. Her Cheryl is responsible for some of the biggest laughs from the show regulars.

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Much Like Extras, Life’s Too Short features a litany of guest stars from famous friends. This time around we get Liam Neeson, Johnny Depp, Sting, Steve Carrell, Helena Bonham Carter and Cat Deely. Neeson’s turn is almost worth buying the disc alone, as his appearance ranks as  one of the best things Merchant and Gervais have ever written and will have you doubled over in laughter. But the Depp and Bonham Carter turns are underwhelming, especially Depp’s turn which makes him look petty and creepy. Much like The Office, Life’s Too Short features very minimal locations and keeps the filming to a simple handheld style. The faux documentary style does not stay static though, as with the Office, there are the times that the camera is roaming and does not stick strictly to the documentary style to move the story along.

The set includes a half-hour making of special, half an hour of behind the scenes footage, deleted scenes and outtakes. The making of special is very funny, with a lot of Ricky Gervais busting out laughing on set and a hilarious take with Gervais refusing to call cut at the end of the featurette. The behind the scenes segments are fun, though most are repeated from the ‘making of ‘special. The outtakes are mainly busted takes as people on set laugh uncontrollably.

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Life’s Too Short is not a perfect series, there are many areas that fall flat, are genuinely uncomfortable to watch or are just not funny. But the series when at its best is one of the most insightful and funny pieces of entertainment out there, shedding light on issues that dwarves deal with every day mixed into the ludicrous antics of Davis and his own issues with his height. These moments are when the series tend to work best. With a sale price under $25 on Amazon, Life’s Too Short is worth a buy for some of its best moments, the Neeson appearance alone, and is well worth a rental. Life’s Too Short is a recommend.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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Taken 2 Blu-Ray Review (Kirk Haviland)

taken 2 Poster

Taken 2 Blu-Ray Review

Starring Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace, Famke Janssen, Leeland Orser, Luke Grimes and Rade Sherbedgia

Written by Luc Besson and Robert Mark Kamen

Directed by Olivier Megaton

New to Blu-Ray and DVD this week from Fox Home Entertainment is the sequel to the surprise smash hit from 2008, Taken 2. Returning as retired CIA operative Bryan Mills, Liam Neeson is back in action, but this time around HE’S getting taken. Writer/Producer Luc Besson brings aboard protege Olivier Megaton to direct, taking over from Taken director Pierre Morel, but is Megaton able to deliver the goods?

As a retired CIA agent with a very particular set of skills, Bryan Mills (Neeson) stopped at nothing to save his daughter Kim (Grace) from Albanian kidnappers in the original Taken. Now two years later, the father of one of the deceased kidnappers (Sherbedgia) has sworn vengeance upon Mills and his family. After he completes a job in Istanbul, Bryan’s daughter Kim and ex-wife Lenore (Janssen) meet him for a family vacation. Shortly after arriving Bryan and Lenore are taken hostage. Bryan must enlist Kim to help them escape, and then use the same advanced level of combat tactics to get his family to safety while systematically taking out the kidnappers one by one.

To say that Taken 2 is more preposterous than the original Taken would be a bold statement considering how over the top the first one becomes, but Taken 2 is on a whole different level. The script for Taken 2 feels more like a plot outline that was filled in as the film went along, and considering the entire third act was changed to remove a certain character from pivotal scenes and add them back in others seems to back this point. The cast actually does decent work with the material given to them, given that character motivations and actions designated to them by the script seem to make little sense at all. The fact that a still traumatized and jittery Kim when told by her father to go to safety declares she won’t because she is going to rescue him is completely against type. But despite this she grabs a gun and some grenades and under direction from dear old dad takes off to help. Janssen spends most of her time fading in and out of consciousness during the film, a lot of her work ending up on the cutting room floor.

Taken 2

The biggest issue with Taken 2 is that Olivier Megaton cannot deliver the goods action-wise behind the camera as well as Pierre Morel did in the first Taken. Morel had already directed the action classic “District B13” in his native France before helming Taken and his flare and eye for action is really missing here. Neeson also seems to have slowed down a step or two in the last four years. Whether it’s the staging, Neeson’s ability or a combination of both that is the cause, Neeson’s Bryan Mills between the two films seems to have aged as much as 1980’s Steven Seagal compared to 2012 Steven Seagal. The moves may be there but the speed seems stuck on slow motion. It also appears that Megaton was a huge fan of 2011’s “Drive” as he stages an entire sequence, complete with running timer, to the Chromatics ‘Tick of the Clock’ off the “Drive” soundtrack. Unfortunately the ensuing car chase sequence is nowhere nearly as well staged as any of the sequences in director Nicolas Winding Refn’s masterpiece.

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The Blu-Ray is packed with special features as it contains the theatrical and extended versions of the film. The disc also includes more deleted scenes that did not make it into the final cut as well as an ‘alternate ending’ that is actually the entire original third act described earlier. The extended version contains a pop up trivia track entitled ‘Black Ops Field Manual’ and there is a fetaurette on Mill’s weapon supply case narrated by Leland Orser’s Sam character entitled ‘Sam’s Tools of the Trade’. Lastly there is a FX Movie channel interview with Neeson about his character and the film.

Ultimately Taken 2 falls desperately short of the expectations set by its predecessor’s tongue in cheek, action packed bucket of fun. Action sequences that play less realistically and a script that feels like it was finished on the fly add up to a watchable film but not a great film. Even suspending disbelief and playing along with the film, the end result cannot come off as anything but a disappointment. Taken 2 is a mild non-recommend.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

Make sure to keep up with what’s going on at Entertainment Maven by liking our Facebook page and having updates delivered right to your Facebook News Feed. It’s the only way to stay on top of all of our articles with the newest blockbusters and all the upcoming films, festivals and film related events in Toronto.

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Battleship Review (Kirk Haviland)

Battleship (2012)

Starring Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgård, Brooklyn Decker, Rihanna, Tadanobu Asano and Liam Neeson

Written by Erich and Jon Hoeber

Directed by Peter Berg

After a brief hiatus I have returned with a review that has had my head spinning. How do I talk about Battleship? Quite possibly the loudest and most annoyingly inconsequential film of the last decade, Battleship makes no apologies for its “script” which is a collage of the worst film clichés. But did we really expect anything else from a movie based on a board game?

Battleship starts with the brothers Hopper, Alex (Kitsch) and Stone (Skarsgard), in a bar while Stone laments the fact that Alex is a screw up who can’t stay employed. In walks Samantha Shane (Decker), whose request for a chicken burrito leads to Alex breaking into a closed convenience store for one to give her (yes, you read that right). Of course Alex is chased by the police and tased, but magically ends up waking up at home and not in a jail cell.  Stone decides it’s time for Alex to join the Navy with him. We jump forward six years to find that Stone, now in his early 30’s, has become a Commander of a Naval Destroyer (!!) and Alex is now a Lieutenant and 3rd in command of another Destroyer (in only 6 years and despite his criminal past!). Sam, as it turns out is the daughter of Admiral Shane (Neeson), who doesn’t like Alex at all and may make Alex’s plans for marriage more complicated. During the setup for Rimpack, a joint Naval games exercise with Naval outfits from across the globe (so we can sell to those overseas markets!), we are introduced to many more characters, including Petty Officer Raikes (Rihanna in her theatrical debut) and a rival Japanese Captian, Nagata (Asano). During the games aliens crash-land in the ocean and construct a barrier cutting off three ships from the rest of the fleets. They proceed to destroy them with propelled charges that look exactly like the pegs from the Battleship Board Game! Of course somehow Alex becomes a commanding officer and it’s up to him to save the day.

Sorry for the extraneous use of punctuation during my synopsis, but the preposterousness of it all had to be emphasized. I didn’t even get to the scene where they commandeer a decommissioned Battleship that they have no idea how to operate, only to spark an ACDC accompanied montage where veterans magically appear on the boat and fire up the engines! The biggest issue with Battleship is despite all its goofiness and explosions galore, it’s actually really boring. Neeson is a footnote in the story, written out of over half the film due to the barrier supplied by the Aliens. While I found Kitsch quite enjoyable in the overstuffed John Carter from earlier this year (review here), he does not come off as well here. Spouting terribly clichéd dialogue and blankly starring at green screened alien foes, his Alex never seems credible at any moment of time during the proceedings. Decker’s Sam, while engaging in an utterly inconceivable side plot, is mainly eye candy for the teenaged boys this film is clearly targeted at. Rihanna, the only non-actor in the main cast, actually manages some charisma onscreen, even if her acting chops are obviously shown to be very limited.

As stated earlier, Battleship commits the cardinal sin of any action film – it’s boring as hell. Even pulling out the go to for action montages, ACDC (not once but twice), cannot make the film feel any more interesting. The good folks at Universal had high hopes for this becoming their Transformers franchise, but even they couldn’t have predicted how bad would turn out. Director Berg has made some fun stuff in the past, but seems to have left all the fun out his latest. Save yourself the hassle and go see Avengers again. Battleship is a Strong Non-Recommend.

Till Next Time,

Movie Junkie TO

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The Grey Review (Matt Hodgson)

The Grey (2011)

Starring Liam Neeson, Dermot Mulroney, and Frank Grillo

Screenplay by Joe Carnahan

Directed by Joe Carnahan

I’m sure that I’m not alone when I say that since Taken (2008), Liam Neeson has a special place as one of the baddest men on the planet and I mean that in a good way. Let me try to explain how bad he is. If Liam Neeson wanted my last fruit cup, I would give it to him. If he picked a fight with me, I would punch myself in the face repeatedly, while also apologizing profusely for the un-Neeson-like strength of my punches. If I heard a rumour from a friend of mine who was notorious for making up rumours, and the rumour was that Liam Neeson didn’t like my review of The Grey…then I’d probably look into personal funeral options, immediately. Anyone know the number of a good undertaker?

MINOR SPOILERS

The plot of The Grey is quite simple and potentially very effective. A group of men contracted to work in Alaska are on their way back home for a two-week vacation. All that’s left between them and their destination is a plane ride that turns bumpy and eventually crashes in the great white middle of bloody nowhere. Most of the passengers have perished in the crash, but a small group of men find themselves in the unwelcoming position of having to collect what few mental marbles they have left and think of a plan that could lead them out of this wintery hell. A troubled but knowledgeable man named Ottway (Neeson) proves to be the best leader out of the group of survivors. However, even if they follow Ottway and listen to his every order, there is still no guarantee that these men will survive to see their families again, let alone the morning. If the cold doesn’t kill them, then a pack of bloodthirsty predators pursuing them will certainly try. It seems like these tired and hungry humans are a poor combative match-up against these deadly beasts.

I thought that The Grey started out perfectly. Neeson’s character is cold, hardened, mysterious, and deadly, just like the environment that the group of survivors find themselves in. The film gets right to the point as it feels like the plane crash happens within the first 15 minutes of the film. Also, there are some excellent dream sequences which effectively utilize the common intrusion of sensory experience on our dreams. I can’t believe I’m actually praising dream sequences as they are usually one of my least favourite narrative devices, but at the beginning of The Grey they really are quite impressive. Unfortunately, this pretty much sums up what I think are the positive elements of the film.

I’ve heard complaints about The Grey regarding the story’s believability, but I don’t find this to be a very valid criticism. Sure, a lot of what happens in The Grey is pretty outlandish, but it could happen, and it’s also not a discovery channel survival documentary…it’s a movie. My personal problem with The Grey is that I didn’t care about the fate of the characters after about twenty minutes. This was mainly due to some very questionable plot decisions that may leave you scratching your head. I think The Grey uses a different type of logic than the one I’m familiar with. So often throughout the film, obvious decisions for the characters were anything but obvious to me. A particular scene on the edge of a cliff really made me wonder if the characters had smoked some exceptionally powerful crack before arriving at their conclusions.

Finally, the editing during the action sequences derailed much of the excitement for me as I tried to figure out who or what I was looking at. From what I could tell it seemed like the filmmakers used a combination or CGI and puppets for the predators. It was nice to see something besides CGI being used, but unfortunately it wasn’t very effective as the most often used puppet seemed to be a head with sharp teeth that would literally fill the screen during many of the attack sequences, adding to the confusion of these scenes as it was impossible to see anything else.

I wish I could have written a more positive review for this film; I was very excited for its release and as I have said, I’m a big Liam Neeson fan, but some questionable decisions with the script and some confusing editing during the action sequences make it difficult to be very excited to watch this one again.

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