TMNT: Out of the Shadows

June 4, 2016 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, Stephen Amell
Directed by: Dave Green (“Earth to Echo”)
Written by: Josh Applebaum (“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”) and Andre Nemec (“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”)

As an 11-year-old in 1990, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fandom hit me right in the gut. When the first feature film, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” hit theaters, my friends and I were puzzled by the differences from the beloved cartoon series that was all over afternoon and Saturday morning TV. Where was the turtles’ armored transport, the Party Wagon? Why was Shredder so scary? And where were the other bad guys: mutants like warthog Bebop and rhinoceros Rocksteady, or extra-dimensional brain-in-a-robot-body Krang? While the 1990 film remains the best, most competent movie from point A to point B, it’s the newest film, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” that captures the goofy spirit of the property kids fell in love with nearly three decades ago.

Picking up a year after 2014’s dismal, dumb reboot, “Out of the Shadows” opens with our CGI heroes – helpfully labeled on screen as Leo, Mikey, Don, and Raph – jumping off the Chrysler Building and into Madison Square Garden to watch a Knicks game from inside the Jumbo Tron. As Mikey laments that their status as mutated turtles keeps them out of the spotlight, motor mouthed cameraman Vern (Will Arnett) returns to be honored at halftime for saving the city from Shredder, part of an agreement with the turtles to keep them from being exposed to the city they saved.

Meanwhile, convicted terrorist(!) Shredder (Brian Tee) is set to be transported to a maximum security prison, escorted by corrections officer Casey Jones (Stephen Amell) and in the company of street punks Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Sheamus). That’s when Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry), a mad scientist who is under investigation by reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox) uses a teleporter to retrieve his sensei from the prison van. Something goes awry in the teleportation, however, and Shredder ends up in front of Krang (voice of Brad Garrett), a talking brain inside the belly of a robot body. Krang recruits Shredder to put together pieces of something or another that will allow a battle station called the Technodrome to travel to earth in order for Krang to enslave humanity. To help him in his mission, Krang gives Shredder some purple ooze, which he uses to create his own mutants to battle the turtles.

Look, the plot is junk, there are too many lowbrow fart-type jokes and the music is bombastic and ill-fitting, but holy shit, they got the four turtles and villains Bebop, Rocksteady and Krang exactly right. Leo, Mikey, Don, Raph and the aforementioned bad guys are essentially perfectly transplanted from the original cartoon series, and it’s just so much fun. The highlight of the film, a mission to Brazil that starts with our heroes diving from a cargo plane and ends with fight on a river revolving around a floating tank, is energetic and exciting and the best example of these motion-captured turtles as living and breathing characters. The humans don’t fare so well, however. Shredder, outside of his trademark costume for most of the film, is relegated to a mere middleman, while newcomer Casey Jones never really settles in to a groove as a trusted-yet-unhinged partner to the turtles or a love interest to April O’Neil, here again nothing more than eye candy in the sexy, sexy form of Megan Fox. While a vast improvement on the reboot from two years ago, it’s not without its pitfalls, one of which is the very modern problem of keeping one looking ahead toward a sequel at all times (i.e. not a single villain dies in this movie – even goons tossed out of airplanes are given parachutes). Grab yourself a big, cheesy slice.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

August 8, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner
Directed by: Jonathan Liebesman (“Wrath of the Titans,” “Battle Los Angeles”)
Written by: Josh Applebaum & Andre Nemec (“Mission Impossible – Ghost Protocol”) and Evan Daugherty (“Divergent”)

We should all be resigned to the pop culture of our youth being strip-mined for lackluster, cash-in film franchises by now. Transformers, G.I. Joe, and the Smurfs have all made their way back to the big screen in the last few years, all with middling-to-terrible results. But nostalgia is a potent force, and retreads of popular characters from the movie going populace’s respective childhoods act as powerful magnets for hard-earned cash, with each property making enough money it its initial theatrical outing to warrant at least one sequel. That said, nostalgia can only go so far before the true aroma—or stink, if you will—starts to waft through the perfume of reliving a youth gone by. And with the latest cinematic incarnation of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” the smell is reminiscent of a slightly overripe turtle terrarium: not bad enough to stink up the whole house, but smelly enough to be a nuisance you don’t want to spend too much time around.

The shell of the story remains the same as previous TMNT outings, with a nefarious gang of criminals known as The Foot terrorizing New York City. Intrepid reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox) in intent on exposing the truth behind the crime wave, only her news director (Whoopi Goldberg) has her working the fluff news beat instead. When April makes her way down to the docks on her down time and witnesses four vigilantes—those being our turtle heroes—take down a gang of Foot, she unknowingly becomes embroiled in a long-simmering plot orchestrated by The Shredder to hold the city of New York hostage to a poisonous gas, where the only remedy is the mutagen which created the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

When this version of the film was announced with schlockmeister Michael Bay in the producer’s chair, the collective internet immediately dismissed the film based on the lack of merit awarded to Bay’s treatment of the Transformers, to put it kindly. While nothing in this incarnation of TMNT sinks to the levels of stupidity present in the four Bay-directed Transformer films, the movie is just sort of there. Not good enough to recommend, and not terrible enough to inspire rage—especially with at least one or two well-received films under the franchise’s belt from decades past to satiate fans. Yeah, the film makes some stupid choices, like tweaking the origin story to make the Turtles and their rat sensei Splinter childhood pets of April O’Neil, a claustrophobic decision that echoes the worst ideas in the recent “Amazing Spider-Man” films. But the action scenes are well-orchestrated in a cartoony way, and the CGI—in spite of what you think of the Turtles’ nostrils—is a definite step up from the animatronic costumes of the ‘90s trilogy. You know, maybe you should just watch those instead.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

December 24, 2011 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg
Directed by: Brad Bird (“The Incredibles”)
Written by:  Andre Nemec (TV’s “Alias”) and Josh Applebaum (TV’s “Alias”)

The “Mission: Impossible” franchise is an odd one.  As the only, “Hey, let’s update an old TV show!” film series to make it out of the ’90s alive (“Lost in Space,” anyone?), the movies have been a mishmash of styles, each film having little to nothing to do with the one that preceded it aside from the character of Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise).

The first one, released 15 years ago and directed by Brian De Palma, was Tom Cruise’s answer to James Bond with elements from the TV show, like fantastic disguises and self-destructing messages,  grafted onto the plot for name recognition alone. “M:I- 2” in 2000 was a balletic John Woo-directed fever dream that featured things like a motorcycle fight and slow-motion doves. In 2006, “Mission: Impossible III,” directed by J.J. Abrams, brought a lens-flared grittiness to the series. Hunt took a beating after finally being held accountable to the laws of physics, and the franchise was given new life, as if a tiny explosive device had been shot up its nose.

“Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” directed with ease by animation veteran Brad Bird (“The Incredibles”) ends up being the first true sequel in the series. Continuing the tone set by Abrams (credited here as a producer) “Ghost Protocol” opens to find Hunt locked away in a Russian prison. With the help of agent Jane Carter (Paula Patton), recently-promoted agent Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg) and Dean Martin’s “Ain’t That a Kick in the Head,” Hunt manages to stage an elaborate escape. The IMF needs Hunt, because it seems the recent murder of IMF agent Trevor Hanaway (Josh Holloway) has resulted in the loss of Russian nuclear launch codes that could bring about the end of the world. After a mission to infiltrate the Kremiln and obtain a launch device goes awry, resulting in the IMF being branded as terrorists and disavowed, it’s up to Hunt, Carter, Dunn, and analyst-turned-agent Brandt (Jeremy Renner) to stop global nuclear war.

While you can’t deny the slickness of the presentation, it’s the mechanics of the plot that dampen the enjoyment. The film’s big action set piece, featuring Cruise sprinting vertically down the side of the world’s tallest skyscraper, ends up being the end result of an incredibly robust network firewall, of all things (not to mention that his stealth is undone by running on the outside of building on actual windows), and the back story of Renner’s character (rumored to be a replacement for Cruise in future missions) is unceremoniously defanged by the time the credits roll. The gadgets range from innovative and fun, like an iPad-powered cloaking device, to complex and contrived, like a magnetic hover suit/robot combo. As villains go, Michael Nyqvist’s Kurt Hendricks is a disappointing bore, especially following Philip Seymour Hoffman’s brilliantly psychotic turn as Owen Davian in “M:I-3.” While Cruise’s Hunt remains a cipher, Renner and Pegg combine for some welcome bursts of humor, and the chemistry of the pairing is reassuring for the day Cruise decides to step away.

The stakes have never been higher and the spectacle has never been greater, but the plotting has never felt more episodic. After raising the bar with the third movie, you can’t help but feel a little let down that Cruise, Abrams, and Bird merely maintained the status quo.