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Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (PG 13)

turtles

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There wasn’t much of a chance that I’d enjoy this film, and until I signed on to do review blogs for this website, I had fully intended to skip it. That being said, I did have some expectations going in based on past experiences with Michael Bay and my own childhood love of the series. Somehow the movie managed to disappoint me on both fronts.

 

I’ll say from the outset that they didn’t do everything wrong with this film; there are genuine moments of humor to be had. The problem is that for every minute of entertainment or every glimpse at an interesting idea, thereare ten minutes of boredom and an idea so stupid that it negates any cleverness they’ve achieved (with the exception of one scene that I will explain at the end). The net result is something that’s somehow more disappointing than a full on train wreck that has convinced me to never watch a movie associated with Michael Bay again.

 

Enough stalling, on to the review. Chances are you know what you’re getting into at this point. I doubt there’s a movie-goer out there that hasn’t heard of the Turtles, it was a cornerstones of my childhood built on a single stupid song. Four pet turtles get infected by magical science goop and become nighttime vigilantes battling against the evil Shredder and his Foot Clan. It’s a silly premise that’s pretty tough to take seriously and to the film’s credit, it doesn’t spend much time focusing on drama and moping.

 

The film fails in much the same ways that Bay’s Transformers franchise fails: not enough focus on the title characters. It’s nearly 20 minutes before we actually get to see our four pizza addicts, and they fade into the background for even more time after that. No, this is a story about April O’Neil, the frequent Damsel in Distress of the show. It’s a good choice in direction to make her an actual capable character who doesn’t need much saving throughout, but any points gained there are lost by the fact that she’s boring as heck and gets like no funny lines. Her sidekick is even worse. Played by actually amusing actor Will Arnett, it’s painful to watch him fail at every step to get a laugh. These two basically bumble around the movie checking off boxes in Generic Action Flick Bingo while failing to draw out more than a small chuckle or smirk at a particularly awful bit of dialogue.

 

The Turtles themselves do fare slightly better and often feel like actual characters, albeit hideous monstrosities that are in no way fun to look like. Many, though definitely not all, of their interactions are fun and the one scene that I’m gonna put at the end for spoilers is honestly rather brilliant. Michelangelo is obviously the one that got most the attention here, getting most of the funny lines and if you’re laughing hard during this film it’s probably because of him. He also gets the creepiest lines and frequently says things to and about April that go way past the realms of good taste and into restraining order territory.

 

Then there’s the villains and we get the one thing in the movie that actually takes me from bored to angry. Shredder was the single most memorable villain from my childhood and they turned him into the most generic of mechanical foes with a penchant for posing like Wolverine. Except for the one scene where you see him without the armor you never really feel like he’s a threat or even like a character. He just struts around the film growling and shooting swords that never hit anything important.

 

The only real saving grace in the movie for me was William Fichtner. He plays billionaire genius playboy philanthropist Erick Sacks, financier/lackey to Shredder. Fichtner hams it up in every scene, having fun with an obviously stupid plot and coming across as a man with a plan. Unfortunately, most of the fun to be had with Sacks falls apart when his motivations are revealed. This man is rich enough to build an unstoppable suit of power armor that launches magnetically controlled swords that instantly inflict slow-mo on the audience and never hit, has a skyscraper in the middle of New York City capable of supporting a generic final confrontation battle, has deep ties to the NYPD and no doubt plenty of congressmen in his pocket already and ya wanna know what his great motivation in all this is? He’s going to make money off of selling a cure to the horrible chemical weapon he’s going to release on the city that will be initiated at his own building. Nope, no way that plan could go awry.

 

Here are my final thoughts:

 

The movie bounces from boring scene A to boring scene B, with occasional clever references or painfully obvious comments about turtle soup that feel less like homages and more like weak fanbaiting. The characters are ugly, boring, or both and the only thing I have to say about Splinter is that he’s possibly the ugliest creature in the whole film. It’s nice to see them make April something other than a Damsel, but they forgot to include personality into the new character design. It suffers from a severe lack of actual ninja action and stealth, but that’s somewhat understandable since the only tool the team seemed to have to go off of was the teachings in a random self help book on ninjutsu that washed up in the sewers one day. Bottom line, avoid this movie in theaters and at most pick it up as a rental.

 

Now for the one thing I really did enjoy in the movie that I feel worthy of the spoiler warning, don’t read this bit if you want to have something to hold on to during the doldrums of much of the movie.

 

Last chance.

 

All right, so late in the movie, shortly before the final boring battle atop the skyscraper, we are treated to the surreal scene of a still shot with the titular characters all crammed into an elevator. There’s no dialogue, just the frequent ding of the elevator passing each floor. For no obvious reason Mikey starts smacking his nunchucks together in a beat, slightly awkward but a bit amusing. Instead of berating him into silence as has been the case for most of the film, Raph actually joins in, clanging his sai together in a counterpoint. Don and Leo join in and we’ve got a tiny little band playing in this cramped elevator and for one moment it’s entirely my turtles, the door reaches the top, opens up, and the boys charge out to meet their foe.

 

Then we’re back to the schlock that made up the rest of the movie and I’m back to wishing I was watching Guardians of the Galaxy again.

Guardians of the Galaxy (PG-13)

Marvel's Guardians Of The Galaxy...Milano..Ph: Film Frame..?Marvel 2014

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WARNING: Plot Spoilers Ahead!!!

Greetings Fans of Fox, I’m Dan, the new movie review blogger on this little chunk of the Interwebs. Full disclosure: this is actually the second movie I’ve gone to see for the sake of reviewing, the first was Lucy and that didn’t go so well. Suffice it to say that I didn’t enjoy it and I strongly suggest watching something like Hercules instead.

Today we have better fare: Guardians of the Galaxy, a movie that made it completely clear in the trailers that it doesn’t take itself seriously. That’s an important trait in an action movie where two of the leads are a talking raccoon demolitionist and a sentient tree that only speaks three words. After a brief intro scene of dramatic back-story that makes you wonder if you’re watching the wrong film we’re launched forward 26 years to the present day to see what’s become of Peter Quill, our protagonist. What follows is something I’ve never actually seen on the big screen that completely destroys any lingering melancholy from the intro.

Guardians is not a complicated movie. Scrappy outlaws band together to fight a big bad. The motivations and personalities of every character is clearly established early on: Quill is essentially Han Solo and every scoundrel hero you’ve ever seen, Gamorra is the femme fatalle badass with a tortured past she’s bottled up, Rocket is the victim of inhumane experiments that left him with a huge chip on his shoulder and a bit of an inferiority complex, Drax is a musclebound wrecking ball who takes every sentence literally, and Groot is Groot. Much like The Avengers, Guardians spends much of the early acts having the characters spend more time fighting each other instead of working against the actual genocidal fanatic reaping a swathe of destruction in his hunt for them and the mystic mcguffin they’re carrying (spoiler to pretty much no one: it’s an Infinity Stone).

Also standing out is Michael Rooker as Yondu, Quill’s abductor/surrogate father/secondary antagonist for much of the movie. He’s a sort of pirate king running a band called Ravagers that’s apparently large enough to be known to the galaxy as a whole yet small enough that the entire fleet can spend its time running after a single renegade member. The relationship between Yondu and Quill is hilariously twisted, with Yondu repeatedly bragging about how he didn’t let his men eat the younger Quill when they first picked him up (though it’s revealed that they were actually there because they’d been hired to abduct him as cargo for his father).

I’ve spent four paragraphs avoiding talking about much of the plot because, honestly, there isn’t a whole lot of it. Good guys acquire the mcguffin, they figure out what it is, bad guy gets the mcguffin and gains phenomenal cosmic powers, good guys band together to get the mcguffin back, save the day and kill the bad guy. Along the way we get some fantastic set pieces, ridiculous outfits, and hilarious one-liners, as well as a jaw-dropping after credits cameo that’ll probably leave half the viewers scratching their heads in confusion as to who the character is, and the other half simply confused that they chose to have him show up.

All told, this movie is 121 minutes of ridiculous fun with one of the better soundtracks I’ve ever heard. It gets my full approval and you should go watch it. Also, it has Karen Gillan, which is more than motivation enough to see it in my book.

THE LEGO MOVIE (PG, 2014)

The-Lego-Movie-2014-image

I was going to start this review with “I can’t believe I liked a movie based on a toy,” but then I remembered that I enjoyed TRANSFORMERS.

So… I can’t believe I liked another movie based on a toy.

Emmet (Chris Pratt) is an anonymous construction worker in a perfect (vaguely fascist) Lego metropolis where the coffee is $37 and the number one sitcom is “Where’s My Pants?” Every day is choreographed to an excruciatingly catchy Tegan and Sara song and overseen by the Orwellian President Business (Will Ferrell), sold separately. When Emmet stumbles onto a mysterious artifact, he sets in motion an ancient prophecy that could save – or destroy – not just his Lego universe, but all of them. He soon allies with an ensemble cast including Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman), and Batman (Will Arnett). And Abraham Lincoln. And pirates. And a unicorn-cat thing.

I promise, it’s funny.  Funnier than anything I’ve seen in a long time. THE LEGO MOVIE boasts a razor-sharp script and a canny sense of the absurd, hurling joke after joke and challenging you to keep up. Chris Pratt’s empty-headed but sincere hero is a standout comedic performance in a cast full of them. Who’d have known a movie about a toy brand would have more laughs than both HANGOVER sequels?

Visually it’s stunning, although not always for the right reasons. Every inch of the Lego world is lovingly animated, right down to the authentic smudges and imperfections on the pieces. Even the dust and smoke is made of tiny bricks. It’s imaginative and vibrant, but also a little overwhelming. Every frame is crowded with so many small touches of genius, and it’s all edited so blisteringly fast, that THE LEGO MOVIE sometimes looks like a colorful headache. But it’s a headache worth having.

This excess of creative passion is why I like this movie so much. It overachieves. It works hard. The plot is lightyears ahead of competing fare, eventually launching its third act into a sort of CABIN IN THE WOODS-ish meta-narrative. Few movies are brave enough to even try this, and even fewer stick the landing. To be fair, THE LEGO MOVIE does stumble a little bit toward the end, when the cleverness reaches a sort of critical mass, the fourth wall falls, and the story grinds to a halt so we can be force-fed a moral about the importance of individuality. Cue the hugs.

The real moral is “buy Legos.” It’s the funniest, best Lego commercial ever.

stars

 

By: Taylor Adams

LONE SURVIVOR (R, 2014) Review

LONE SURVIVOR (R, 2014)

Directed by Peter Berg

85695 The centerpiece of Peter Berg’s LONE SURVIVOR is a 40-minute running gunfight down the jagged cliffs of the Hindu Kush. It’s one of the most effective and bruising action sequences I’ve ever seen. This is both good and bad; nothing else in this sincere but clumsy film comes close to matching its power.

12Based on the memoirs of Navy SEAL Marcus Luttrell (same title), LONE SURVIVOR dramatizes the disastrous 2005 Operation Red Wings in Afghanistan.

Through faulty equipment, a thorny moral dilemma, and simple bad luck, Luttrell and three other SEALS find themselves cut off and vastly outnumbered by Taliban fighters on unforgiving terrain. By the end of the day, nineteen American lives have been lost.

5656Berg honors them all by exposing the meat grinder of modern combat in the film’s middle act. Bullets snap off rocks and thunk into trees. Ears ring.  Shattered bones pierce skin and lungs gurgle with blood. It’s visceral, intense, and merits comparison with the famous D-Day landing sequence in Spielberg’s SAVING PRIVATE RYAN. Prepare to wince. A lot.

And that’s the point. This film renders the battle so convincingly, it’s impossible not to be in awe of the real-life heroes that fought it. Mark Wahlberg, Ben Foster, Taylor Kitsch, Emile Hirsch, and the supporting cast hit the right notes here (sharp-eyed viewers will note the real-life Luttrell appearing in an early cameo). Particularly impressive is the sound design and stunt work, which makes you feel every onscreen injury.

With such a powerful depiction of combat, it’s too bad that the rest of the movie is only good. The script is workmanlike, bookending with clumsy voice-overs and an unnecessary framing device. It opens post-battle and recounts it via flashback, which tells us nothing that the title LONE SURVIVOR didn’t already. These bells and whistles unfortunately dilute some of the impact.

But the film’s biggest misstep is the third act. Anyone who’s read the memoir (that’s your cue to read it) can tell you the final leg of Luttrell’s true survival story is a fascinating example of local Afghan heroism. This is still included, but Berg also injects an unneeded climactic battle. Cars explode, AK’s are fired, and bad guys are stabbed in the nick of time, per Hollywood timing. Inventing a gunfight that never happened isn’t necessarily bad, but here it takes the focus off something that did happen. Whether the studio forced Berg’s hand or not, it’s a cheesy piece of revisionism on a true story that didn’t need revising.

Still, at its worst, Lone Survivor is watchable. At its best, it’s unforgettable. That’s a fair trade. After all, on the drive home, no one will be talking about the uneven storytelling – it’s the heroism of the men of SEAL Team 10 and the Afghan tribesmen that lingers long after the credits.

stars

 

By: Taylor Adams

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