Skip to main content

Tonight, I dine on turtle soup.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
(2014)

I didn’t much care for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles first time round, and I was still (just) a teenager myself then. The popularity of Steve Barron’s movie far exceeded its quality, but at least it had cheerfully cartoonish approximations of the comic book quartet going for it, design-wise. And, of course, the magnificent Elias Koteas. This reboot comes from the perspiring mind of perpetual adolescent Michael Bay, a director-producer with a perpetual boner for both lingerie models and, it seems, ‘80s kids’ properties he can “improve” with bizarrely inappropriate doses of photo-realism.


I’m not sure anyone outside of Bay, 12-year old boys and Kelsey Grammar (guest star spots in blockbusters do pay well) can claim account for the absurd success of Transformers, four movies down the line and counting, with a guaranteed a billion dollar global gross each time. He brings the same “magic” to his over-designed and continuity drivel-driven Transformers to this Turtles reimagining. There was much controversy within Turtle fandom (Turtledom?) over early versions of the script, in which the martial arts foursome were revealed to be from outer space, or another dimension. Bay had this dropped, presumably in response to the outrage and the realisation he hadn’t a clue what he had bought, and his trio of writers reverted to something approximating the actual reptile genesis (albeit with Bay semi-regular Megan Fox’s reporter character April O’Neill now intrinsically linked the Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael and Donatello).


The plot is as rudimentary as they come; the turtles show up, kick the Foot Clan’s arses, get captured, and rally to stop the villains from spreading a deadly virus throughout New York. The villains being Shredder, and major domo scientist William Fichtner. Bay has drafted in Platinum Dunes golden boy Jonathan Liebesman to call the shots, and he dutifully delivers Bay-lite quick cut confusion masquerading as direction. Liebesman is one of the new generation of Hollywood journeymen. Whereas once they were stolid and laborious, now they are frenetic and display all the symptoms of ADD. Does anyone recall how great Liebesman’s work on Battle Los Angeles and Wrath of the Titans was? I didn’t think so.


Liebesman ensures the proceedings are messy, ugly, humourless (they should be, Johnny Knoxville lends himself to one of the turtle voices) and self-important. Nothing on his résumé suggested a talent for comedy, and he goes on to proves his lack of flair. He stages the fights as if he’s facing Transformers off against each other (low angles, slow-motion smackdowns), and is saddled with the most banal, tedious exposition-riddled dialogue to grace a Hollywood blockbuster in many a moon. Brian Tyler contributes one of his less elegant scores (actually, Iron Man Three is the exception in his back catalogue, in that its exceptional), attempting at a rousing theme but failing miserably.


And the design of these turtles is horrific. As others have commented, they look like Goombas from Super Mario Bros. with added steroid abuse. The result is a nightmarishly botched re-imagining of the beloved martial artists. As for Splinter, the rat mentor of the turtles, he resembles the Sumatran rat monkey from Peter Jackson’s Braindead, which I’m guessing was not the intention.


Fichtner can usually be relied upon, but he’s lost at sea (Whoopi Goldberg also appears, dialling up the Whoopi Goldberg). Fox is hopeless, entirely lacking in presence but cast to give the ever hormonal turtles a pretty girl to leer at. And for Will Arnett to leer at. Arnett is April’s loyal cameraman, and he’s too good a comedian not to milk a few laughs out of this. And, no doubt his kids love him for playing a semi-heroic character in a film they can actually watch. Although, the best gag is very much on the lewd side (and a dig at Bay, so that makes it almost okay; unless it was his idea, which makes it rather creepy), as the turtles conceal themselves within a bra on a Victoria’s Secret billboard. Since that’s the last shot of the movie, the laugh wasn’t worth the wait.


It’s also symptomatic of Bay’s knuckleheaded, inspiration-free approach to movies that he saves the signature line, “Cowabunga”, for the last scene; that’s what they did in the Bond “reboot” after all.


Platinum Dunes, Bay’s production company, ran into the ground a succession of horror remakes, from Texas Chainsaw Massacre to Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street. Presumably he now will scour the landscape for previously untapped toy lines and comics for his next goldmine. I didn’t think Turtles would do very well; the response to the design was (rightly) poisonous, and the all-CGI 2007 version fizzled. Perhaps it comes down to this; Bay’s big, empty head is equivalent to the not quite as big but equally empty head of the average teen, and as such he has a ready insight into what they like on tap.


So, if hyperactive teenagers bantering, arguing and goofing off is right up your street, you might love this. Or you still might think it’s a massive pile. It’s a noisy, depressing affair. Like The Goonies, but without any endearing qualities. Or that lousy Inspector Gadget movie, where you reach the end credits (if you’re able to) and you’re left wracking your brain trying to work out how and why anyone went to see it in the first place.


Popular posts from this blog

Your Mickey Mouse is one big stupid dope!

Enemy Mine (1985) (SPOILERS) The essential dynamic of Enemy Mine – sworn enemies overcome their differences to become firm friends – was a well-ploughed one when it was made, such that it led to TV Tropes assuming, since edited, that it took its title from an existing phrase (Barry Longyear, author of the 1979 novella, made it up, inspired by the 1961 David Niven film The Best of Enemies ). The Film Yearbook Volume 5 opined that that Wolfgang Petersen’s picture “ lacks the gritty sauciness of Hell in the Pacific”; John Boorman’s WWII film stranded Lee Marvin and Toshiro Mifune on a desert island and had them first duking it out before becoming reluctant bedfellows. Perhaps germanely, both movies were box office flops.

If I do nothing else, I will convince them that Herbert Stempel knows what won the goddam Academy Award for Best goddam Picture of 1955. That’s what I’m going to accomplish.

Quiz Show (1994) (SPOILERS) Quiz Show perfectly encapsulates a certain brand of Best Picture nominee: the staid, respectable, diligent historical episode, a morality tale in response to which the Academy can nod their heads approvingly and discerningly, feeding as it does their own vainglorious self-image about how times and attitudes have changed, in part thanks to their own virtuousness. Robert Redford’s film about the 1950s Twenty-One quiz show scandals is immaculately made, boasts a notable cast and is guided by a strong screenplay from Paul Attanasio (who, on television, had just created the seminal Homicide: Life on the Streets ), but it lacks that something extra that pushes it into truly memorable territory.

No one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself.

The Matrix  (1999) (SPOILERS) Twenty years on, and the articles are on the defining nature of The Matrix are piling up, most of them touching on how its world has become a reality, or maybe always was one. At the time, its premise was engaging enough, but it was the sum total of the package that cast a spell – the bullet time, the fashions, the soundtrack, the comic book-as-live-action framing and styling – not to mention it being probably the first movie to embrace and reflect the burgeoning Internet ( Hackers doesn’t really count), and subsequently to really ride the crest of the DVD boom wave. And now? Now it’s still really, really good.

Piece by piece, the camel enters the couscous.

The Forgiven (2021) (SPOILERS) By this point, the differences between filmmaker John Michael McDonagh and his younger brother, filmmaker and playwright Martin McDonagh, are fairly clearly established. Both wear badges of irreverence and provocation in their writing, and a willingness to tackle – or take pot-shots – at bigger issues, ones that may find them dangling their toes in hot water. But Martin receives the lion’s share of the critical attention, while John is generally recognised as the slightly lesser light. Sure, some might mistake Seven Psychopaths for a John movie, and Calvary for a Martin one, but there’s a more flagrant sense of attention seeking in John’s work, and concomitantly less substance. The Forgiven is clearly aiming more in the expressly substantial vein of John’s earlier Calvary, but it ultimately bears the same kind of issues in delivery.

In a few moments, you will have an experience that will seem completely real. It will be the result of your subconscious fears transformed into your conscious awareness.

Brainstorm (1983) (SPOILERS) Might Brainstorm have been the next big thing – a ground-breaking, game-changing cinematic spectacle that had as far reaching consequences as Star Wars (special effects) or Avatar (3D) – if only Douglas Trumbull had been allowed to persevere with his patented “Showscan” process (70mm film photographed and projected at 60 frames per second)? I suspect not; one only has to look at the not-so-far-removed experiment of Ang Lee with Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk , and how that went down like a bag of cold sick, to doubt that any innovation will necessarily catch on (although Trumbull at least had a narrative hinge on which to turn his “more real than real” imagery, whereas Lee’s pretty much boiled down to “because it was there”). Brainstorm ’s story is, though, like its title, possibly too cerebral, too much concerned with the consciousness and touting too little of the cloyingly affirmative that Bruce Rubin inevitably brings to his screenplays. T

Twenty dwarves took turns doing handstands on the carpet.

Bugsy (1991) (SPOILERS) Bugsy is very much a Warren Beatty vanity project (aren’t they all, even the ones that don’t seem that way on the surface?), to the extent of his playing a title character a decade and a half younger than him. As such, it makes sense that producer Warren’s choice of director wouldn’t be inclined to overshadow star Warren, but the effect is to end up with a movie that, for all its considerable merits (including a script from James Toback chock full of incident), never really feels quite focussed, that it’s destined to lead anywhere, even if we know where it’s going.

Haven’t you ever heard of the healing power of laughter?

Batman (1989) (SPOILERS) There’s Jaws , there’s Star Wars , and then there’s Batman in terms of defining the modern blockbuster. Jaws ’ success was so profound, it changed the way movies were made and marketed. Batman’s marketing was so profound, it changed the way tentpoles would be perceived: as cash cows. Disney tried to reproduce the effect the following year with Dick Tracy , to markedly less enthusiastic response. None of this places Batman in the company of Jaws as a classic movie sold well, far from it. It just so happened to hit the spot. As Tim Burton put it, it was “ more of a cultural phenomenon than a great movie ”. It’s difficult to disagree with his verdict that the finished product (for that is what it is) is “ mainly boring ”. Now, of course, the Burton bat has been usurped by the Nolan incarnation (and soon the Snyder). They have some things in common. Both take the character seriously and favour a sombre tone, which was much more of shock to the

Say hello to the Scream Extractor.

Monsters, Inc. (2001) (SPOILERS) I was never the greatest fan of Monsters, Inc. , even before charges began to be levelled regarding its “true” subtext. I didn’t much care for the characters, and I particularly didn’t like the way Pixar’s directors injected their own parenting/ childhood nostalgia into their plots. Something that just seems to go on with their fare ad infinitum. Which means the Pixars I preferred tended to be the Brad Bird ones. You know, the alleged objectivist. Now, though, we learn Pixar has always been about the adrenochrome, so there’s no going back…

You ever heard the saying, “Don’t rob the bank across from the diner that has the best donuts in three counties”?

2 Guns (2013) (SPOILERS) Denzel Washington is such a reliable performer, that it can get a bit boring. You end up knowing every gesture or inflection in advance, whether he’s playing a good guy or a bad guy. And his films are generally at least half decent, so you end up seeing them. Even in Flight (or perhaps especially in Flight ; just watch him chugging down that vodka) where he’s giving it his Oscar-nominatable best, he seems too familiar. I think it may be because he’s an actor who is more effective the less he does. In 2 Guns he’s not doing less, but sometimes it seems like it. That’s because the last person I’d ever expect blows him off the screen; Mark Wahlberg.

Do you know that the leading cause of death for beavers is falling trees?

The Interpreter (2005) Sydney Pollack’s final film returns to the conspiracy genre that served him well in both the 1970s ( Three Days of the Condor ) and the 1990s ( The Firm ). It also marks a return to Africa, but in a decidedly less romantic fashion than his 1985 Oscar winner. Unfortunately the result is a tepid, clichéd affair in which only the technical flourishes of its director have any merit. The film’s main claim to fame is that Universal received permission to film inside the United Nations headquarters. Accordingly, Pollack is predictably unquestioning in its admiration and respect for the organisation. It is no doubt also the reason that liberal crusader Sean Penn attached himself to what is otherwise a highly generic and non-Penn type of role. When it comes down to it, the argument rehearsed here of diplomacy over violent resolution is as banal as they come. That the UN is infallible moral arbiter of this process is never in any doubt. The cynicism