Darke Reviews | Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

Wow was it hard to avoid reviews for this today! The skims that I saw as I scrolled through my news feed were not good. Even talk at work today indicated this wouldn’t be good. Now to preface this review there are some ground rules to understand where I come from on it.

1. I have not read the comic, but was aware of it when I watched the original cartoon.
2. I have watched the original cartoon, every episode. My favorite is the catwoman from channel 6.
3. I have watched a single video/AMV from *one* of the new reboots (2003 I think). It was epic. It was dark. It worked. Wish I could find it again.

So where does this movie fall in?

First thing is first. Remove the Nostalgia glasses. Acknowledge how bloody cheesy the original animated series was. If you think it was serious in any respect, I present you Hot Rodding Teenagers from Dimension X. A Giant Brain living inside the STOMACH of a robot. Beebop and Rocksteady. If you can now acknowledge how ridiculous some of this is, we can continue. That is to say nothing of the core concept. Teenage. Mutant. Ninja. Turtles. Trained. By. A Rat. If you can’t just skip the TL;DR right now.

If you have embraced the insanity of the concept and all that comes with it; I present to you TMNT. As I have said this is based on a comic originally written and drawn by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman, who did the opening title sequence. If they didn’t do it – someone who imitates their style did. This movie does bear the dreaded triple writing credit beyond that. Josh Appelbaum (Mission Impossible 4 (the good one), Alias), Andre Nemec (who has all the same credits as Appelbaum), and Evan Daugherty (Snow White and the Huntsman, Divergent). They *did* embrace the insanity. Their sin? (ok one of them) Too much human. Too little Turtle power. Their homage? I can’t count the number of callbacks to the original run I picked up on and laughed at (mostly alone).

What about Michael Bay? Well…he is only a producer. The Director here is Jonathan Leibesman. The same man who gave us Wrath of the Titans, an unwanted and yet somehow better sequel to an unwanted remake of a classic film. He also gave us Texas Chainsaw Massacre 50. No that’s not it’s actual title. It might as well be. To his favor he gave us one of the better alien invasion sci fi epics with Battle Los Angeles. Yes, it had problems with the camera work but as a film it worked. He does much the same, good and bad here, with TMNT. His camera work makes much of the action hard to take in, but what you do see appears to be epic looking and kind of awesome. Decent tension and ok pacing.

Acting? Oof. well, it wasn’t too bad actually. Megan Fox (Transformers, Jennifers Body), Will Arnett (Arrested Development, Monsters vs Aliens) get far too much screen time and most of it’s groan worthy – but they make it work.  I don’t know if its the writing or acting or both. Whoopi Goldberg was here for a paycheck or perhaps some debt to satan for Sister Act 2? Tony Shalhoub as Splinter? A bit jarring yes, but because it is a man of his talents it works. The brothers are fine. The personalities mostly realized with the usual focus on Mikey and Raph. Their voice actors, including Johnny Knoxville do just fine. William Fitchner makes everything he does better (Drive Angry is a perfect example) and brings the ham and cheese with him as he chews scenery in a way that even Jeremy Irons can appreciate.

Effects. I have heard many comments about how creepy they are. “The noses are weird.” “The teeth and animations are just off putting.” Meh I say. They weren’t that bad. They’re strangely more appropriate than what we had before so I guess I don’t mind them. Not all of the effects are clean and the CGI over practical is evident but I got to ignore that to see the Ninja Turtles on screen for the first time in 20 years and they *do* look better than we got in the previous films. Period. Sorry my opinion on this one.

I want to give the Villain a bit of a special talk. I had a guy behind me dissing the look of the new Shredder. My only retort – you have to make a guy who is supposed to be a walking cuisinart look threatening. Sorry it needs to be armor. It needs to be samurai like. It needs a lot of blades. A LOT of blades. Did they go a bit overboard on it? Eh maybe, but so be it. This is a movie where a man in ridiculous bladed armor had to take on four six foot turtles wielding dual katana’s, nunchaku, sai, and metal collapsible bo staff. Check your suspension of disbelief at the door.

TL;DR

I had a group of people behind me who hated it. The guy next to me, whom I asked, and his  lady loved it. They felt it captured the feeling of the original run. The person I saw it with felt the same.

I happen to agree with them.

It really brought the heart of the original comics and animated to film. It is very superficial, but lets face it most kids movies are folks. This *is* a movie for kids. There’s enough here for adults, especially all of the aforementioned callbacks, but it is a childrens movie. That grants it a lot of forgiveness from me.

What also grants it forgiveness? It was a fun little romp through my own childhood. It just kinda works

Final recommendations:
TMNT is better than most reviewers are giving it credit for. It is not for everyone, but if you have kids – its an absolute this weekend. The kids I saw leaving the theatre in their masks were running and tumbling and just enjoying themselves. What else is it supposed to do?

If you are an adult who wants to see it – take off the nostalgia glasses, sit back, and just try to enjoy it. You just might.

If you weren’t interested – neither this review nor the movie will change your opinion.

At the end of the day TMNT is kinda fun.

Cowabunga!

Darke Reviews | Into the Storm (2014)

Missing a movie on premier night annoys me, especially when its due to illness. Still being in a lot of pain watching a movie I already have mixed feelings on doesn’t usually bode well for the films review. Sad fact, but being uncomfortable watching a film does have add bias. I really – really – debated this one.

I love the original (yes, thats intentional) Twister for all its flaws. It got me and a rag tag bunch of my friends decide to try to storm chase that summer. No we didn’t catch anything and we thought it would be a good idea at the time. I also didn’t want to like this because of how “real” they were trying to be with the storm. How not hollywood they were with some shots and how hollywood they were with others. I had friends in Joplin. I had friends in City of Heroes who would have to log off for tornado warnings. I have friends, people I care about deeply, still in Tornado alley. I follow the real deal here as well, and I cried last year when someone trying to make the world a better place by chasing, died with his son and partner. I never met him, but I understood him (Tim Samaras if you are so interested).

So I really wanted to hate this movie. I have plenty of reason (Hollywood and a hundred years of history) to hate it. So did I?

This is normally where I talk about the writer and director. The writer, John Swetnam, has little to his credit beyond Step Up All In. The director, Steven Quale, has little to his directing background beyond Final Destination 5. He has however, worked on numerous other films including being second unit director on Avatar. Neither of them do anything particularly new or different here worth commenting on. Ultimately their biggest success is not beating us over the head with environmentalism. It was a risk that the movie began to edge towards and changed it’s mind. Their second biggest success is writing children who felt like children. It was a touch cliche at times, but I at least felt like I was listening to and watching teenagers at the appropriate moments (mostly).

No one in this movie is in danger of winning an Oscar. Let’s be blunt here. This is a disaster flick. This is Twister brought up to the science and tech that we’ve learned in the near 20 years since Twister (has it really been that long?). Richard Armitage (The Hobbit) plays the tough but caring dad. Sarah Wayne Callies (Walking Dead) is the weather geek. Max Deacon (Not much to credit) and Nathan Cress (iCarly) play the rebellious but loyal teen siblings. Matt Walsh plays the  final stereotype of the man willing to do anything to get his shot. There are absolutely no surprises in any performance as they play their stereotypes to a T. Ultimately it means I don’t care if any of them live or die since there are no surprises in them, nothing to make them “more”. There’s really never a sense of true risk.

From am FX standpoint, we have Twister. Honestly, twister did some of the effects better 20 years ago. That is not good. Oh the damage to structures is good. Very realistic and uncomfortably so from anyone, like me, who has watched plenty of video from various storms tearing apart schools, hospitals, and other places people may be hiding. The plane sequence is as nonsensical in the final product as it is in the trailer and looks nearly as fake. Even the sound clips here are the metal equivalent of the Wilhelm Scream. Not good.

What is good? The impact of the storms. If the storms themselves aren’t the best, the actual damage path shown after, Some of the destruction we bear witness to, and the camera work. The movie is a riff on Found Footage. It’s all told through cameras, but apparently everyone has steady cam rigs which means every shot is clear, crisp, and not shaky. THIS IS GOOD. It allows the movie to be watchable. Had i had another Cloverfield, Paranormal Activity, or Earth to Echo here I think I’d have left. Its done. The use of steady cam allows this to be watchable.

TL;DR?

I don’t hate it. I found myself enjoying what they did.

There is ONE shot, one shot where the entire audience (bout 100 folk) gasped in amazement. For that the movie got brownie points. It got a reaction out of the audience – the entire audience. If you can do that, in a positive way, then your movie succeeds regardless of any opinion levied.

It’s not a great movie and I really don’t feel comfortable recommending it, but if you read my comment above – the movie still succeeds. It certainly is not as bad as I thought it would be. It’s a touch more respectful than I thought it would be (mostly. the Matt Walsh character is a far more jerkish version of Sean Casey).

If you really want to watch and appreciate chasing? Watch the Weather Channel – they have three different shows about it and they are far more educational and at times, even entertaining. They are about the real people doing the real work. I don’t need Hollywood when the real thing is very accessible to me.

So –
If you were at all interested – yeah go ahead. I don’t imagine you’ll hate it.
If you weren’t at all interested – give it a hard pass.
If you were the least bit curious, or after reading my review curious, matinee at BEST. Redbox/Netflix at worst.

Darke Reviews | Guardians of the Galaxy (2014)

Oh I had expectations going into this one. I put this pretty much at the bottom of the list of Marvel Cinematic Universe I would enjoy. Why you ask? Well to be honest I have no love for awkward, uncomfortable, or slapstick comedy. I also have no love for some of the songs on Star Lords awesome mix #1 (You can see the Nerdist for the full list www.nerdist.com/2014/07/james-…. Spirit in the Sky and Hooked on a Feeling may be two of my most hated songs ever. Never liked them, never will. No real rational reason, they just don’t appeal to me and tend to get overplayed to my perception. This is what the trailers sold me. This is what I was expecting. I was really really not looking forward to this movie.

Some of my coworkers derided me for going into a movie with expectations such as these. That I should go in with a clear mind and thought on what the movie could potentially be. This is nigh impossible. I have avoided behind the scenes sites as much as possible these days to avoid the spoilers that I can, but trailers have a job to sell a movie. What they show sets expectations. Some movies defy them – Hercules last week. Some movies lie to you with them – such as the remake of Clash of the Titans. Some movies are failed by them – Lord of War. So where did Guardians of the Galaxy fall, with a trailer that in my opinion failed it.

-please note, this review is as always spoiler free, and my opinion on the trailer seems largely unique-

Obviously this one is based on a comic, one of which I have only passing familiarity. That is to say I know it exists. Director James Gunn (Slither, Super) is also one of the ones responsible for the script. Nicole Perlman has no listed writing credits before this, but has an announced Black Widow treatment in the works? Interesting. Writer Director as I’ve said before can be very good or very bad. It is rarely in the middle. Until today. The story here is a mandated origin story. They didn’t get a choice. You need to introduce a three meter walking tree, a talking racoon, a green assassin, and a blue guy with red tattoos; oh and the human male lead. There’s also a plot to introduce, villains, worlds, a galaxy of races. Now – do it in 2 hours. Good luck.

So while the plot is a bit of a hot mess, I can look past it because they were asked the near impossible in the 21st century. Star Trek, Star Wars, Stargate – all of these have built in fanbases and worlds we know that need little introduction for the average theatre goer. Even the newbie can be brought up to speed quickly with these franchises, this one is a tad more difficult. They do it as well as they possibly can and fairly well. Everyone gets a character moment on both sides of the coin. Just enough for you to get who they are and why they are. What their world view is. Some are treated better than others, and well quite honestly some aren’t treated as good as they should be or could be. I will get into that as I talk about the characters.

Chris Pratt (Parks and Recreation, Zero Dark Thirty) plays our noble space pirate. He’s Malcolm Reynolds but doesn’t quite have the easy going charm that Fillion does. This is probably intentional and if so it works, he is also the least interesting character in the movie. He is regularly upstaged by more colourful (literally) costars. The reigning champion of the film is Rocket. Yes. That’s right the Raccoon is the hands down winner of I want to watch him. Bradley Cooper (The Hangover, A-Team) voices the four legged menace to society and proves he has that kind of natural charisma that works if you see him on camera or not. Vin Diesel voices Groot, the aforementioned tree who is always fun to watch when he emotes or gives you an “I am Groot”. Dave Bautista of WWE fame, plays Drax the Destroyer. He doesn’t act a lot, but with the character he has thats a good thing. What he does is kick butt and be large and in charge. He is also one of the more humorous characters and as enjoyable in his dryness as Diesel is in his …quirkiness?

Sadly, Zoe Saldana does nothing particularly new here. Her Gamora is nearly the same character as Columbiana and Aisha (The Losers). Tough, beautiful, action girl. This isn’t horrific by any means. We need more like her. I just wish they had done more to break her from a stereotype. Script problems – not actress here. Additional script problems come in the form of the nemesis Nebula. Karen Gillan (Dr. Who and Occulus) gets our lovely blue alien. The entirety of act 1 – she is menacing and you believe her deadly. Something happens half way through act two where she loses this and seems to be a shadow of her former threat. This is compounded in what should be an epic fight between her and Gamora that just is…weaker than it should be. Script problems I cannot forgive there. Gillan, however, proved we need to see more of her in the cinema in the action, horror, and sci fi genre’s. She pulled off what could have been a difficult role and did it well. The story and script failed her. The director failed her. Lee Pace (Lord of the Rings/Hobbit, Halt and Catch Fire) is just never quite the threat he needs to be. I don’t know who to blame there, but it is. He exists. the threat exists, I just don’t get his menace if it is supposed to exist.

Visually, the movie is beautiful. The darkening of 3D hurts the film as it seems to have a focus on bright vibrant colours. They just get lost in the 3D. Everything else looks very clean and easy to watch. Rocket, Groot, the ships, the space stations, etc look great. Rocket especially. We aren’t quite talking Uncanny Valley here, but it’s superb.

Music. *sigh*. Yep still hate most of it, but it was no where near as prominent as I feared. They even used a song I like with the Runaways “Cherry Bomb”. A few times it works. Other times its backdrop. The Star Lord introduction works well enough to let you know who and what you are dealing with. This one falls to different strokes for different folks. I will never like the soundtrack, but if you do – enjoy! The score left a bit to be desired as it reminded me too much of Avengers.

TL;DR?

Alright here we go. Yep, the trailers failed this one for me.

It’s good. The movie is solid. It feels a bit pacing hurt at times, but its more entertaining than I thought it would be. It made me laugh at times. I enjoyed the action. I enjoyed the finale. The humor wasn’t AS bad as I thought it would be.

That said, there’s some language in this one. If you want to keep your kids from male anatomy or fecal matter (see I keep my reviews clean), then I wouldn’t take them to see it. If it doesn’t matter – then cool. Enjoy.

So there you go. Guardians of the Galaxy is a good, entertaining movie. Not the strongest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but most definitely not the weakest.

Next week may be a double review with TMNT and Into the Storm. TMNT is absolute…the other. Eh see a post tomorrow on that