The Culture Cast with Zack and Nick

Digesting the lowest rung of pop culture so you don't have to!

The Gorehound Reviews: Transcendence (’14)

Cinematically, this movie was a breath of fresh air. Science fiction makes us dream in different directions than usual. We all have expectations for the future based on what we know or have experienced but delving into another persons dream, say the director of Transcendence, Wally Pfister, we see something that we have thought about before but from  a different angle. Isn’t this movie the same exact plot as  the Terminator series? Robots taking over the world? But this film is more down to earth and rational. Is it okay for robots to take over the earth? What if robots are humans? This film proposes these queries.

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It wasn’t a blockbuster. The Gorehound saw the trailer the first week it came out and was excited. It didn’t develop much attention which then slipped under the radar. It wasn’t until a Saturday afternoon stroll through Family Video that the Gorehound walked past this film with Johnny Depp on the cover. “Wasn’t this that sci-fi flick from the trailer I watched months ago?” thought the Gorehound, “How have I not heard anything about it?” Because apparently it wasn’t very good. Well how can that be with Christopher Nolan’s protege, Pfister, helming his directorial debut? Surely the critics must have been mistaken.

ct-cth-transcendence-jpg-b-jpg-20140416Like I said earlier, this film was refreshing. Solid science fiction making the audience ponder our inhibitions and expectations. What if Y2K actually helped humanity? What if robots taking over the world, actually helped us? We like to be open-minded but it can be difficult without being exposed to other people’s point-of-views. That’s why cinema is beautiful: because the audience get’s to listen to other people passively, so that we can take it in without feeling the need to react or retort.

Some preliminary reviews of the movie led the Gorehound to believe that this would be a religious movie. Some reviews on imdb.com claim, “if you’re religious you probably won’t like this movie”. The Gorehound is firm believer but still open to alternative viewpoints (like that time he watched V for Vendetta and considered anarchy). It upsets me to find fellow movie-goers see movies through a filter which separates scenes into “pro-” or “anti-religion”. If you’re looking for movies with a single point of view, go to an activist group, not movies released for entertainment.

This movie reminded me a lot of Danny Boyle’s Sunshine: A great flick with beautiful visuals, lovely actors (compliments to Rose Byrne), and a fascinating story. There may be many plot holes and some things could have been better but it isn’t right to focus on logic in cinema. This movie is beautiful. 4/5

What Went Wrong?: Vol. 51 – Macho Sequel Edition

In 2010, The Expendables, a team-up of all-star 80s, 90s, and 2000s action heroes debuted at number one in the box office and ultimately grossed over 100 million dollars in the domestic box office alone. The sequel took a domestic dip, but ended up over 300 million in grosses worldwide (the sequel was also a far superior film that was a lot more fun). The recently released Expendables 3, however, tanked upon it’s domestic debut. After two weekends in theaters, the film hasn’t even earned what the second film did in its first weekend at the box office. The three-quel will ultimately earn less than half of either film in grosses and will rely heavily on overseas dollars to become profitable. I can’t imagine a theatrically released Expendables 4 will happen any time soon. So, what exactly went wrong?

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Piracy is at least partially to blame. When I saw a news item about how a DVD-quality leak of Expendables 3 became widely available on the Internet weeks before the film’s theatrical release, I knew the project was doomed to box office mediocrity (it was downloaded over two million times in just a few short weeks). But other factors played into the film’s failure as well. Expendables 3 was already a sequel to a sequel to a film designed to capture a wave of fleeting 80s nostalgia. The ploy worked well once and fairly well a second time, but it was never going to last. Ultimately, you just can’t expect success doing the same thing over and over again – something needs to be fresh about the experience.

Arguably, the casting of Ronda Rousey as well as the other, younger Expendables team (including Kellen Lutz, who I like but who has not done a great job picking roles thus far outside of lucking into the Twilight franchise) was designed to bring in a younger audience. Additionally, the PG-13 nature of the film meant that younger teenagers could see the movie without needing a parent to buy them a ticket (it is the first PG-13 rated film in the franchise). Unfortunately, Expendables 3 happened to open one week after the successful Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film reboot and just two weeks after the mega-successful Guardians of the Galaxy. Ronda Rousey or not, the project just wasn’t going to go toe-to-toe with those two films.

The high quality leaked torrent of the film coupled with an unfortunate PG-13 rating coupled with audience disinterest coupled with intense competition at the box office just killed Expendables 3 and it’s chances of a healthy domestic gross. The film will likely make up ground overseas, but I don’t think there’s much of a chance we’ll see an Expendables 4 any time soon – unless Sylvester Stallone and company can keep the budget to a more manageable 50 million or so. There just won’t be much money to be made in the film franchise unless that happens. Additionally, Stallone will have to really strive to freshen up the concept, because the experience is greatly in danger of growing stale.

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The Gorehounds Reviews: Robocop (’14)

To start off, the ubiquitous futuristic look of everything is simply unappealing in this 2014 release. Yes, we are living in an era where technology and progress abound… but where is the beauty? The film hounds on the question “What makes a person a person?” Love may possibly be one of these but there is little love in this film. It is too cold and depressing. How can there be a hero without a figurative heart? Perhaps Gary Oldman shows love for his creation, in that he earnestly wants to reconnect Murphy with his family but is torn between his security and the Murphy family. My point is that, the director seems to say that humans have a quality which is non-transferable to humans, whether that be consciousness or love or some other ambiguous and difficult to define concept, but he fails to translate. The love is absent in this film. The film is too antagonist focused, without enough “wins” for the protagonists: Murphy, Murphy’s family, or the doctor.

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Let’s address remakes succinctly: remakes can distort nostalgia but they can also excel. There are plenty examples of failures and successes so it’s immature to say “Stop all remakes”. In regards to it’s predecessor this film doesn’t excel. Though the features are not but neither are they cheap. It is well-made and the CGI is fluid. I’m starting to think that remakes have become accepted and complaining about them is pointless and should be removed from all conversation. I still wish there were more original ideas (because surprise, they do exist) but feel that complaining about remakes is fruitless. Nothing is obtained from those complaints. Simply, the film kept my attention and did hold high levels of suspense. What more can you ask?

I do look forward to copious remakes. The 80s had sequels which often surpassed 5 entries. Robocop came in at 3 sequel with TV series, videogames, and countless rip-offs. I think we can expect at least 2 more from this remake (and then a prequel!) but I’d look forward to something past the 4th sequel assuming a theatrical release.

In regards to the actors, Oldman was perfect. Nothing more to say other than being the best character in the movie. The new character (Joel Kinnaman) playing Murphy was good but I felt too familiar with Peter Weller from 1987. He’ll always be Robocop in my heart…

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I think one of the highlights of the Robocop series is the use of the logos and branding. The original had such striking visual aids. The 2014 version could have used more thought the disassembly of Robocop was intriguing. With special effects not acheivable then, we see that very little of Murphy is actually human.

In conclusion, this is a pretty good science fiction movie with ideas to play and daydream with but ultimately, the film is too cold and stark. If we want robotic cop, we’ll go back to 1987 or look forward to some seqeuels. 3/5

Nick saw “The Expendables 3″

The Expendables franchise is one of diminishing returns. The first had the novelty of having (mostly) a bunch of aging action stars from the ’80s and ’90s in one movie together. The result was really not the sum of its parts. The second installment improved the quality with much more humor, a stronger narrative, and a campy amount of meta references to the respective stars’ past. The newest entry tries very hard, but comes incredibly short in everything it attempts.

Expendables_3_posterThe script tones down the meta references dramatically from the second installment (which, let’s face it, is probably a good thing – Expendables 2 really pushed that as far as it could go), but doesn’t really replace it with anything of substance. The story is really all over the place with the tone, the themes, and the basic narrative, that the film doesn’t really know what it wants to be (other than the currently over-played “I’m old, but I’m still top dog” routine).

Hindering matters even further is that I didn’t feel at any time that any of the characters were in any danger at all. While the action is slick, when our heroes are gunning down hordes of henchmen without them really being in any noticeable peril, the film loses any sort of tension.  The PG-13 rating was disappointing too.  Incredibly bloodless and a bit too obvious when they cut away from seeing a bad guy get taken down.  I realize that was a creative decision that Stallone wanted to enforce, but it is still disappointing that he felt he needed to do that to reach a broader audience.

We have a couple of new additions to the Expendables. Beyond younger recruits (who are completely generic and interchangeable), Wesley Snipes, Harrison Ford, Mel Gibson, and Antonio Banderas join Stallone and crew. Ford is an incredible upgrade from Bruce Willis as the team’s handler. While he does the standard “Harrison Ford Gruff”, he looks like he’s having a blast in the role. Sadly, Gibson (an inspired choice for a villain) is completely wasted in what could have been a really great, fun role. This is probably the biggest sin Expendables 3 could have had (especially since the bar was set surprisingly high with Jean-Claude Van-Damme in the second movie).

Oddly enough, after a lot of attention to Snipes joining the film, his character, while given a lot of attention during the first act (including establishing connections between him, Stallone, and Gibson), largely falls into the background as the movie progresses. He is mostly replaced in emphasis with Banderas. Even though this is a big script problem, I’m not too bothered by it mostly because Banderas is the best part of this movie. He completely steals every scene he is in. He’s absolutely hilarious. If they make an Expendables 4, they need to bring him back.

I don’t know. Maybe the magic is running out for this series. I sat there and was reasonably entertained, but much of the movie just felt flat for me. I know these are not meant to be very good cinema, but even for disposable entertainment, it doesn’t quite work. I guess you can tell there is a problem when the series continues to pile on new characters, but ones from the original entry are still completely undeveloped (seriously, what does Randy Couture bring to these movies?).

If a fourth entry is commissioned (which there is some doubt given the recent pirated leak), I really hope they look into what isn’t working. I really can’t pin my finger on it exactly, but the series is missing something. I want this series to be successful, and I want to like these movies more. But the novelty of seeing all these actors together is nearly extinguished. They need a new hook.

~N

Speed Reading! – The Flash #32 & 33

Okay, I’m cheating. But I’m also really behind. Life and stuff. Anyway, to make it up, I’m going to give you all a double-header review of the last two issues of The Flash!

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“Cold Call/A Step Behind”

These issues continue to balance the three narratives which, I’m guessing, will intersect sooner or later. You have future Flash watching Captain Cold die (issue 32) and traumatizing Trickster into going straight (issue 33). While it is interesting to see where the Rogues are going to end up, it is coming off a tad repetitive. The execution is different each time, but continues to feel like a rinse and repeat.

One tidbit of info I found interesting is that Captain Cold has cancer that developed from him becoming a meta-human (as seen in The Flash Annual #1). I wonder if this will be something picked up on in later issues or if it will be one of those throwaway references. Since Cold dies twelve years from now, we’ll never get there (since comics are in the perpetual now). Still, it is interesting. And it makes me wonder if the other Rogues will develop cancer.

As an aside, what is with Trickster having Jeb Bush coins? Probably just a Trickster gag, but it took me completely out of the sequence. We, as a society, really need to move on from the Bush-era, especially in pop-culture. It has been six years (13 in regards to the comic’s time frame)! Sorry, I’ll get off my soap box now.

I still like Wally and I am invested to see where it is going to go. We get to see some interesting traits of his start to develop. He’s angry at the Flash for putting his uncle in jail, but he is warming up to Barry. He’s a smart mouth, but is loyal to his friends (even if they are not the greatest of friends at the moment). He just needs some guidance. There is drama there.

People/comic fans/critics looking for some racial spin are being ridiculous. If Wally was white, no one would complain. Instead, he’s now biracial. I just hate how writers and artists in any form are chastised from telling a story they want to tell because they happen to use a minority doing something bad, which somehow automatically means it’s a negative stereotype. Personally, I think it says more about the people complaining about it than the actual writer or intent. I just think people are upset that Wally isn’t a white ginger and are looking for reasons to get butthurt.

Rats. I’m on my soapbox again. Let’s move on.

I do hate how much of a nag that Iris is being in regards to Barry and Wally. I get it that she wants Barry to be a positive mentor in his life, but she really just sort of dumped it on him with him not getting much of a say in the matter. And then she complains when he has other responsibilities. This might not be what Venditti and Jensen were intending, but it really comes across as if Iris doesn’t want to deal with Wally.

We also have Barry investigating the Mashup Killer…and this story is just incredibly dull. I so don’t care about it. I really feel like it is filler between everything else and could have been wrapped up within an issue or two. I think it’s over next time. Hopefully that’ll be the case.

To be honest, this storyline reminds me of Manapul and Buccellato’s initial, Mob Rule story arc insomuch that it probably went on one or two issues too long.

I am still digging Brett Booth’s art. He’s the real star here. Beyond the fluid nature of the action sequences, I love the facial expressions he gives Barry and others. It really gives the book an added layer of fun. I realize that sounds strange, but there you go.

These issues were a mixed bag. I like the future and Wally stuff, and I am waiting to see what comes of it all. I could do without the Mashup Killer (especially with the somewhat lackluster reveal at the end of issue 33), but the book is still strong enough, and I feel this creative team has a clear direction of where they want to go.

Next: The Showdown!

Leftover Questions: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Editon (SPOILER WARNING)

The new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is out now (read Zack’s review here).  I enjoyed the movie as it is a enjoyable flick with exciting action set pieces and fun character exchanges.  However, like many movies, there were a bunch of unanswered questions leaving me, as a viewer, pondering.

There are spoilers below!  Don’t read if you haven’t seen the movie yet!

turtle1. Splinter had forbidden the Turtles from going to the surface. Even though they broke that rule behind their master’s back, how did the Turtles get all the stuff they have in their lair?

2. How come April didn’t snap any pictures of the Foot Clan members tied up after the subway attack? Surely an ambitious reporter like her would have taken at least one on her way out to find the Turtles (and likely help her case that a vigilante was out there).

3. April is fired from her job when trying to explain the Turtles to her boss, because she lacks proof (and sounds crazy). Given that she created a huge display, how come April didn’t include the picture of the Turtles she had on her phone?

4. How does Splinter know about the connection between the Shredder, the Foot, and Sacks? I realize that he remembered that Sacks was a bad guy, but how did he piece together that Sacks was part of the Foot Clan?

5. Turns out that April’s dad destroyed all the files on his work with Sacks. How come Sacks didn’t have any of his files backed up anywhere? These events happened in 1999. Disk drives were around then. Wouldn’t research like this be worthwhile to have copies?

6. How come Sacks didn’t restart his research? Surely he knew what he did thus far? Couldn’t he recruit another scientist to help him after April’s dad destroyed everything?

7. Is the Shredder (at least by name) publically known to be the Foot Clan’s leader? If so, how come no one ever connected Sacks to him considering that Shredder was his adopted father? Especially more so since he is a widely recognized figure in the business world?

8. How come the Shredder is able to move so swiftly and easily in what appears to be heavy and bulky armor?

9. Speaking of that, how come the Shredder is able to use the armor so expertly even though he was just given it one scene before?

10. Why didn’t Shredder take Splinter and Raphael back to his lab? Granted, he thought Ralph was dead and left Splinter for dead, but don’t they have the mutagen in their blood as well? Isn’t that what they desperately need?

11. Why did the Foot allow Don and Mike keep their various equipment when they captured them?

12. Why did the doctors seem surprised/disgusted when Sacks demonstrated the biological weapon on a random Food Soldier? Clearly, they knew what to expect since they were likely involved in creating it.

13.  Considering that Sacks didn’t care if the Turtles died, why did the medical devices the Turtles were hooked up to contain adrenaline shots?

14.  How far away was Sacks’s compound? The movie suggests that it is a reasonable drive away. But, it looks like summertime in the city and winter at Sacks’s place. Unless Sacks’s place is in the mountains. If that is the case, there is no way he is as close to the city as the movie suggests.

15.  What is the Shredder’s ultimate goal? He claims that he wants to take over the city, but his and Sacks’s plot involves infecting the city, letting it go to waste, then selling the mutagen as a miracle drug. Sacks will get rich, but Shredder will get…?

16.  Sacks’s goal is to get money. Isn’t he already incredible wealthy (considering he is in charge of multiple successful corporations)? Would a few millions more really that make that much of a difference?

17.  Why are Sacks and Shredder ready to pull the trigger on their plan so quickly? Shouldn’t they wait to make sure the mutagen works before infecting the city?

18.  Sacks and Shredder are the two principle players in their plot against New York City. How come they are personally setting off the biological weapon? Once that’s released, wouldn’t they be immediately infected?

19.  How was Sacks able to install a biological weapon on top of his building without arousing suspicion? And how long was it up there? The movie suggests that Sacks was about to do this plan fifteen years ago before April’s dad thwarted him. Has the biological weapon been up there this entire time? Isn’t that an incredibly bad idea?

20.  For that matter, couldn’t Sacks also accomplish getting wealthier by selling the mutagen through legal means since it is explained as a cure-all?

21.  How was anything that happened during the climax (including exposing Sacks) explained away to the authorities, especially since April stayed mum about the existence of the Turtles?

22.  How come Channel 6 was perfectly okay with Vernon destroying a company car (and giving him a new one) while following a recently fired co-worker’s crazy story? Granted, she was right, but she (and presumably him) stayed quiet about it.

23.  Why does the TMNT main theme sound almost exactly like the theme from Thor: The Dark World?

Rest in Peace, Robin Williams (1951-2014)

Yesterday I was shocked to see that comic genius and Hollywood icon Robin Williams passed away, most likely due to suicide caused by depression. We were all shocked, I imagine. Williams was a welcome presence in any movie. He was always up for anything. He was a fearless actor, taking a wide variety of roles that I can’t even begin to list here. He played everything from beloved children’s character Peter Pan to a mild-mannered but iconoclastic English teacher to a president of the United States. He won an Oscar. He put out iconic comedy albums. He was a fantastic voice imitator and improv comedy genius. In short, he will be missed.

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I first took notice of Robin Williams when I saw 1991’s Hook in theaters. While not a particularly well-remembered film, Williams gives it his all as an adult version of Peter Pan, despite a messy production that included on-set fighting between Julia Roberts and director Steven Spielberg. I also have vivid memories of watching 1993’s Mrs. Doubtfire in my older brother’s bedroom really late at night with my brothers, well past our bedtimes. I thought Williams was incredibly funny and charismatic. It was hard to take my eyes off the screen when he was performing.

As I grew older, Williams began to take more family friendly roles. Despite a tour de force performance in Good Will Hunting, he became more known for films like Flubber, Jack, and 1998’s infamously received Patch Adams. I don’t know if Williams was slumming for a paycheck or just trying to expand his audience, but none of these films really worked, Jack coming the closest (largely due to its director, Francis Ford Coppola) but still being terrible. During these days, I discovered some of Williams’ older work, like Dead Poet’s Society. This 1989 Peter Weir-directed drama became one of my favorite movies, with Williams’ presence as an influential teacher being one of the film’s many highlights.

In the early 2000s, Williams began to change his image from family friendly to dark. His turn as the villain in the Christopher Nolan thriller Insomnia turned quite a few heads. It was his performance in Mark Romanek’s dark 2002 film One Hour Photo that really changed my image of Williams, however. Playing a seemingly normal drugstore photo developer, Williams tapped into some primal elements for the role, and was wrongly looked over for an Oscar nomination. His dark streak continued in subversive films like Death to Smoochy (an underrated look at the underbelly of children’s entertainment) and even in the form of a revenge-seeking killer in a two-episode stint on Law and Order: Special Victims Unit.

Williams’ career had been relatively quiet in recent years. He played a grieving father in Bobcat Goldthwaite’s little seen but critically adored film World’s Greatest Dad. He played two presidents in two very different sets of films, portraying Eisenhower in last year’s hit The Butler and Teddy Roosevelt in the Night at the Museum franchise (he will appear on screen in this year’s third installment posthumously). Last year, he headlined the CBS legal comedy The Crazy Ones with actress Sarah Michelle Gellar. The show, while not a ratings juggernaut, seemed popular enough, though it was ultimately canceled by CBS. Williams, who had been trying to get a steady TV gig going, was probably really upset with the show’s cancellation, particularly as it was seen as something of a comeback for the prolific actor.

In addition to the aforementioned Night at the Museum sequel, Williams will appear in a few other films posthumously. The proposed sequel to Mrs. Doubtfire, however, will never seen the light of day. We’ll also never get to see what Williams could do in a long-running television role. I would have loved to see him do something akin to what Louis C.K. has done on FX or what Julia Louis-Dreyfus is doing with Veep on HBO. Or even what James Spader is doing on The Blacklist. Williams was a versatile comedic genius, after all. He could have taken any number of roles in any number of interesting directions. Even a late-period turn as a character actor in a ringer role would have been something I would have loved to see from him. It’s so sad that he’s gone. He will be missed.

-Z-

I Saw Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Unlike seemingly most of the Internet users I come across, I don’t really think a remake or an update of something popular from my childhood can ever ruin the experiences I had with that property as a child. The Transformers and GI Joe film series are both notorious for being franchises that “ruined” the childhoods of various angry Internet commenters. I don’t think these things have the power to retroactively go back in time and sour the fun I had playing with action figures as a nine year old. Similarly, the announcement of a rebooted Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film series was met with heavy scrutiny and criticism, especially as it was produced by Michael Bay, the director and architect behind the aforementioned Transformers film series.

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I saw the original Ninja Turtles film in theaters in 1990. I remember getting a haircut the same day, and then my dad dropped my brothers and I off from his 1970s step-side Chevrolet truck. I have incredibly vivid memories of being transfixed with what I saw on screen. From about 1988 to 1993 (with the arrival of Jurassic Park), I was enamored with the Ninja Turtles. In the early 2000s, I bought the original film on DVD after a wave of 1980s nostalgia began to make what was old new again. I thought it held up incredibly well, especially the absolutely fantastic Jim Henson costumes. The story was surprisingly dark, though it also contained the kid-centric jokes that one should come to expect when viewing these kinds of films. But overall, I thought it was a solid film. I still do – I rewatched the film earlier this year and I still think it holds up (the sequels, however, are garbage).

So with a fondness for the original film property and a feeling that nothing new can ruin my precious childhood memories, I went into the Jonathan Liebesman-directed/Michael Bay-produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie with open mind. What I got was not as good as the 1990 film project, but also not nearly worth the amount of Internet scorn the film has garnered since it was announced a few years ago. It’s not a great film by any stretch, but it is entertaining enough despite its faults and actually has a few inspired action scenes. This is a movie targeted towards nine-year-old boys, and on that front it is at least successful. It has its faults for sure, but there are also several surprises along the way.

The biggest surprise I had was the performance of Megan Fox. Her initial casting announcement as April O’Neil was met with the hatred of a thousand fanboys online, but she acquits herself nicely in the role. I’m not sure why fans suddenly thought that April O’Neil was some kind of sacred cow that someone as utterly lowly (I guess) as Megan Fox would be unable to play her, but I am really glad to announce loudly that the idiots on the internet were wrong once again – Fox is easily one of the best parts of the movie. I also didn’t find much fault with director Jonathan Liebesman, whose previous films (Wrath of the Titans, Battle: Los Angeles) were not that great. Liebesman’s action sequences typically involve a million jump cuts mixed with incoherent choreography. I didn’t find that to be much of the case here, and a sequence on a snowy mountainside is downright inspired.

I also found the casting of Will Arnett to be enjoyable, even if he doesn’t get too much screen time (he’s Fox’s sidekick throughout and is essentially the audience surrogate character). Arnett is easily the funniest character in the film. The great William Fichtner also gets to be his slimy self, and I’m also happy to announce that all the people complaining about his casting were just dead wrong. Seriously, can people not just wait to see these things before turning on their caps lock buttons? I also can’t find much fault with the voice performances. I really liked Alan Ritchson as Raphael (my favorite turtle, incidentally) and Tony Shalhoub as Splinter (even if Splinter’s character design leaves something to be desired). Casting Johnny Knoxville as the voice of Leonardo is weird, but it isn’t distracting in any way possible.

I have bigger issues, however, with the special effects. It is clear that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was shot on a budget much lower than the Transformers film series. The CGI here is pretty bad. The turtles themselves are totally ugly. I have no problem whatsoever with the filmmakers changing up the designs of the turtles themselves and I actually like that they tried to inject each turtle with distinct personality (I don’t mind that they have skateboards or sunglasses or pukka shells or whatever). The designs themselves are just plain ugly to me, however. Raphael and Leonardo are passible, but Michelangelo and Donatello just look awful (Donatello’s voice performance is also bad I thought). Additionally, sets looked rather cheap and sparse to me for the most part. The script is also not as punchy or funny as it should be. The humor should have been more appealing overall.

I don’t think this was a great movie whatsoever. It is totally disposable and cheap entertainment designed to appeal to young males. That is absolutely fine with me. I didn’t find Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to be the absolute train wreck it was supposed to be either. I thought it was merely ok, and I think there’s actually a lot of room for some solid growth (Casey Jones for part two, please?) in this rebooted film franchise. The original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film series should not be held up on an immutable pedestal. The first film holds up, but both sequels are hot garbage. This new film is about on the same level as that first film, and even has a few nods to the original as well. I was never against rebooting this film franchise, and while I don’t think the new Ninja Turtles movie is great, it is nowhere near the disaster the Internet predicted it would be. A total shocker, I know.

-Z-

The Unfortunate Expendables 3 Situation

I recently read that a DVD-quality rip of the upcoming The Expendables 3 film was available online and had been downloaded a few hundred thousand times already (edit: it is now estimated that the film has been downloaded over two million times illegally). This discouraged me quite a bit, because I want the film to be a huge hit so we can keep getting those awesome but little seen Stallone movies to keep coming out (ditto Statham and Schwarzenegger). The mega-budgeted film is already expected to gross less than the second installment, which grossed less than the first film despite being a superior movie by far. The news that part three is already being seen, and for free no less, before its domestic release just kind of pisses me off, and I imagine it pisses Stallone and company off as well.

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There is precedent for this situation. In March of 2009, a nearly completed print of X-Men Origins: Wolverine was leaked online and downloaded many, many times. The final box office for the film was well below that of either X2: X-Men United or X3: The Last Stand. There’s no way to account for how much the leaked print cost the production (the film’s poor quality probably didn’t help either), but most analysts believe the leak did ultimately effect the box office take of the film. Leaked versions of nearly complete album releases have also dogged the music industry for years. After the rise of file sharing sites in the late 90s, it became almost impossible to keep this stuff out of the hands of crafty consumers.

I didn’t download X-Men Origins back in 2009 for several reasons. For one, I didn’t want to watch an incomplete version of the film (the leaked print notoriously had incomplete special effects shots). I also didn’t want to contribute to piracy for something I could easily see and pay money for. I have no problem downloading an obscure anime from the 1980s that will never be released domestically. I have an issue with downloading a mainstream X-Men movie that I can easily pay $7 to see. I’ve long been a fan of the X-Men, and I felt at the time (and still feel over five years later) that a movie ticket is a very small price to pay for the pleasure of seeing my childhood comic book heroes on the big screen. Additionally, I thought it was extremely shitty that someone leaked the movie in the first place. I mean, who does that?

I have similar thoughts and feelings about this Expendables 3 situation as well. I didn’t see the original Expendables film in the theaters, instead catching it after video release. I was just out of school and still searching for a job when it was released into theaters. I did see Expendables 2 in theaters and really enjoyed it. I thought it was a massive improvement over the first film in the franchise. Though they aren’t high art, I’ve been eagerly anticipating a third installment. I’ve come to cherish every Stallone and Schwarzenegger movie I’ve seen on the big screen in recent years because I know that at any moment we could potentially never get any more of them. Their movies just don’t make the money they used to, especially Stallone, who starred in three flops in 2013 alone (all three of which I saw in theaters).

I noted earlier that it was a shitty thing to do for whoever leaked X-Men Origins onto the internet for anyone to pirate for free. I feel the same way about whoever leaked Expendables 3. Please don’t contribute to this. Don’t download the movie. If you’re at all interested in seeing it, please support it in theaters and see it on the big screen. I don’t have much of an issue downloading something that is not easily commercially available. The Expendables 3 will likely be released onto well over 3,000 screens in just one short week. In lieu of downloading it, just get out and see it. I want more of these old school action movies after all.

-Z-

Franchise Fracas! – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

The new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie is coming out (not directed by Michael Bay, despite how other media outlets are reporting it).  I am looking forward to it, though I won’t be able to see it until next Tuesday when my local theater has its $5 movie ticket night.  Anyway, I thought it would be fun to look back at the previous Ninja Turtle movie series to prep for the reboot.

TMNTIn the late 1980s, the Turtles was the thing.  The cartoon and corresponding toys were HUGE. It seemed that everyone was a fan of the Ninja Turtles and those who weren’t were liars.  Naturally, Hollywood wanted to get in on this and created 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  Zack and I did a previous podcast on this movie (which is currently archived) and we both agreed that this film is pretty great.  And, unlike the animated series around this time, the movie still holds up today.

While the film had some distinct dark elements, it still retains the charm and goofy nature that one would have expected from the Turtles at the time.  It is also one of the last movies to depict 1980s New York (you know, a total shithole).  The action was surprisingly tight considering how limiting those Turtle costumes must have been for the actors.  And the Jim Henson costumes/puppets are amazing.

Now, don’t get me wrong, the film still has some odd ball elements (such as when Casey Jones brutally murders Shredder and it’s played for a laugh), but by and large, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles just works as a fun, enjoyable film.

turtle21991’s follow-up subtitled The Secret of the Ooze is a definite mixed bag.  I remember liking this one when I was little.  That was probably because this film was directed towards younger audiences.  As the story goes, the first film caused outrage among parent groups due to the violence and dark nature (which is hilarious to think about in 2014 terms).  The studio demanded the film be more light-hearted and kid-friendly.  The same thing would happen to the Batman franchise a few years later.  As a result, the Turtles never used their weapons (despite having them with the entire time), obtained an obnoxious teenage sidekick, and much more campy sequences.

Oh yes, and Vanilla Ice.  Can’t forget about Vanilla Ice.

This isn’t a particularly good film, but I understand its cult status.  It falls on that “so bad, it’s good” with a healthy dose of nostalgia.   The film came at the apex of Turtles mania, so I get why people are fond on the film.  For that reason, I feel it earned its place in pop-culture.

Then we get to 1993’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III.  Oh boy.  This movie was just a mistake all the way around.  Like anything big in pop-culture, the Turtles had a short self-life.  The first two films were made quickly and capitalized on the Turtles’ popularity.  By 1993, that popularity had waned.  Though the film did okay at the box office, it was no way as successful as the previous two entries.

turtle3Part of the problem was that the kids who were into the Turtles were growing out of it.  I remember I went to go see this movie, but I was totally indifferent to it.  I felt like I had to go because I saw the earlier ones (my childhood misplaced sense of responsibility).

The box office is just one thing.  The movie itself was really terrible.  I appreciate what the filmmakers were trying to do by doing something different, but it just didn’t work.  Several narrative beats and character moments are a bit all over the place (why does Mike, of all turtles, want to stay in feudal Japan again?).  And the film just looked cheap.  What happened to the awesome Jim Henson animatronics from the first two films?

Perhaps part of the problem was that not only did the Turtles fade from the spotlight, but the early ‘90s kind of had a ninja fad going on with other films such as 3 Ninjas and Surf Ninjas.  Those were mostly played for laughs.  Of course, it can be argued that this was started by the Ninja Turtles and it almost makes me think that they started to copy the copy.  Whatever the case may be, the film series died right then and even though the cartoon continued until 1996, people stopped caring.

The Ninja Turtles franchise went through a couple of trying years.  There was a live action series in the style of Power Rangers which featured a female Turtle in the late ‘90s. It bombed.  However, in the mid-2000s, a second, more serious turtle4cartoon started airing.  Like the previous animated series, this new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles quickly found popularity (though not nearly as much as its predecessor), and Hollywood decided to try again with a new movie.

The result was 2007’s computer animated TMNT.  This film is an improvement over the previous two installments, but it didn’t quite work for me.  It is a competently made, but some of the more supernatural elements seemed out of place in a Ninja Turtle film.  I know that sounds silly considering these movies are about human-sized turtles who fight crime, but there you have it.   TMNT was successful, but apparently not enough to warrant a follow-up.  I suppose it is a decent enough finale to the previous three movies (even if it came out 14 years later).

After that, multiple attempts were made to bring the turtles back to the screen.  None were really successful (minus a third animated series) until Platinum Dunes stepped in and gave Jonathan Liebesman the keys.  Will this film re-launch the Turtles film series?  The early reviews are not promising, but it is important to remember that none of the Ninja Turtles were hits with the critics.  As long as the new film is goofy and fun with an interesting-enough story, that really all that should matter, no?

Go Ninja, Go Ninja, Go!

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