Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows Review

The very idea of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a silly one.  Initially a parody of other popular comics in the 80s, TMNT would explode in its own popularity spanning a series of television shows, live-action and animated movies, and arcade and console games.  While it’s certainly not as popular nowadays as it was in its heyday, the fact that the four turtles are still recognizable to children over thirty years later is a testament to the brand’s appeal.  The Turtles are back in cinemas this summer in Out of the Shadows, the sequel to the 2014 reboot of the film franchise.  Is it worth a watch?

The film begins with an animated stunt sequence and a short break at a basketball game before diving into a little plot.  It’s fun enough, but serves little purpose other than a silly gag featuring the anthropomorphic turtles’ dish of choice:  pizza.  From there, audiences are “treated” to a gratuitous amount of Megan Fox doing that thing she does in movies.  The dialogue exchange between Fox’s April O’Neil and Tyler Perry’s Dr. Baxter Stockman is hammy and dumb, but it feels consistent with the overall tone of the film.  Unfortunately, the same can’t be said about the sequence that follows as April sheds her outer layer for a quick costume change to make sure the film gets in its requisite sex appeal.

The story is set one year after the last film.  Shredder has been defeated and is in prison.  Will Arnett’s Vern Fenwick is, according to an agreement made with the Turtles, regarded as the hero who brought down The Shredder.  And, thanks to this agreement, the Turtles are able to remain in the shadows protecting New York.

After our detour at the basketball game, we learn that The Shredder is being transported and there’s a plan to break him out.  This sets up a solid highway chase sequence with as many laughs and explosions as there are groans.  Some of the dialogue is just plain stupid but, most times, it works favorably for the film.  The actors know they’re in a silly movie and they appear to be having fun with that, chewing through some painful writing with a mouthful of cheese and a toothy grin.

The plot opens up after the highway scene with what could have been something awesome: Krang and Dimension X.  Unfortunately, exposition is not one of this movie’s strong points.  I’d like to say it’s formulaic in its plot progression, but that would be giving the film far too much credit.  It tries to be – it pretty rapidly moves from point to point to point, but each point is a misstep on a scenic route for about two thirds of the movie.  After it finally takes us somewhere we want to be, the film forgets the fact that an important item has gone missing so it can rehash some group conflict that was already covered in the first movie.  While the Turtles are caught up in their moody discourse and shunning of each other, the bad guys get to move forward with their evil plot.  It’s all good, though, because we need that to happen for that final boss fight – which is, sadly, less spectacular than it should be given everything that’s involved.

Out of the Shadows does a solid job keeping the Turtles true to their roots while keeping them updated enough so they don’t feel like they’re trapped in the 90s.  Contrasting this, you have Bebop and Rocksteady.  The character designs are perfect, even if the execution is a little off.  Despite how good the CG renders of the Turtles are, Bebop and Rocksteady never really look believable in this world.  Still, it is fun seeing them on the big screen – even if there are some missteps with how the characters are handled.  As if to make sure the film wouldn’t get a PG rating, the two need to check their nether regions to see how everything was changed after their mutation.  It’s a small thing, but something that doesn’t jibe with the rest of the film, regardless how messy it is.

The problem with the film isn’t the campy dialogue and one-liners – while some lines definitely don’t work and the script is quite a mess, the Turtles’ banter and Mikey’s quips are, more often than not, enjoyable.  The problem is the film’s nonsensical plot and incoherent editing.  I’m not expecting Shakespearean level art here, but staying focused on a single idea instead of pointless tangents would make the film a little more watchable (I can’t call them subplots, because these detours don’t have any plot).  Its few shining moments are far outweighed by the wasted potential, misguided writing, and shoehorned sexuality.  This could have easily been a great summer film anyone could enjoy.  Unfortunately, the end result is something that can be entertaining in short bursts, but offers little enjoyment as a whole.

 

Bad – 1 / 3

Podcast 2 – June 1 2016

The latest PowerUP Online Podcast is now up!  We apologize for the audio issues this week – we had an issue during the recording process we didn’t realize until after the recording was completed.  We have taken measures to ensure better audio quality in the future.

X-Men: Apocalypse Review

“The third film is always the worst.”  This pseudo self-aware line is spoken as a not so subtle nod to the less than stellar reception X-Men 3: The Last Stand received.  And, as painful as it was hearing this piss poor attempt at irony, it couldn’t be more true.

X-Men:  Apocalypse is the third film in the new X-Men timeline and follows the events of the X-Men sequel / reboot Days of Future Past.  While Days of Future Past had its faults, it still stood out as one of the stronger entries in the X-Men film franchise.  Sadly, the legacy of the excellent First Class does nothing to elevate Apocalypse above mediocrity.

The film opens strong enough with a thundering score and the titular En Sabah Nur (Apocalypse) and his four henchman marching to a ritual to transfer his consciousness.  We’re treated to a fun, if a little clumsy, action scene right off the bat before the film tosses up the title card… and then devolves into a muddy mess of mediocrity and wasted potential.

The majority of the film is set in 1983, over 20 years after First Class, and it does little to emphasize this point aside from a few period outfits and a Return of the Jedi marquee.  Despite the cast having aged only 5 years since this new (old) class of heroes was introduced, we’re thrust into yet another decade with little to no reason.  Really, the only cues we have, aside from the punk clothing and movies playing in cinemas, that any time has passed between films is the damage done in the last two movies is barely a passing thought to anyone in this universe and one of the characters has a family now.

With First Class, and to a lesser extent Days of Future Past, the characters felt new and refreshing.  Even if we had seen them before in these films, the new interpretations added a new layer of depth.  In the original X-Men film, we were given a glimpse into what turned Erik into Magneto.  First Class took us deeper into that character evolution with an extended look at Erik’s time in Auschwitz and Michael Fassbender giving us a Magneto that, in spite of his feelings toward them, is more human.  The relationship between Charles and Erik in First Class gives more weight to each instance you hear the line “old friend” spoken in the original films.  It’s a compelling relationship and one I’d love to see more of, but one that takes a back seat to some of the new gifted youngsters as Apocalypse tries desperately to bridge the gap between the old and new.

While Days of Future Past did little to develop that relationship further, being essentially another Wolverine movie, the characters in that go ‘round were actually fun to follow.  Apocalypse shifts its focus to follow Jean Grey, Kurt Wagner, and Scott Summers in their “first” appearance in the franchise.  I’ve never been a fan of how Cyclops has been presented in the film franchise, being a bit of a whiny douche, which is disappointing because he was always my favorite in the comics.  Apocalypse somehow manages to make the character even less likable than the James Marsden iteration of the character.  I understand, he’s going through some unexpected changes that are difficult to handle, but the stilted performance, cringe-worthy dialogue, and lack of chemistry do nothing to make those changes relatable – or even tolerable.

On the topic of dialogue, the script is downright terrible at times.  With a hodgepodge of graceless exposition, ham-fisted attempts at humor, and standard, impact-less “us versus the world” hero speeches, you’re sure to shake your head more than a few times at just how utterly stupid these characters can sound when they open their mouths.  That’s not to say that it’s all bad – there are moments with true dramatic weight, but I think that has less to do with the script and more to do with Michael Fassbender’s better-than-this-movie-deserves performance.  Each scene he’s in is mesmerizing, with one in particular striking nearly every emotional cord.  It’s a shame, then, that he’s such a small presence in the film.  Each scene with Erik is like watching a different movie.  A good movie.

The primary conflict in X-Men:  Apocolypse centers on the return of Apocalypse as he gathers an army of mutants to push the reset button on the world so the strong can survive and start anew.  It’s an idea with potential:  all-powerful being hell-bent on world destruction and domination surrounds himself with other, like-minded powerful beings to see that plan through.  Unfortunately, it’s wasted on unnecessary subplots and stupid characters.

Apocalypse keeps four henchmen nearby and, of those, only two are actually interesting in any way.  Olivia Munn as Psylocke is hard to watch – even if she is just a blip on the radar in the film – and the inclusion of Angel is downright baffling (I don’t remember him being in his forties in The Last Stand).  Alexandra Shipp’s turn as Storm is a vast improvement over Halle Berry’s, but she gets about as much screen time as Psylocke – which is a shame because she manages to be one of the few enjoyable characters in the film.  Apocalypse himself is bland and a waste of Oscar Isaac’s talent as the blue makeup and boring progression do a fine job of making him as unrecognizable as he is uninteresting.  There are brief moments where you can see a glimmer of what could be only to be pulled back down by a groan-inducing line someone managed to choke out.

There was an opportunity to build toward something bigger with ApocalypseDays of Future Past reset the timeline and created the possibility to do something new; instead, they went with another paint-by-numbers standalone superhero flick.  While some of the action is enjoyable and the time you get to spend with the Magneto subplot is absolutely worth watching, there’s little to nothing else in this film worth recommending.  It’s like a cocktail of one part good movie, two parts painfully mediocre movie, and one part absolutely horrible movie.  While it’s not downright terrible as a whole, it rarely ever tries not to be.

Meh – 2 / 3

RoboCop review

Remakes are always hard, especially if you are a fan of the original.  You don’t want them to mess with a great thing by ruining the story, but you also don’t want them to retread old ground.  You’re content with your “original” and feel like Hollywood should be working on developing new ideas instead of rehashing old ones.  Yes, remakes are bad and we all know it.  Reboots?  Well, that’s just a fancy name for a remake that bastardizes your fondest memories.

RoboCop was such a great 80s movie with its darkly satirical commentary and religious overtones contrasted by the ultraviolence of it all.  RoboCop is an incomparable piece of classic sci-fi cinema and remaking it would just be blasphemous, right?  I mean, the failed attempt at remaking Total Recall, another Paul Verhoeven classic, certainly doesn’t bode well for this modern retelling of the man in a machine – it doesn’t help that it bears the same PG-13 dumbing down that Total Recall received.  No, RoboCop as a modern film has to be a terrible idea.  Unless the idea is actually new.

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I hate retreading old ground.  Adaptations, in general, fail to impress me if I’ve already experienced the story in its original medium because there’s nothing new – nothing fresh.  Films based on books are often punctuated with “the book was better” in the same manner that remakes are quickly branded as an uninspired rehash.  Let’s ignore the fact that there are several remakes that are considered “classic” films, because those were totally different.  I’m not saying that this year’s reboot of RoboCop is a classic, but it is definitely fresh.

robocop2In the original film, OmniCorp was already working on domestic grounds with the Detroit Police being under the control of OmniCorp as opposed to the city.  In the new film, OmniCorp has its drones and robots doing “peacekeeping” work in foreign territories while a bill is keeping them from patrolling domestic streets.  Michael Keaton plays a corporate Palpatine who decides to give one of his robots a face – something the American people can get behind – in order to expand his business and profits.  He’s a charming mastermind that presents himself as someone who is trying to better the world while all of his “behind the scenes” interactions paint the more accurate portrait of greed.  It’s a welcome update to the story and one that feels more relevant to our modern time.

We also see a very different Alex Murphy in the remake.  One who feels more “human” even inside the machine before a decision is made to override his humanity.  It poses some interesting questions about what makes us human.  Essentially, when you look at humans, they’re chemicals and electrical impulses – no different than a machine.  When you control those chemicals and impulses, is there still a soul underneath that?

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RoboCop presents a similar story to the original: a Detroit detective is murdered and reconstructed as a cyborg who is essentially controlled by his programming despite his human elements fighting for control.  It’s a story of what it means to be human interlaced with socio-political commentary, albeit a little more serious than its 1987 counterpart.  Despite telling a similar overall tale, all the other elements bring to life a completely different story.  One of corporate greed and politics.  One of human emotion and free will.  It’s a movie that is still darkly satirical, but it does it with a straight face – which just so happens to be the face of Samuel L Jackson.  Purists may leave the film disappointed, but after the TV series, the miniseries, and RoboCop 3, this fresh take on the franchise is a welcome breath of fresh air.

 

RoboCop: 3.5 out of 5

Lex Luthor and Alfred cast in Batman Vs. Superman

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I was having a pretty solid day until the news broke that Jesse Eisenberg will be donning the role of Lex Luthor in the upcoming sequel to Man of Steel.  The Zack Snyder directed superhero flick of 2013 was easily one of my favorite films from last year and I was looking forward to more from within that universe.  The news that the actor well known for filling awkward teenager roles will be playing one of the most iconic villains in comic book history is something that, well, disappoints me.

Additionally, well known villain actor Jeremy Irons will be filling the shoes of lovable butler Alfred.  Yep.  So, we’re off to a solid start on this 2016 film.

I could be wrong in all of this.  Maybe I’m just overly concerned and this fear of miscasting is unfounded.  I was fine with, in fact excited for, seeing Ben Affleck as Bruce Wayne… but Jesse Eisenberg as Lex and Jeremy Irons as Alfred worries me.  I’m sure you can all understand why.  Fingers crossed and a few prayers that I’m wrong.

Introducing Duskland: The Webseries

I know my activity on here has been sparse lately, and it’s truly regrettable, but I’ve been actively working on a couple new projects – one of which I’m ready to unveil today.  Some time ago, I started writing a collection of short stories thematically inspired by The Twilight Zone and dubbed this collection of stories Duskland.  While I’ve only published two tales under the Duskland banner (Freefall and The Tale of Another Job), I’m always brainstorming new ideas for when I have the time to commit them to paper.  Despite only publishing two Duskland tales, it’s something that is always on my mind and something that I’m always looking to expand.  It is for these reasons that I’m excited to announce a web series based on my Duskland tales.  The first episode will be an adaptation of The Tale of Another Job – which is available for reading and download from the Duskland blog – and production is already underway.  The web series will be produced in cooperation with Unity Films with future episodes being original stories crafted specifically for film.

Job Promo Poster 1

Dante’s Inferno film adaptation in the works

A film adaptation based on the Visceral Games title loosely inspired by the epic poem is currently in the works. The game’s story sends a battle hardened Dante on a murderous rampage through hell in search for his love, Beatrice. While there’s little resemblance to the tale that inspired it, the game (an unashamed God of War clone) was a lot of fun.

The film is being backed by Universal Pictures and will be directed by Fede Alvarez who recently helmed the Evil Dead reboot. A script is being written by Jay Basu.

Insidious: Chapter 2 review

Insidious_Chapter_2_PosterIn film, few genres give me as much joy as horror.  Even the bad movies have this odd charm to them that makes them just a joy to watch.  They fail so hard at being scary that the resulting entertainment is just unintended glee.  When they succeed at tension building and suspense, though, there’s a whole new experience to be had.  “Entertainment” isn’t really the best word to describe a good horror movie because it’s more a roller coaster than a joy ride.  It’s a combination of physical responses and unrelenting dread.  A successful horror movie is an entirely different experience than any other film.  Sadly, successful horror movies are few and far between.  Thankfully James Wan and Leigh Whannell are around to breathe new life into the horror genre.

The two got their start with what birthed the most successful horror franchise of all time, Saw.  While not all the films in the series are winners, it’s undeniable that the first film helped to reshape an entire genre of film while providing one of the most ingenious plot twists of all time.  Since their little torture porn, the horror duo have worked on Dead Silence (while not the best horror film, a fun throwback to campy 80’s killer doll flicks that I still enjoy) and the more recent Insidious.

The first Insidious raised the bar for me in what to expect from a horror film.  The film relied on tension building in tandem with jump scares and completely forwent any gore – being released with only a PG-13 rating.  Something not terribly common in horror films.  Most horror films up to that point had been R-rated murder romps that featured an overabundance of jump scares and creative kills to draw in audiences.  Insidious delivered something different:  a truly terrifying experience.  It was smart, fast, fun, and intense.  This isn’t to say that it didn’t rely on jump scares, but it was able to have lasting moments of constant tension buildup beyond those loud music cues and closets flying open.  Insidious set a new standard for me and its sequel had a lot to live up to.

Insidious

I had high expectations for the film but, with James Wan having directed another 2013 horror film (the well-received The Conjuring which also starred Insidious’ Patrick Wilson), there was a bit of concern in whether or not this film would feel like the lovingly crafted sequel I wanted or a quick cash in to a super successful modern horror classic.  I’m pleased to say that Insidious met my expectations – even exceeded them at times.

insidious-philip-friedman1Insidious: Chapter 2 begins with a bit of back story highlighting story elements that are hinted at in the first film but never delved into.  Josh Lambert had some experiences with astral projection as a child and this back story is more fleshed out in this sequel and plays heavily into the history of both films.  It’s an excellent preface to the subsequent events and really helps to broaden the scope of the film.  After the title card, which is pulled from the first film and “Chapter 2” fades in behind it, we’re taken to an interrogation room.  Picking up almost immediately after the events of Insidious, Chapter 2 reminds us that there’s a dead medium in the Lambert house and Josh is more than likely the murderer – though with the complicated alibi of being stuck in The Further.

The next 100 minutes are filled with answers, more questions, and plenty of scares.  Insidious: Chapter 2 avoids playing it safe by messing with the foundation laid in the first film.  Everything that happened in the first film has some new meaning in the sequel and it’s crazy how well it works.  Repurposed footage is given new life in mindblowing sequences where you’re left thinking, “If this wasn’t planned in the first film, this is damn brilliant.”

Jump scares and exposition play a much bigger role in Chapter 2 than they did in the first.  We’ve already been introduced to the idea of astral projection and The Further, so this time around we’re looking to get some resolution following the cliffhanger finish of the first film.  There’s still that building tension and I had chills running down my arm more than a few times during the course of Chapter 2, but lore building and fast moving thrills are a big part of the experience, too.  It works, too.

The way Insidious ended could have been the end of it all and I would have been okay with it.  It felt like a wonderfully fitting close to a horror film.  With that, it’s nice to know that the events that followed Elise’s death don’t feel shoehorned in.  There’s actually a lot of interesting happenings and the foundation they’ve built for the lore is left vacant at the end of the experience for even more adventures – though maybe absent the Lambert family.

EliseThe film also brings back Specs and Tucker, favorites of mine in the first film, and it brings them to the forefront.  They’re great characters and breaths of fresh air amidst all the tension and jumps.  It’s not always easy to have a balance between horror and comedy in a film, and these characters show that a balance isn’t entirely necessary.  When you’re dealing with absurd and bizarre matters, absurd and bizarre characters can fit right in.  Let’s face it, even when you’re facing a haunted family surrounded by horrors of unspeakable nature, you’d be glad to have a couple of oafish nerds hanging around to make light of the situation.  It was nice to see them back for round two and they were as enjoyable as ever.

Insidious: Chapter 2 is more than a sequel.  It’s a film so tightly knit with its predecessor that it’s almost impossible to think of the two films standing on their own anymore.  With one, you cannot have the other.  This sequel serves as a prequel, and interquel, and a sequel with content so heavily embedded in the first movie that it’s more like the sequel influenced its predecessor than vice versa.  As a continuation of a saga, this film is damn near perfect.  If the ideas presented in Insidious and Chapter 2 do spawn another chapter, I sincerely hope it stays in the hands of the masters of modern horror James Wan and Leigh Whannell.

 

Insidious: Chapter 2:  4 out of 5

Mortal Kombat: Legacy season 2 trailer

The second season of the fantastic webseries based on the ultraviolent videogame series is nearly upon us – being posted online all at once on September 26.  In preparation for this continuation of the reimagining of the Netherrealm fighting tournament, I present this trailer:

J.K. Rowling penning screenplay for Harry Potter spin-off

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Given that the Harry Potter films have been immeasurably successful, it’s no surprise that Warner Bros. would like to continue capitalizing on the success of the property despite the fact that the story has come to a conclusion.  Solution?  Spin-off.  Warner is producing a series of films based on the fictional textbook (which was later turned into a real book) Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.  The spin-offs will not be prequels, per-se, but it sounds as though the first film will begin in New York 70 years before the events of The Sorcerer’s Stone and is intended to expand the fictional universe.  And make cash.  That’s probably the real reason behind this.