Retrospective Reviews #13: Once More With Hot Ninja Feeling

Summer Movie season has come and it’s time to get some prep done. Here are a few films I’ve watched in anticipation of their upcoming follow ups. The most interesting factor is that this the anticipation line-up is all over the place, ranging from a new franchise entry to a cult comedy to a subdued musical. And who says that all the movies coming out are all the same?

05/08/16: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)


Paramount Pictures

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the last franchise I expected to live on as long as it has. Starting out in comics as a darkly satiric take on the grim Frank Miller’s version of Daredevil, it became a money making juggernaut in the late 80s and early 90s that many dismissed as a fad that would fade into obscurity. Yet, there have been multiple incarnations of the Turtles in their three decades of existence. So, to commemorate the 30th anniversary, Paramount produced the first live action cinematic adaptation of the concept since Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III killed any chance of another sequel with people in turtle suits playing Michelangelo, Donatello, Leonardo & Raphael. Now we’ve got motion capture versions of those turtles and their master Splinter – along with Johnny Knoxville of all people voicing Leonardo and Tony Shalhoub as the rat sensei – who didn’t have to be constrained by a living person in a mechanical suit. Honestly, aside from some lesser facial designs, this stab at the Heroes in a Half Shell is pretty on point in terms of their personalities, with Raph’s loner angst, Leo’s excessive need to lead, Mikey’s constant wisecracks and Donny’s extensive tech head wizardry all intact. That brotherly back and forth is still kept in tact in this incarnation, particularly during some energetic and lively action scenes that made me question if Battle Los Angeles director Jonathan Liebesman actually helmed them or if the second unit/special effects team did more of the leg work.

So, it’s a shame that the rather wooden performance from Megan Fox and some needless reshoot changes to the Shredder character had to bog things down. The weird origin story change that circles both Megan Fox’s April O’Neal and William Fichtner’s Not Shredder  Eric Sacks have to be connected to the Turtles in a “Joker-Killed-The-Waynes-Batman-1989” fashion feels underplayed, depleted of any sort of thematic tension when a bland Asian guy in the shadows is The Shredder instead of Fitchner. There’s also plenty of non-Turtles related jokes that feel more sitcomish than cinematically funny, mainly from previously known funny people like Taran Killam and Whoopi Goldberg. Clearly, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is such a massively mixed bag, mirroring Will Arnett’s own uneven record for jokes within the film. For every fun interaction between the brothers there’s a scene of Splinter learning Ninjutsu via a book he found in the sewers. Yet, what’s established here isn’t unsalvageable for a sequel, despite what many a Michael Bay over-hating internet fanboy may say. We’ll just have to wait until Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows comes out this summer to see how that turns out.

Rating: 2.5 out of 5 Mikey Innuendos

05/09/2016: Hot Rod (Re-Watch)


Paramount Pictures

Andy Samberg and his Lonely Island cohorts Akiva Schaffer & Jorma Taccone are masters of short form comedy. Their Saturday Night Live Digital Shorts helped reinvigorate interest in SNL for the youths of the new millennium. Shorts like “Dear Sister”, “Lazy Sunday” and “Dick in a Box” blew the internet up when they were released through catchy, lively and masterfully timed pieces of comedy that people devoured gleefully. Personally, the more enjoyable short films were always the more subversive and surreal entries like “Jack Sparrow”, “Stumblin'” or “Great Day” were the ones that stuck out as the more daring examples of experimental comedy that the trio could pull off. Somewhere in the middle lies their first feature film effort Hot Rod, a play on coming of age romps of the 80s that prides itself on taking a “save the rec center with a fundraiser” style story and morphing it into a depraved tale of a young man’s deep seeded issues with his lack of a positive male role model. It’s something he carries into his would-be leadership role of his gang, which members Bill Hader, Danny McBride & Taccone, who just want to hang out and be their own weird selves with their fellow oddball on their way to the top… of being associated with a local daredevil.

The darker elements of Samberg truly come to light in the spiteful interaction at the heart of Hot Rod, which is when he misconstrues the concept of kicking his stepfather Ian McShane’s ass with earning true respect in a darkly gut busting twist on a father/son arc. Samberg’s oblivious self centered idiot archetype can get a bit grating at points, especially after Samberg showed far more shades on projects like Brooklyn Nine Nine or Jesse and Celeste Forever. It doesn’t help that he often plays off of Isla Fisher, who isn’t even given much interesting subversive material for her love interest role. Yet, there’s a clear dedication to the absurdist goofy gags that was key to the Digital Shorts that made Lonely Island so successful. When a triumphant musical montage occurs, it turns into a riot. When two characters reconcile, it turns into a remixed beat. When there’s a triumph, Ebenezer Scrooge gives everyone a giant goose. Each ridiculous moment has a huge commitment from most of the actors involved, making each bizarre escalation worth watching. Lets hope their long delayed cinematic follow up Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping lives up to the dedication while furthering their comedic surrealism.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 Faulty Ramps

05/14/16: Once 


Summit Entertainment

This one is anticipation for a more low key summer release. Director John Carney’s Sing Street is currently in limited release, but I had never seen the film that sort of became his big breakout Once. Both of those films and the American film Carney made in between Begin Again are all musically themed, with Once mainly deriving its sound from Irish folk music. Fittingly enough for the style, the film is rather small scale and limited in its scope. Centering on two musicians who find inspiration in each other, they slowly grow to have a wonderful bond that is punctuated by the soundtrack. The script was apparently written around the songs of stars/real life musicians Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, resulting in one of the better examples of a modern untraditional musical. Each number is performed with a refreshing sense of authenticity that contrasts the cute Irish mumbling of their normal conversations. The raw talent and beautiful belting mirrors the type of bombast in Gene Kelly musicals, but through the guise of performing as a key way of unleashing their emotions through their talents.

Each of the songs has this endearing sense of earnestness, whether it be a bitter improvised ditty like “Broken Hoover Fixer Sucker Guy” or the emotionally heart wrenching Oscar winner “Falling Slowly.” Like any good musical, one gets lost in the power of the performance, but the lack of flash and down to earth nature of both the musical style and the performers gives the songs – and by extension their relationship – a genuine connection to even the least musically inclined. Yet, the connection between Hansard and Irglová still manages to be endearing outside of the songs, as their interactions show so much interpersonal conflict without saying too much. John Carney’s camerawork is also very minimalist, allowing the performers to belt out or merely stare at each other for the desired effect. It’s visual storytelling through patient attention to how people interact and how inspiration comes to artists. Once is the type of low-fi story that doesn’t require flash to engage. Instead, it allows people to speak honestly and proudly without the veil of flash. Tender, raw and gushing with pride.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5 Broken Hoovers


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