The Silver Bullet ~ Independence Day: Resurgence

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Synopsis: Decades after original ID4 alien attack, Earth is threatened with a new extra-terrestrial threat, but will the planet’s installed space defenses be enough?

Release Date:  June 24, 2016

Thoughts: I don’t know about you, but I haven’t exactly spent the last 19 summers wishing for a sequel to 1996 megatron-huge blockbuster Independence Day.  If I’m being honest, I don’t think I’ve seen the movie all the way through since it was first released in theaters, officialy launching star Will Smith onto Hollywood’s A-List.  Smith’s not back for the sequel but a lot of familiar faces are, like Jeff Goldblum (Jurassic Park), Bill Pullman (American Ultra), and Vivica A. Fox.  Director Roland Emmerich (White House Down) has had his fair share of misses in the past two decades but if this energized first look at Independence Day: Resurgence is any indication; he could be walking toward another hit.

Movie Review ~ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: The city needs heroes. Darkness has settled over New York City as Shredder and his evil Foot Clan have an iron grip on everything from the police to the politicians. The future is grim until four unlikely outcast brothers rise from the sewers and discover their destiny.

Stars: Megan Fox, Alan Ritchson, Jeremy Howard, Pete Ploszek, Noel Fisher, Will Arnett, Danny Woodburn, William Fichtner, Johnny Knoxville, Tony Shalhoub

Director: Jonathan Liebesman

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 101 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (3/10)

Review: I can still recall waiting in line at the Eden Prairie East movie theater back in 1990 on the day the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film was released. An unexpected hit at the box office, I remember the film being exactly what I anticipated, filled with the necessary laughs and stylized butt-kicking action by our reptilian heroes. Followed by two sequels and one strange quasi-reboot in the form of an animated endeavor that I seem to have totally blocked out, the Turtles were comic book creations of 1984 and have demonstrated staying power through the years in television series and video games. However, it seemed like another big screen take on the ninjas would languish in the planning stages forever.

Originally intended for release in 2012, Paramount’s Michael Bay (Transformers: Age of Extinction) produced, Jonatha Liebesman (Wrath of the Titans) directed live-action reboot is the stuff that nostalgia killing dreams are made out of. I’m sure the concept of talking teenage ninja turtles has always been as silly as it sounds but there’s something about this labored effort that drives that point home over and over again, leaving even the most engaged of TMNT fan audiences in a bit of a stupor.

Producer Michael Bay has made nice with his former Transformers star Megan Fox (What to Expect When You’re Expecting), putting to bed the rift that resulted in her being replaced in that franchise.   He casts her here as plucky news reporter April O’Neil but Fox comes across more as weather girl material than investigative journalist. Delivering each of her lines as if she’s ordering Chinese takeout, Fox’s misplaced emotions are truly the mystery that needs solving.

I’m convinced Will Arnett (The Nut Job) and William Fichtner (The Lone Ranger) signed up for this film to prove once and for all they aren’t the same person…why else would these two usually decent actors ham it up in roles that should have been filled by soap stars more on Fox’s level? The normally attentive Arnett can’t make lemonade with his lemon role and Fichtner simply gives up two lines in.

While the Turtles themselves are nicely rendered and given genial voice by three unknowns and Johnny Knoxville (Jackass Presents: Bad Grandpa), they are now almost too life-like. At least when they were in the rubber suits during the 90s there was arguably more of the kind of required suspension of disbelief those early movies went the distance with. In 2014, they just come across as creepy.

Perhaps the problem lies in the overall scale of the film. Built as a mega-million dollar 3D would-be blockbuster, the campy, wise-cracking nature of the turtles is all but obliterated within a soggy script that mixes a slackly delivered origin story with tired plot points liberally lifted from numerous other comic book flicks. The whole dastardly scheme enacted by Shredder and his Foot Clan bears such a close resemblance to that of The Amazing Spider-Man that Marvel Studios should be calling their lawyers.

Still, a lawsuit from Marvel would be the most exciting thing that could happen for the film. Supposedly more in line with the recent comics, aside from an admittedly spectacular chase sequence down a snowy mountainside there’s precious little happening here that would be of interest to anyone outside of curious die-hard Turtle fans. Add to that unimpressive digital effects and a ho-hum re-imagined Shredder that reads more like Edward HuntingKnifeHands and you have a late summer dud.

It’s truly time to let these teenage reptiles graduate, just as so many of their fans have grown up in the 30 years since they made their debut.

The Silver Bullet ~ Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

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Synopsis: The city needs heroes. Darkness has settled over New York City as Shredder and his evil Foot Clan have an iron grip on everything from the police to the politicians. The future is grim until four unlikely outcast brothers rise from the sewers and discover their destiny as Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Release Date: August 8, 2014

Thoughts: I had to resist the urge to just publish the words that accompany the theme song for the classic animated Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series as my review of the first teaser trailer for producer Michael Bay’s reboot. Though a big screen animated restage of the franchise was attempted in 2007, it didn’t catch on like everyone had hoped…until Bay swooped in and brought the turtles over to Paramount Pictures. Directed by Bay protégé Jonathan Liebesman (Wrath of the Titans), I’m surprised how fondly I’m reacting to our first glimpse of the redesigned turtles who work with reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox, What to Expect When You’re Expecting) to combat The Shredder (William Fichtner, The Lone Ranger) and save the city. The humor looks to be on par with the original 80’s films while the action/effects/make-up is modern times all the way. Hope this is a nice retro ride for fans like myself weaned on the TMNT movies, animated series, and Nintendo video game.

Movie Review ~ Elysium

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Set in the year 2154, where the very wealthy live on a man-made space station while the rest of the population resides on a ruined Earth, a man takes on a mission that could bring equality to the polarized worlds.

Stars: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, William Fichtner, Wagner Moura

Director: Neill Blomkamp

Rated: R

Running Length: 109 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review: Achieving a minor miracle of a success with 2009’s District 9 (which went on to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Picture), it’s interesting that it took director Neill Blomkamp several years to release his follow-up film.  Laboring long and hard on a film that, like District 9, is not merely a science fiction stunner but a thinly veiled allegory about something bigger the wait was (mostly) worth it with Elysium.

Now I know this film has some problems.  Its storyline is a bit fractured with holes that are wide and frequent but it’s the intense focus on the superior visual design of the movie that earns high marks from this reviewer.  Surely housing the best looking effects of any film released in 2013, Elysium sometimes becomes too enamored of its own shine and flash and that’s why it’s class warfare parable doesn’t seem as fully fleshed out as Blomkamp’s apartheid statement hiding under the wiry guts of District 9’s plot.

That being said, you have to hand it to Blomkamp for aspiring to something greater than just delivering straight-forward science fiction with a message that doesn’t seem force-fed or totally obvious.  I’ve mentioned in my review of the trailer for Elysium that Matt Damon (Promised Land) and Jodie Foster (Carnage) are notoriously choosy about their films and it isn’t hard to see why both actors eyeballed this project.  Though I don’t feel either broke any new ground, it winds up providing solid fodder for Damon to continue his flawed hero character he’s been honing since the Good Will Hunting days and for Foster to fashion another ice queen so brittle she might break if she bumped into a wall.  Foster adopts a strange accent that sounds like it was both an afterthought and extensively fixed in post production dubbing…it just felt off and a rare misstep for the actress.  The most satisfying performance comes from Sharlto Copley’s (Europa Report) wicked wicked contract killer, a rough and tumble movie villain from a movie era long since obliterated.

Blomkamp’s script has its fair share of twists and interesting commentary about future society until it pares back the bigger ideas for bigger action sequences.  These aren’t necessarily unwelcome bits of action but it feels like Blomkamp was a servant to two masters…his own ideology of what he could say with this film and a movie studio that supports the director but also sees the bottom line of a summer action film.

I did enjoy the film more than I thought I would and found it a wonder to look at, if not always to follow along with.  I’m hoping that Blomkamp gets back to what made his first US splash such a smash and find a way to achieve more balance with what he’s saying and what he’s showing.

Movie Review ~ The Lone Ranger (2013)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Native American warrior Tonto recounts the untold tales that transformed John Reid, a man of the law, into a legend of justice.

Stars: Johnny Depp, Armie Hammer, Tom Wilkinson, William Fichtner, Barry Pepper, James Badge Dale, Ruth Wilson, Helena Bonham Carter

Director: Gore Verbinski

Rated: PG-13

Running Length: 149 minutes

Trailer Review: Here and Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review:  I made the mistake of reading too many early reviews of this update on the classic character featured first on the radio, then in a run of popular films in the 50’s, and finally on television.  Words like disastrous and failure were touted loud and clear and maybe that’s why I wound up like the film far more than I thought I would.  Does the film have its problems?  Oh yes.  Did it wind up being a total bomb for Walt Disney Studios?  Oh yes.  Is the film as bad as knife wielding critics would have you believe?  No, not by a long shot.

It’s probably safe to say that the deck was stacked against this from the start.  While The Lone Ranger has been a popular icon of American culture since his debut, there has been an inescapable cloud hanging over the franchise when looked at from a modern day perspective.  Simply put, there are some serious un-PC stereotypes going on and even dismissing these incidents as a product of the time in which the episodes were shot can’t fully exonerate those involved.  So the film had to find a way to parlay the relationship between John Reid (aka The Lone Ranger) and Native American Tonto into something more than a master/servant sort of relationship.

The casting of Johnny Depp (Dark Shadows) as Tonto didn’t start things off so well.  Though Depp has claimed to have Native American heritage, there were more than a few eyebrows raised when Depp, known for his broadly sketched characters, was cast in a role that already had studio heads sweating.  To the credit of Depp, director Gore Verbinski, and screenwriters Justin Haythe, Ted Elliott, and Terry Rossio there are strides taken to make Tonto his own man.  Given a back-story, motivations of his own, and ample screen time, the character becomes more central and fleshed out than the title character…so much so that it can feel like overcompensation.  Depp bookends the story under some quite impressive old age make-up and at times I totally forgot the actor was there.

Even though they spend the large majority of the film squabbling, Depp and star Armie Hammer (Mirror, Mirror) have a nice rapport and it’s their eventual team spirit camaraderie that gives the film some much needed steam as it trudges ever closer to its too long two and a half hour running length.

Working with Depp for the third time, Verbinski makes a case for the resurrection of the Western though there are perhaps one too many sweaty bearded men on hand and audiences may feel they need nametags to keep everyone straight.  It’s an efficient if overproduced picture that, while never boring, does meander through its middle section while Tonto and Reid find some footing in their growing friendship.

Though the film markets Helena Bonham Carter (Les Misérables) as a supporting player she’s a glorified cameo with quite limited screen time.  She makes the most of it though in a role that has one or two tricks waiting to be discovered.  William Fichtner (The Dark Knight) is a wonderful character actor equally at home in good or bad roles.  He’s a real bad guy here and the performance would be a highlight…if the appalling decision to give him a cleft palate hadn’t been employed.  It’s pretty much an unforgivable move in my book.  Ruth Wilson (Anna Karenina) is memorable as Reid’s sister-in-law who finds herself and her son in trouble when a greedy landowner (Tom Wilkinson, Batman Begins) sets his sights on her and her property.

Halfway through The Lone Ranger I couldn’t help but think of 2012’s John Carter, another mega flop from Walt Disney Studios that I found to be unfairly maligned by critics.  Both films have handsome production values and maybe overreach and oversell in their attempt to make a proper adventure epic.  I feel both films got a bum rap and it’s up to audiences to make the final call

The Silver Bullet ~ Elysium

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Synopsis: Set in the year 2154, where the very wealthy live on a man-made space station while the rest of the population resides on a ruined Earth, a man takes on a mission that could bring equality to the polarized worlds.

Release Date:  August 9, 2013

Thoughts: South African filmmaker Neill Blomkamp made a big splash with his first film, 2009’s District 9, a sci-fi action film set in the future that was a very thin veiled statement on the horrors of apartheid.  With his newest film, he seems to be taking on a bit of class warfare in the quest of equality.  Attracting the notoriously picky Matt Damon (Promised Land) and Jodie Foster bodes well for the quality of the picture, and this first trailer shows the August release has impressive visuals to go along with its action roots.  We’ve had a healthy run of futuristic pictures in the last few years and it will be interesting to see how Elysium fits into the genre.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Lone Ranger – Trailer #2

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Synopsis: Native American spirit warrior Tonto recounts the untold tales that transformed John Reid, a man of the law, into a legend of justice.

Release Date:  July 3, 2013

Thoughts:  The first trailer for summer’s would-be blockbuster The Lone Ranger kept its cards close to its chest, revealing just enough to let audiences know that Johnny Depp was falling down another rabbit hole of chameleon acting as Tonto, the trusty sidekick of the titular character (Armie Hammer).  The second preview is more of the same with some added plot details and a few more impressive effects shots.  For the most part, I enjoyed Depp’s previous collaboration with director Gore Verbinski (Rango, the first three Pirates of the Caribbean movies) but westerns have traditionally been a tough sell for modern audiences.  If anyone can breathe some life into the old genre, it’s the dynamic duo of Depp and Verbinski.  Count me in as ‘highly interested.”

The Silver Bullet ~ Phantom

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Synopsis: The haunted Captain of a Soviet submarine holds the fate of the world in his hands. Forced to leave his family behind, he is charged with leading a covert mission cloaked in mystery.

Release Date:  March 1, 2013

Thoughts: Coming in like a cross between The Hunt for Red October, Crimson Tide, and K19: The Widomaker, Phantom is a bit of a puzzle to me.  First off, for a film about Russians there is a curious lack of any accents.  Second…what is Ed Harris doing in this film…especially starring alongside the overly smug David Duchovny.  While the rest of the cast is peppered with admirable character actors, I kept waiting for this trailer to show me something I hadn’t already seen in better films.  A film destined for a small release, Phantom is going to be a tough sell for audiences that will have more interesting looking fare to see.