Norm of the North (DVD Review)

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U – 87mins – 2016 


 

ARCTIC SHAKE

Conservation meets animation in this mirrored-Madagascar tale of a talking animal leaving their natural habitat to journey to the Big Apple. With the unique ability to speak to humans, hulking hunting novice Norm (Rob Schneider) takes it upon himself to leave his icy home and stowaway on a ship to New York in order to stop the greedy real estate mogul Mr. Greene (Ken Jeong) from turning the North Pole into a luxury condo development.

The toon’s CG style is blocky but bold enough not to be cumbersome, and kids will lap up Norm of the North’s frenetic pace and slapstick humour (in particular the trio of sidekick lemmings). Sadly, other than an admirable eco-friendly message, adults will struggle to find much to latch onto here – save for picking out the wealth of star voices (Bill Nighy, James Corden, Heather Graham).

CR@B’s Claw Score: 2 stars

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Ghostbusters II (Blu-ray Review)

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PG – 108mins – 1989


 

NEW YORK, SLIME SQUARE

“Sometimes shit happens, someone has to deal with it, and who you gonna call?”

Five years later and Reitman, Aykroyd, Ramis, Murray, Hudson, Weaver, Potts, Moranis and Slimer are all back for a second love letter to their beloved Big Apple. Since we last saw the spook-zapping saviours of the city they’ve been sued, left broke, dismissed as phoneys and largely forgotten. “I thought you were going to be He-Man” one disappointed birthday boy informs his ‘special’ guests.

Following a brief romance, walking sarcasm machine Dr. Peter Venkman (Murray) pushed Dana Barrett (Weaver) away, but now she’s back in New York as a single mother following the break-up of her subsequent marriage. When some spectral shenanigans nearly see her baby son wheeled into traffic, Dana calls upon her old friends to recharge their dusty proton packs.

Can the re-suited and booted Ghostbusters save young Oscar from Dana’s pesky, Renfield-esque boss, Janosz (Peter MacNicol), who is possessed into stealing the child as a sacrificial vessel for the tyrannical spirit of portrait-bound 17th century conqueror Vigo the Carpathian (Willhelm von Homburg; dubbed by The Exorcist‘s Max von Sydow)?

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With a river of pink slime flowing beneath the streets and feeding off of irate New Yorker’s negative emotions, pliable puppet Janosz’s spooky stint as a red-eyed phantom nanny, the docking of the Titanic and Peter back to his dry best (“You’re not going to get a Green Card with that attitude, pal!”), there are plenty of quotable lines and memorable scenes in this second supernatural adventure. The camaraderie amongst the chummy cast is still strong.

Alas, there is also a niggling feeling that this is simply more of the same, with the Scalari Brother’s courtroom breakout highly reminiscent of Slimer’s ballroom destruction in the iconic original, and Lady Liberty’s climatic march of hope another attempt at a large scale finale, akin to Stay Puft’s city stomp.

You’ll still laugh (“Do…” “Re…” “Egon!”) and the characters are still adorably endearing (“One time I turned into a dog and they helped me!”), but there are a couple of moments when the humour veers a little too close to overegged (that Judge seriously needs to keep his bile in check). The plot, too, plays it a little safe, making Ghostbusters II an entertaining if unevolved beast. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. “Am I right, Ziggy?” “Yo!”

CR@B’s Claw Score: 3 stars

Ghostbusters (Cinema Review)

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12A – 116mins – 2016 – 3D


 

BREAKING DOWN BARRIERS

When director and co-writer Paul Bridesmaids Feig is sick of the spurious shit over-opinionated anonymous keyboard trolls sling his way on social media, he writes a biting retort into his controversial screenplay (“Ain’t no bitches be bustin’ ghosts!”). But basement-dwelling bell boy Rowan (Neil Casey) deals with his lowly lot in life in a far less passive-aggressive way: he opens a vortex between our world and the afterlife, allowing ghosts to inhabit New York City.

“If you see something, say something.”

So who you gonna call? The Masters of the Metaphy— or Ghostbusters, as they are more popularly known. But not as we have known them since 1984, as this highly-divisive 21 century reboot reimagines Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis’ apparition-zappers as theory-chasing paranormal investigators and publishers of “Ghosts From Our Past” Erin Gilbert (Kristen Wiig) and Abby Yates (Melissa McCarthy). These two temporarily-estranged BFFs are joined by nuclear engineer and equipment creator Jillian Holtzmann (Kate McKinnon) and subway employee Patty (Leslie Jones), whose sat-nav-like knowledge of the city – and uncle’s hearse – come in mighty handy to the city-saving operation.

Written off before a single frame was filmed, GB ’16 is not the abomination the brigade of misogynistic, childhood-cherishing ‘fanboy’ naysayers feared – there are nods to the three decade franchise (from a bust of the late Ramis to an iconic 100ft parade balloon), winking cameos and respectful parallels aplenty (the firehouse; graffiti-inspired logo; Erin banging on the window of a restaurant a la Louis Tully). The new origin story and characters are, by-and-large, likable. Patty, in particular, is endearingly bullish and integrates well despite being the only non-scientist, while I have legitimately never like a Melissa McCarthy character as much as the charming and non-gregarious Abby.

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So, all good, then? Weeeell, sadly not. Granted this might well be a personal gripe given how I hated Feig’s crude and swear-stuffed spoof Spy (2015), and could happily take or leave The Heat (2013), but the humour in GB ’16 did not tally to my tastes at all. Often played far too broad, forced and occasionally veering close to embarrassing (Ozzy Osbourne and a particular joyriding spook, in particular). Feig and co-writer Katie MADtv Dippold managed to raise a smirk on my face less than a handful of times in nearly two hours…

Chris In the Heart of the Sea Hemsworth 8plays the flip-reversed role of (gasp!) male receptionist Kevin far too dippy – he’s so inexcusably dumb he’s almost offensive, while Kate McKinnon’s disingenuously quirky character traits left me stony-faced throughout. So, too, the influx of cheesy celebratory dance scenes. Yeah, it was vaguely comical once, but they are employed too often and for too long – and completely dominate the Easter Egg-stuffed closing credits.

The much-anticipated cameos from the stars of the iconic original films were somewhat hampered by a horrible tendency for all – bar Ernie “Winston” Hudson and Annie “Janine” Potts – to ham it up something chronic. Paul Feig clearly wanted this to be BIGGER, BOLDER and FUNNIER than ever before, which might explain why his spooks are neon-tinged. The CG special effects here to get a pass, however, as the bright style works with the movie’s zany exuberance.

Image result for ghostbusters uk posterHaving had to give another of my 80s favourites, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows a second chance following a week break, I may have to readjust/downgrade my expectations and re-watch Ghostbusters again next week. But my first impression from opening day is a disappointingly dispirited one, when I really hoped I’d come out feeling spirited away.

CR@B’s Claw Score: 2 stars

 

Ghostbusters (Blu-ray Review)

12 – 105mins – 1984


 

‘BUSTING MAKES ME FEEL GOOD

“We’re ready to believe you!”

Much like the paranormal-investigating pest controllers themselves, Ivan Reitman’s mid-80s supernatural comedy perfectly straddles the divide. Okay, not between life and thereafter, but between yucks and shocks. Ghostbusters is never terrifying enough to scare away the kids, or cheesy enough to turn off their parents. It teases at the edges, sure, but it’s universal in its playfulness, delivering (for the first hour in particular) a relentless rattle-bang compendium of phenomenon-securing cinematic gold.

“Type something, will ya? We’re paying you for this stuff!”

From Elmer Bernstein’s teasingly chilling theramin-tinged opening orchestration to the introduction of gluttonous “ugly little spud” Slimer, via the shock of the library phantom’s sudden mood-swing, it is infectiously entertaining, iconic and endlessly quotable – even down to Ray Stantz’s (Dan Aykroyd) bizarrely incongruous mid-montage ethereal blow job!

“You don’t act much like a scientist… more like a gameshow host.”

Saturday Night Live alumni Aykroyd and co-writer/co-star Harold Ramis bring bountiful personality to their science-fiction screenplay. Their university-evicted spiritual scientists are down to earth and identifiable to such an extent that the belated addiction of advert-answering new recruit Winston Zeddmore (Ernie Hudson) is somewhat superfluous. Through Ray’s wide-eyed excitability (“You gotta try the pole!”), nerdy Egon’s (Ramis) inability to flirt with secretary Janine (Annie Potts) and Peter Venkman’s (fellow SNL-er Bill Murray) facetious louche sarcasm (“back off man, I’m a scientist!”), we already have ample access to this high-concept Zuul-niverse.

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“We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!”

As the proton-packed foursome find themselves rocketed to overnight success and lend their bumbling, fumbling ‘expertise’ to musician Dana Barrett’s (Sigourney Weaver) egg-popping, fridge-possessing doggy dilemma, their is a twenty minute period prior to the high-stakes roof-top finale which does switch down a gear. The plot becomes so invested in the coming together of the Gatekeeper and Keymaster and the possession of lovable loser Louis Tully (Rick Moranis) that smarmy antagonist Walter Peck (William Atherton) is almost lost in the mix – until the overzealous EPA agent makes a costly error of judgment which puts the whole city at risk…

“Dogs and cats, living together. Mass hysteria!”

But once our heroes are ‘busted out of jail by New York’s panic-stricken Mayor (David Marguiles), the red-hot quotes start tumbling again (“It’s true: this man has no dick”) as the action intensifies and the colourful effects fly into overdrive. The Claymation work on the statuesque demon dogs is a little obvious, while flat-topped femme demi-god Gozer is a tad underwhelming in human form (Slavitza Jovan), but all of this is forgiven when a 100foot marshmallow is summoned to stomp across the city, following a couple of subtle visual references teeing up Stay Puft’s appearance earlier in the film.

“Mother puss-bucket!”

Even 32 years on, Ghostbusters still lends itself to endless repeat viewings – its spunky attitude and endearing characterisation overcoming any dated FX work and narrative lulls. I can’t imagine Paul Feig’s incoming reboot will quite manage to capture the imagination of its generation in quite the same all-conquering fashion, but provided GB ’16 can mine the spirit of Reitman’s original then it’s half way to success – provided it doesn’t cross the streams! I guess we’ll find out on Monday…

CR@B’s Claw Score: 5 stars

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III: Turtles in Time (Blu-ray Review)

PG – 96mins – 1993


 

COSMIC CRUISE

“Relax, April, It’s just your ordinary time-travel-equal-mass-displacement thing.”

After sitting out The Secret of the Ooze, Elias Koteas and Corey Feldmen both reprised their respective roles of vigilante Casey Jones and the voice of Donatello in this second – and final for some 14 years – big screen sequel to 1990’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Having not seen Turtles in Time since the bygone days of Ritz VHS rentals, I had – in the intervening two decades – lazily adopted the general public perception that this culture (shell-)shock ‘turtles out of water’ time travel adventure was a hokey and frivolous farce; a lesser beast than its two more weighty predecessors.

So imagine my “mondo surprise” following my blu-ray revisit last night to find that I actually prefer this third film! I am so used to modern franchises getting progressively darker and moodier as they progress, but it is actually to the credit of this Stuart Gillard-steered cultural exchange that the tone is lighter and more consistent throughout – these turtles have dispensed with Shredder and the Foot Clan and found their groove!

“Talk about your Quantum Leap!”

With Jim Henson’s Creature Shop replaced by All Effects Company on animatronic duties, the turtle suits do look a tad more obvious (eyes are rounder, spots stand out more and the green skin tone more vibrant), but aside from a couple of instances where you can spot a gap between the bandana and eye holes, they aren’t jarringly different or cheaper-looking. Plus a more cartoony-vibe actually suits the film’s more jovial tone.

With human compadre April O’Neil (Paige Turco) accidentally sent back to feudal Japan thanks to a magical golden sceptre (or “weird Japanese antique egg timer”) she picked up at the flea market, it is up to the amphibious foursome to “open wide the gates of time” and follow her back to the 15th century in order to bring her home.

“Hello mustard?!”

“Okay, so my Japanese is a little rusty…”

With the sceptre balancing out any paradoxes by replacing any time travellers with the same number of people from the earlier period, it is up to aged mentor Splinter (James Murray) and Casey to be on babysitting duties for some understandably confused honour guards, while the turtles are plunged shell-first into a large scale civil war.

This does make the narrative somewhat lopsided, with the impressively grandiose jaunt in Japan taking precedence (that was where the budget was spent, after all), but to make a return to the franchise more appealing than simply feeding junk food and teaching hockey to some bemused foreign warriors, Elias Koteas plays a dual role as bearded spy Whit in 1603.

The pizza-lust and landslide of popular culture references are still reliably in place – although allusions to Elvis, James Dean and The Three Stooges do mean they’ll stay relevant for longer than Wayne Gretzky. So, too, are Raphael’s (Tim Kelleher) “turtle tantrums,” while profuse weapon usage during the battle sequences and the imparting of some sage advice to young villagers does lend the comedy some levity – and Raph a character-enhancing epiphany.

CR@B Verdict: 3 stars

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (DVD Review)

12 – 97mins – 2014 


 

DIGI-SHELL HEROES

Two years before Paul Feig powered up his proton pack for this summer’s unduly controversial girl-powered Ghostbusters reimagining, four more of my childhood action heroes received a big money, blockbuster makeover, courtesy of new rights holders Nickelodeon Movies and Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes production company. Cowabunga, dudes!

While Wrath of the Titans director Jonathan Liebesman’s half shell overhaul never received quite the same ferocity of fanboy fury as Feig’s fright-fighting femmes, there were still some contentious changes to the longstanding continuity which irked franchise purists (Sensai Splinter, for instance, was never a human fighting champion but a lab rat who learnt his ninja skills in the sewer), while the so-called aesthetic ‘realism’ of the mo-capped CG amphibians was rightfully lambasted as flat-out ugly.

“I’m a snapping turtle, fool!”

From humble comic book beginnings to animatronic live action movie stars (via countless small screen ventures), the sheer volume of conflicting incarnations the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have endured over their 35 year history has perhaps softened any shellshock I may feel towards any minor mutation to their origin story. However, I must confess to being impressed by the cohesion to the character’s backstory in Josh Appelbaum, André Nemec and Evan Daugherty’s script, with News Reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox) made personally responsible for saving Leo, Donnie, Raph and Mikey from a lab fire at her father’s facility back in 1999.

This efficient streamlining extends to the villains of the piece, too, with human antagonist and billionaire CEO Eric Sacks (William Fichtner) established as April’s deceased pa’s former scientific colleague working towards “Project Renaissance”, with grill-chopped lead villain Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) their power-hungry, mutagen-mad boss. Now there is a driving force behind the degeneracy, rather than simply ‘because they’re bad guys.’ Sadly, Shredder’s overarching portrayal is reduced to mere faceless weapon, with his iconic caped-costumed excessively pimped out to make him look like a “Robot Samurai” in Transformers cosplay.

Elsewhere, the characterisation is strong, with the pizza lovin’, pop culture obsessed teenage bro’s distinctive personalities solidified early on (leader, brainbox, rebel, comic), leading to some sparkling banter. Megan Fox was certainly a curious casting choice for the usually ginger, yellow jumpsuit-wearing reporter, but she manages to keep the justice-chasing go-getter grounded and deliver more than just “a little froth,” while Channel 6 cameraman Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett) is charmingly fleshed out as a nervous, hopeless flirt crushing on his leading lady.

Upon leaving the multiplex back in 2014 my response was one of apathy, but with a sequel surfing into cinemas at the end of the month I decided to take another trip to the sewers of NYC, and I liked hanging out with these Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles a shell of a lot more than I remembered.

“Tiramisu for everybody!”

I concede that it has a rather messy, hyperactive tone (“MC Mikey” can’t even ride in a lift without making some noise, while a camera-swooping cliff-drop set piece is constantly narrated by wisecracks) and its ‘gritty’ desire to detail large-scale devastation is elevated to Man of Steel proportions, but I was far more invested in these “fairytale vigilantes” second time around and found far more favourable factors than frustrating faults. I plan to revisit all of the motion picture outings in the lead-up to Out of the Shadows’ May 30th release, including 2007 CGI dud TMNT – wish me luck, compadres.

CR@B Verdict: 3 stars

Special Correspondents (Netflix Review)

15 – 101mins – 2016


 

PHONEY PLANET

I have been a Ricky Gervais fan ever since I accidentally flicked over to episode two of The Office one innocuous evening in 2001 (long before it blew up into the cultural phenomenon everyone quotes today). I can vividly remember still being stood up, so entranced by the screen that I couldn’t turn over and literally howling with laughter.

While haters could debate whether the man behind David Brent has ever been able to top his seminal mockumentary, I have been chuckling along with his multitude of projects ever since, from stand up shows to sitcoms to podcasts I would have worn out had they not been digital downloads. I even attended his Foregone Conclusion gig at Hammersmith Apollo in 2014. Gervais has an enviable knack of riding the extremes, from controversy-touting celebrity put-downs at the Golden Globes to eye-moistening, spirit-raising catharsis in the Extras Christmas Special and Derek. Plus, that laugh!

With two films due this year, he has been incredibly productive of late. I will confess that I am more excited for his big screen Office follow-up Life on the Road (“cumin” in August) than I was for Netflix Original journalism satire Special Correspondents (a remake of 2009 French film Envoyés très spéciaux), but any Gervais is good Gervais, right?

Well, not quite. As I excitedly made my way through this stream-only movie last night, my enthusiasm quickly plummeted and was never revived. As the end credits rolled and I sat staring aimlessly into the middle distance as “Dollar For a Hero” blared out of the speakers again, I came to the crushing conclusion that I have now watched Ricky Gervais’ first unmitigated dud.

There was just a laziness and heavy-handedness about every aspect of this production. Once again Gervais has written himself an everyman role in Ian Finch (even the surname is recycled), a British sound engineer who moved to New York to make it big yet still finds himself playing second-fiddle to arrogant, blunt-tongued reporter Frank Bonneville (Eric Bana).

Whereas Gervais’ other comic creations have all earned our respect or sympathy, Ian’s woes – his “shitty wife” (Vera Farmiga) is cheating on him, he’s made nothing of his life, he’s a comics and collectables “geek” (which is surely more acceptable now than ever?!) and he still makes fat jokes despite losing weight five years ago – are piled onto us remarkably unsubtly from the get-go, resulting in a pitiful, unendearing no-mark… with “slopey shoulders.”

But at least this no-mark is amiable. Bana’s cocksure reporter is a spiteful arsehole who openly calls the recently dumped Finch an “ugly, runt mongrel who has to be put down.” Farmiga’s Eleanor is a disgusting, cold-hearted, fame-hungry super-bitch who doesn’t care if her husband is dead or alive as long as her charity single hits #1, while Ugly Betty’s America Ferrera and Raul Castillo play the most exasperatingly braindead coffee shop owners imaginable.

On paper, the plot sounds an intriguing one: assigned to cover the war in Ecuador, Frank and Finch instead fake their live reports while living above Brigida’s NY shop. But when their spiralling story leads to a national outpouring over them being “taken hostage,” the hole-digging duo must smuggle themselves into a warzone to be “rescued.” Sadly, the plot-turns on screen are as contrived and maladroit as the characterisation, with the catalyst to the misadventure being Finch accidentally binning the passports and Frank being too proud to tell his boss of a legitimate accident.

When the action shifts to Ecuador in the third act, the representation of the native South Americans is as cringingly one-note and offensively two dimensional as the rest of the film. “Rustic, isn’t it?” Finch mugs while sitting in a dive bar amidst fighting, drug-dealing and bandits. There is an awkward tonal shift akin to the woeful Simon Pegg ‘comedy’ Hector and the Search for Happiness when fact echoes fiction and the pair are kidnapped for real – before things turn a bit Tropic Thunder for a sharp-shooting slow-mo action conclusion which paints Finch as a real hero… while on heroin.

“It’s like the end of a movie,” Kelly MacDonald’s underwritten nice girl love interest says – supposedly ironically – as the screen fades to black. Yes, it is: a very trite and hackneyed one which relies too heavily on rote stereotypes and has no unique view of its own. I wanted to like Special Correspondents, I really did, but its buffoonery failed to raise a single smile in over 100 minutes – the David Brent: Life on the Road trailer managed more than that in one and a half!

CR@B Verdict: 1 star