Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (Cinema Review)

12A – 112mins – 2016 – 3D


 

… AND INTO THE FIGHT

Surfing high on tides of turtle power thanks to my furious franchise refresh, you may wonder why I went to the effort of rushing out my reviews of the five previous big screen anthropomorphized amphibian adventures quicker than Splinter up a drainpipe only to stall when it came to giving my verdict on the theatrical release of this Platinum Dunes follow-up to their blockbuster 2014 reboot?

The truth is, I was in the cinema on opening day (May 30th), pepperoni pizza in hand (seriously) and mind ready to be blown by the belated big screen bow of “jacked up disco ball” Krang (Brad Garrett) and mutant goofballs Rocksteady (WWE’s Sheamus) and Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams), and… Out of the Shadows left me disappointed.

While the second half of Dave Earth to Echo Green’s Michael Bay-produced sewer sequel improves by focusing on Shredder’s (Brian Tee) attempts to locate the fragmented components of an ancient portal-ripping machine in order to open a dimensional rift and bring the Technodrome through to invade Earth, I was still reeling from the Secret of the Ooze-riffing opening half which felt like a chaotic, hyperactive mess of CG-clowning from far too many characters with too few clear-cut motives.

As well as bringing back the turtle’s defeated arch nemesis, his daughter Karai (Brittany Ishibashi) and the faceless Foot soldiers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 also squeezes eye candy Megan Fox as human confidant April O’Neil and Will Arnett as comic relief everyman Vern Fenwick into the story. While I was initially concerned that “The Falcon” was receiving short shrift, his change of fortune is worked into the plot well.

The toy chest is further raided to bring anxious scientist Baxter Stockman (Tyler “Madea” Perry) and hockey-loving vigilante Casey Jones (Stephen Arrow Amell) out to play alongside the ninjitsu-trained shellbacks and their furry mentor (Tony Shaloub) in bringing down the “chewed up piece of gum” and the rhino and piggy-shaped hench-mutants. It’s no wonder that next to this veritable menagerie of kooky characters, Laura Linney struggles to stand out as the sole straight player in the thankless role of NYC’s Police Chief.

Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec’s script is also rammed full of fan-servicing callbacks (the manhole-projecting Turtle Van; the cartoon theme song as a car horn; Donnie’s ‘toon chops on April’s data-nabbing watch) and effervescent catchphrase-forcing banter (“My man!”). If you’re prepared, it’s a high-energy blast, but if not it’s nearly two draining hours of insufferable, overblown, try-hard map-cappery with the ugliest alien eyesores this side of John Carpenter’s The Thing.

While Out of the Shadows has had its detractors (The Guardian gifted it just one star, while I overheard a Radio 5 Live discussion which was determined to discourage people from seeing this box office hit), I was downcast at the mondo notion that I was among them. However, a raft of positive film blog reviews reaffirmed my faith in the franchise I will always cherish from my childhood. A return trip to the cinema was planned…

And second time was a charm for this busy-but-nostalgic fun-fest. Maybe because my expectations were lowered, or because my mind was more attuned to the frenzied rate of play (the opening five minutes, in particular, gives the impression that everything from prison breakouts to undercover espionage missions, NBA basketball games, celebrity interviews and Halloween parades all take place on one ‘average’ night in the city), but I legitimately found my opinion raised.

I still accept that it has its flaws (the Brazilian rapids rumble is as indecipherably-choreographed and hard to follow as 2014’s downhill slalom, while Stephen Amell is neither cool or rebellious enough to convince as Casey), but it is a baby-step up from Jonathan Liebesman’s antecedent. Nullify your noggin and Out of the Shadows delivers a tongue-in-cheek, pizza-brained barrage of banter and blockbusting bangs for your buck.

While the current Nickelodeon TV series goes from strength-to-strength on the small screen, I still acknowledge that we are yet to hit gold with a fully consistent TMNT movie. But if things continue to improve film-on-film then maybe the all-but-announced trilogy closer will be a real “Cowabunga” classic? My claws are crossed…

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

Goosebumps (Cinema Review)

<p>Dylan Minnette, Jack Black, Odeya Rush and&nbsp;Ryan Lee star in <em>Goosebumps,&nbsp;</em>based on the books by R.L. Stine,<span style="font-family: proxima-nova-n4, proxima-nova, 'Helvetica Neue', Helvetica, Arial, sans-serif; font-size: 18px; line-height: 28px;">&nbsp;the story of how the monsters from his books escape into the world, wreak havoc, and the attempts that are made to get them back onto the pages where they belong.</span></p>
PG – 103mins – 2015


FROM PAGE TO SCREAM

As a child of the 80s schooled through the 90s, R.L. Stine’s seemingly endless library of short, sharp supernatural stories for young audiences made for regular bedtime reading. Titles such as Say Cheese And Die! and Stay Out of the Basement were often swapped between myself and my classmates so to maximise our consumption because owning them ALL was surely impossible.

Published by Scholastic, Goosebumps books are the perfect concoction of creepy adventures with a cool, rebel streak but a moral core – not to mention a fittingly ghoulish twist – to encourage even the most book-adverse scamp to pick up a copy. Likewise, the accompanying anthology TV series was must-watch after school viewing on CBBC from 1995-8 which I happily revisited and binged on gluttonously when the boxset received a belated region 2 release a couple of years ago.

For these reasons, when I first heard a big screen adaptation/spin-off/reboot was in the works, my gut reaction was an amalgam of nostalgic delight and cautious pessimism – the latter exacerbated when it was revealed that R. L. Stine was to somehow appear as a main character played by funnyman Jack Black (Bad Bromance), who was reteaming with director Rob Letterman, of the deplorable Gulliver’s Travels (2010) ‘fame’.

Having now – eventually – seen the Goosebumps motion picture (which was already out on DVD in America before it hit UK cinemas last month), I am relieved to inform you that Letterman and Black have not desecrated another literary source. Phew. The script – by Darren Lemke, from a story by Scott Anderson and Larry Karaszewski (Ed Wood, 1408) – does a fine job of crafting a meta-skirting universe where Stine is a bestselling author who must lock away his manuscripts to stop his monstrous creations from escaping into the real world.

Escape, of course, they do, spilling out a horde of nefarious gnomes, giant insects, crazed clowns, hungry werewolves and marauding zombies onto the quiet streets of Madison, Delaware, with deranged ventriloquist dummy Slappy (voiced by Black) pulling the strings in a plot to ruin his imprisoning “Papa”. It’s like a “Who’s Who and From Which Book?” from Goosebumps’ illustrious back catalogue, and while some popular characters are given short shrift, this self-aware ensemble narrative is definitely the best approach to delivering an uproarious and fan-servicing one-off adventure.

Dylan Minnette and Ryan Lee play the teenage every-lads whisked along on this wild ride, with Lee’s dumbfounded expression and verbal diarrhoea regularly infuriating Black’s cantankerous and reclusive writer, while Minnette has his sight set on wooing Stine’s home schooled daughter, Hannah (Odeya Rush) – but is there more to her than meets the eye…? Well there had to be twist!

Not every joke lands. One particularly awkward and wholly un-kid friendly line has an inexperienced cop wildly misinterpret Stine’s ‘confession’ of being an audiophile, but there’s a lot of witty parent-pleasing stuff elsewhere (Stine’s rage at Stephen King’s success is a highlight), plus the zippy nature of the busy narrative means you don’t dwell on the missteps for long before you’re distracted by another vivid and impressive set-piece.

Younger children may be genuinely spooked by some of the grislier creature effects. The zombies roaming the graveyard – which the characters jokingly remark they just have to walk through to reach their destination – were certainly lacking any horror-softening humour, but this is otherwise a thoroughly enjoyable family friendly romp profuse in magic, charm and self-aware spirit. Viewer prepare, you’re in for a… treat!

CR@B Verdict: 4 stars