Tag Archives: Transformers

Floating Belly Up — “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”

tmnt fox

I’m not convinced Megan Fox is a bad actress. I’m not convinced she’s a good one either. She’s never been given much to do aside from scream and run in slow motion. I can’t think of another actor, outside motion capture, who’s spent as much time opposite green screens and cars and so little time opposite other actors.

For that tough job alone, she’s got my respect. Unfortunately, as reporter April O’Neil, she’s the only part of the rebooted Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that does. If you’re sitting down to see a story about four 6-foot tall, walking, talking, sewer-dwelling turtles who use their ninja skills to combat a crime wave in New York City, you’re probably there for cartoon action and zingy one liners. TMNT will get to these, but not before bending over backwards to create a murky origin story about how O’Neil and the Turtles are connected since childhood by a mystery surrounding her researcher father.

Coming out the week after Guardians of the Galaxy, which gets its origin story out of the way in a few minutes so it can jump into the action when everyone’s already blasting away at each other, TMNT feels especially old-fashioned in its tedious obsession with origins. We’re told the Turtles’ origins in an opening animation, again by the Turtles themselves, a third time by O’Neil herself, once more by their ninja master (a mutant rat named Splinter), and finally by the villain’s billionaire accomplice. Perhaps they think if they repeat it often enough, we’ll forget their laboratory-based origin story is lifted wholesale from The Amazing Spider-Man.

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The action itself is a mixed bag. Early fights are filmed in so many shadow and strobe effects, and cut so quickly, you can’t tell what’s happening. An all-out battle in the sewer waffles between tracking shots where you can’t distinguish what’s happening to whom, and slow-motion shots that are actually very well orchestrated. It’s annoying to switch back and forth between seeing things clearly and being in the dark every other second. Later action, including a clever mountainside chase and a rooftop fight scene, fix these problems with brighter lighting and more slow-motion.

The big bad in TMNT is a ninja named Shredder, whose evil plan is the lousiest I’ve seen in two years, three months, and three weeks. How can I be so exact? I looked up when The Amazing Spider-Man was released, because the climax of TMNT steals it beat for beat, detail for detail. Are you noticing a pattern?

It’s one thing to deliver an underwhelming film, it’s another to steal large chunks of someone else’s movie and pass it off as somehow original. I’m sure enough details are changed to avoid a lawsuit, but this is as egregious a job of legal plagiarism as I’ve ever seen. More importantly for the viewer, the laziness shows in the final product.

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The visual effects are passable. The Turtles look pretty good and Shredder, for all intents and purposes, is a mini-Transformer. There’s energy to the action when you can tell what’s happening. Splinter is a complete disaster, however, looking like someone left a giant, rubber Halloween mask out in the sun so long it’s half-melted and doesn’t fit right. I don’t know what they were thinking.

Fox herself is wasted. Her strength has always been as the comedic “straight man.” She can look a babbling Shia LaBeouf or a raving John Turturro or a giant, mechanical alien in the eye and deliver a measured reaction. She doesn’t create the comic beats so much as she makes sure the foundation under them is stable. Giving her world-renowned comedians, like Whoopi Goldberg (The View) as her editor and Will Arnett (Arrested Development) as her cameraman, is actually a very good idea. They’ve been baptized by the fire of live crowds and sitcom production schedules…so it’s not just a bad idea to make them the unfunny straight men to Fox’s comedic stylings, it’s downright disastrous. At least the Turtles themselves, particularly Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) are pretty funny.

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Like I said, I don’t blame Fox (or any of the other actors) for how bad this film turned out. I blame the writers and filmmakers, especially for how blatantly (and badly) they ripped off a two year-old Spiderman movie. To make matters worse, the whole effort is drowning in some of the worst hidden product placement I’ve seen. You’ll be yearning for subliminal advertising by the end of this.

Trust me, go see Guardians of the Galaxy instead. If you’ve already seen Guardians of the Galaxy, then you’re probably planning to see it again anyway. Stick with that choice.

The Good, The Bad, and The Australian — “The Rover”

The Rover lead

It felt like the summer needed to take a breather. Between the superhero movies and animated sequels and giant monsters, we needed a week off from visual effects, especially with the looming cloud that is a fourth Transformers movie on the horizon. This made it a very strange summer weekend at the movies. Nothing major opened – only a by-the-book comedy sequel and a classy but cliché-ridden band backstory.

It’s a perfect opportunity to highlight a smaller film, in this case a post-apocalyptic vengeance tale out of Australia called The Rover. It stars Guy Pearce, a veteran of these kinds of bloody art films, and Robert Pattinson, of Twilight infamy.

Its story is simple. A global collapse 10 years ago has left Australia a third-world country. Three bandits argue about leaving one’s younger brother behind, and crash their truck. They take a car belonging to Eric (Pearce), who finds that younger brother, Rey (Pattinson), and uses him to track down the car.

Why is Eric so intent on getting his car back? He’s left with the bandits’ better, faster truck. It’s at the core of the story, but for a long time, it becomes secondary to Eric and Rey’s journey. In an American film, the two would be good guys. They’d start at each others’ throats but through witty banter and close calls they’d grudgingly learn to work together. Not so in The Rover.

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Eric makes it clear early: the two are not friends. The more we learn about Eric, the more we realize he’s got very little soul left. He’s vicious and remorseless, and would sooner kill than be cornered into a conversation. Rey is slow, perhaps even mentally handicapped. In him, we see an impressionable boy who lacks the tools for this world. Rey’s growing loyalty to Eric breeds in the boy a growing need to commit violence. Drawing a parallel between Rey and the Elliot Rodgers and Dylan Klebolds of the world isn’t difficult – these aren’t murderers created by music or movies, they’re murderers created through misguided loyalty to someone who teaches them hate.

Australian movies have a habit for removing the usual gloss of Hollywood filmmaking. There’s far less violence in The Rover than in a single action scene of any of this summer’s blockbusters, but when it does happen, that violence is raw, quick, and brutal. Characters don’t get slow-motion death scenes with an orchestral crescendo; they get left in the dust with the buzzards. There’s eloquence in its hideousness, though. When there’s no room for escapism, the viewer is confronted by what a film has to say, and The Rover traps you in a corner.

Director David Michod and cinematographer Natasha Braier create a bleak and broken landscape – even the sky is sand colored. Yet the film always stays visually arresting. Scenes start at odd angles to where they’ll take the story; they don’t telegraph moments beforehand.

The Rover Pearce

Pearce’s performance is stunning. At one point, he thinks it’s all over for himself, that he’s going to jail for the rest of his life. He speaks with the knowledge that this is long overdue. It’s almost a relief to be caught. It’s a chilling moment, watching something so dead and soulless speak. Yet there are other times when the shreds of Eric’s remaining humanity peek through, brief moments when his eyes come to life just as quickly gone.

None of this should overshadow Pattinson. I’ve never held the Twilight franchise against any of its actors. (If you paid me a hundred million dollars to stare off-camera and look pained, I’d be there early every day.) But Pattinson is a revelation in The Rover, the best performance of the year so far. Rey is a character who could easily go off-the-rails into lampooning territory, but he never does. You can see him processing the world around himself, violence becoming easier, changing from a danger to a solution.

And then there’s the ending – unexpected, taut, graceful, tender. It changes everything that’s come before. “The Rover” asks challenging questions without offering answers. It’s a cynical reflection of all the hope we have in our cinema today. That hope – costumed heroes saving the world – is important to cling to. It’s crucial, but so are films like The Rover. They’re a worst case scenario – what if that hope doesn’t work out? A necessary question, though not one many viewers may wish to face.

The Rover is rated R for language and violence.