Monday, 10 November 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Directed by: Jonathan Liebesman

Produced by: Michael Bay
Andrew Form
Bradley Fuller
Galen Walker
Scott Mednick
Ian Bryce

Screenplay by: Josh Appelbaum
Andre Nemec
Evan Daugherty

Based on: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles by
Kevin Eastman
Peter Laird

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

Music by: Brian Tyler

Cinematography by: Lula Carvalho

Editing by: Joel Negron
Glen Scantlebury

Studio(s): Nickelodeon Movies
Platinum Dunes

Distributed by: Paramount Pictures

Release date(s): August 8, 2014 (United States)
October 17, 2014 (United Kingdom)

Running time: 101 minutes

Country: United States

Language: English

Production budget: $125 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $464, 067, 000

Ahoy there, I'm back into the land of the living. As you may have noticed (or probably haven't unless you're one my single-digit numbered regular readers), there was a bit of a drop in terms of productivity there, and frankly that was because I was away. I just got back late yesterday evening from the RDS Web Summit in Dublin, which I had been working. After last month's lack of hours, there's no way I'm turning down thirty-six hours guaranteed for three days work, and yes, it was exhausting, yes my feet were sore, yes there were all the usual tedious things to deal with, petty workplace squabbles and blah blah blah, but overall it was an enjoyable enough few days. We were put up in a hostel and with a pub next door there was opportunity to wind down with a couple of pints before hitting the hay and doing it all over again. The madness was reminiscent of the Magical Mystery Tour that was the festival circuit. Anywho, as that is my last major trip work-wise for the foreseeable future, expect to see more activity here. I've got a stack of movies to get through. '71, The Babadook, Fury, Interstellar, Nightcrawler, The Maze Runner and Gone Girl (which I have seen and will be my next review following this one) are all out in cinemas, making for a very interesting looking late-Autumn/early-Winter period before the impending Oscar season. So, for all the latest and greatest regarding the movies, keep your eyes posted!

So, today's movie up for review is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the newly released intended reboot of the film series of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise. For anyone old enough to remember, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were a pop-culture phenomenon for a ten-year period from the mid-1980s to about the mid-1990s, originating in a comic book series created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, before expanding into a cartoon series, film series, video games, all with the toys, clothing and merchandise you might expect from something like, say, a Star Wars or Star Trek level of franchise. However, in recent years (when I say recent, I mean from about '97 onwards!) it has been out of the mainstream, maintaining a certain cult following, but not to the extent of its glory-days. However, with two well-received television series (from 2003-2009 produced by 4KidsTV, from 2012 to the present after the rights to TNMT were purchased by Nickelodeon) and a previously unsuccessful feature film reboot, 2007's TNMT, the proverbial hat has been tossed in and we have this film. Another notable aspect of the film's production, notwithstanding the storied production history behind the Turtles as a whole, with Laird and Eastman producing dark and gritty material at the same time as the light-hearted humorous television series, partnering with Nickelodeon in the production is Platinum Dunes, Michael Bay and Brad Fuller's production company most famous for undeniably terrible horror remakes.  He and Fuller have also brought in previous collaborator Jonathan Liebesman to direct the picture, and Megan Fox, who presumably is on working terms with Bay after her alleged rude behaviour and comparisons of him to Hitler. Before this film, Fox's career suffered after being dropped from the Transformers franchise in 2009. Since 2010, after the horrendously received pairing of Jonah Hex and Passion Play the former FHM's Sexiest Woman has kept low-key, getting married to longtime partner Brian Austen Green and having two children, only having one lead role in Judd Apatow's This Is 40 and small parts in Friends With Kids, The Dictator and Robot Chicken's DC Universe Special, so this is a mainstream return of sorts. When I first heard that Bay was producing this film, I posted a selfie on Facebook on myself pulling a mock-tearful face sitting in a vest described as looking like Peter Mullan in Tyrannosaur (how flattering!), which, though I was joking, wasn't far from my sentiments. However, I did go into this with an open mind and wanted to like it, as I'll admit, I like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise, find their silliness rather charming, and thought, what the hey, it might be okay. So, plot synopsis, April O'Neil (Fox) is a reporter for Channel 6 News who has been saddled with stories that she is not interested in and in her free time has been researching a criminal gang known as the Foot Clan. After questioning a dock worker about chemicals with a potential link, she returns to the dock and witnesses them unloading cargo. However, they are ambushed and taken out by a vigilante, and when April attempts to tell her boss Bernadette Thompson (Whoopi Goldberg) and colleagues, they don't believe her. Next attacking in a subway station, the Foot Clan attempt to lure out the vigilante, who turns out to be the titular Turtles, Leonardo (PetePloszek/Johnny Knoxville), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), Donatello (Jeremy Howard) and Raphael (Alan Ritchson). April records the image on her phone, but the Turtles delete them, wishing to remain anonymous lest they incur the wrath of their master Splinter (Danny Woodburn/Tony Shalhoub). April recognises them, and looking back at one of her old home movies, realises they are her 'pet' turtles that her deceased father and Eric Sacks (William Fichtner), his former lab partner now a famous scientist and business man, experimented on under the name Project Renaissance. From here on we have a story involving April, the Turtles and Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett) attempting to expose a plot involving terrorism, corruption, Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) and all manner of things. Got it? Good!

It is perhaps appropriate that I follow that long-winded preamble paragraph with a summation of what is good about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, the guts of which I think you could make fill up a single post-it note. Call it a pre-emptory spoiler alert, but this movie sucked. Anywho, there are a couple of good things about it, so, here we go. Megan Fox and Whoopi Goldberg share a rather funny scene part of the way through the film, in which Fox's super-excited April explains her labyrinthine theories with great aplomb, talking what seems like a hundred words a minute while Goldberg looks on incredulously. It shows Fox has the ability to be both comedic and deliver good vocals, while Goldberg revels in the head honch, being rather blunt in a part not dissimilar to J.K. Simmons' J. Jonah Jameson in Sam Raimi's Spider-Man movies. Although it's an unimportant scene in the scheme of things, it's the best in the film, catering to both actors abilities. Also, I'd be denying if I didn't find some of the aspects of the action, such as the stunts, choreography and motion capture, to be of a good standard. I have to admire them, it's just a shame that these people, like Fox and Goldberg, are so obviously talented and ended up in this movie.

Just on a quick side note before I really get into the thick of things, in the process of writing this review, I have been listening to Kraftwerk and Bjork and reading Thomas Pynchon's V, and although these are all very different people what unites them is a consummate artistry which not only distinguishes their work but elevates it: there is absolutely nothing artistic about this Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles picture. For starters, the screenplay is absolutely horrendous. Notwithstanding that there are entire scenes lifted from other/better films (the Turtles' first ambush of the Foot Clan is ripped right out of Batman Begins), the characterisation is woeful. The Turtles themselves, who admittedly have always been a wisecracking bunch, are annoying and tiresome. Each have been given their own distinct 'personality,' as in Raphael's is the brooding one, Donatello wears glasses etc., but these so-called traits are base qualities that do not get down to the core of what they are about, making them two-dimensional. Also, the film is full of 'snappy' dialogue and (to be frank) a rather retarded sense of humour. Poor Will Arnett is reduced to a babbling idiot with his Vern Fenwick, and it's one of those movies were you can tell where they've left in the pauses for people to laugh, or that every scene, no matter how serious, finish on some silly line or other. Call me a sanctimonious grump, but some of the material is borderline offensive, especially considering that this is a movie that is being marketed towards children. Jokes in the direction of Megan Fox's ass and using a Victoria's Secret billboard (another Michael Bay product placement plug) to hide are retrograde and moronic. Also, there's a part in the film when the Turtles are given Adrenaline injections in order to revive them, which for all its subtlety, with them going crazy and all jittery due to the effect, all the while with a machine screaming "Overdose Imminent," they may as well have shoved a bag of cocaine into their faces. Furthermore, the plot was predictable, the 'twist' if you will was correctly guessed by my good self in the first scene of a character in the film. Yes, the first scene, about ten minutes into the picture. Other aspects of this film are also noteworthy in terms of their overall shoddiness. It is also a terribly edited film. I often use the Michael Myers analogy as regards to the ridiculous fast cuts used in contemporary action sequences, but since there were two editors on this film (the equally to blame Joel Negron and Glen Scantlebury), I'll just say that it is as though ten different sequels to Freddy Vs Jason all took place inside of the editing suite. What a shame these two had no Ash to show up with his boomstick and blow their brains out. I would have enjoyed the action sequences if it weren't for the fact I spent half the time nauseated by the editing. Also, you two are responsible for the aforementioned pauses in the dialogue scenes, so screw you for that too. In the composing department, I know he's a regular target of mine, but I'm just about fed up with Brian Tyler. That man is one of the most in demand composers in both the film and video game industries, and I for the life of me can't figure out why. I've said x-number of times how he showed promise at the start of his career but has instead settled for wallowing in mediocrity, and I think with this film he has delivered his worst score to date. It just sounds like any old generic action blockbuster from the past ten years, a bit of Hans Zimmer here, a bit of Steve Jablonsky there, but the problem is is that, while clearly it's nothing near the quality of Hans Zimmer, to say that it comes across as the work of a poor man's Jablonsky is a serious put-down. Although it's quite popular, I admit to not liking what Jablonsky put out for the Transformers films, but this makes me almost want to listen to those vainglorious histrionics (not really, of course. Give me Hans Zimmer and Lisa Gerrard's Now We Are Free any day!). Finally, I have to lay the overall blame here at the feet of the production and direction on the film. Obviously, with Michael Bay and Brad Fuller involved, there are certain things which are almost to be expected, to the point that it's almost just going through the motions as opposed to being actively annoyed. That said, it doesn't change the fact that their involvement consists of a butchery, an utter Bayification of Eastman and Laird's creations to the point that they no longer resemble anything of what made them distinctive; the Turtles are merely a conduit for Bay and Fuller's formula of profiteering off of other peoples work. However, the entire blame cannot be laid at their feet, because the helmer of this monstrosity is Jonathan Liebesman, who on the basis of this film and his previous work is really carving himself out as among the worst working filmmakers today. I don't know what it is that he does, but every project he goes into just seems to be done with the least bit of passion towards the material. Everything seems to be done with this workman-like mentality were this art that we call filmmaking is merely a job, merely something that pays the bills. Since the inception of the medium, film, like literature, like music, like painting, has intrinsically always been about artistry, free and unclouded from the concerns of monetary gain. We have seen great art produced on minimal budgets by the likes of Ingmar Bergman, Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Werner Herzog, and equally on the other end of the spectrum Christopher Nolan, the best director of this generation, working with $150-$200 million budgets, making commercial films which are still artistic and wondrous. TMNT cost just $35 million less than Inception, and has nothing of the artistic qualities that come with that picture. There's got to be a point when someone realises that they are doing something wrong, that it isn't just one or two bad pictures, it's a whole litany, and Liebesman has not only given us an annoying, dull, vacuous piece of work, but also succeed in taking away much of what we loved about the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I detested this film. 

When it comes to a film this bad, I look back through my archive so I can gauge just how strongly I feel about it. I do this with every film, but for most I only have to go back to last year to see how I felt about a movie. With Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, I went back to 2011 to try and level out my emotional temperament. I ended concluding that it was worse than Swinging With The Finkels (terrible sex-comedy with Martin Freeman the year before the first Hobbit film came out) but not quite as bad as After Earth. I'm not going to sum up all the things I felt about the film, because I just want to bury this in a pit and be done with it. As it stands, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles even with qualities, is still the worst film I have seen all year and although there's a chance something exceptionally bad will knock it off that perch, it's going to take quite a feat to do so. 

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 1.3/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Alright (cool to be chilling after long week of work)

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