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Review – Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

So, the first Michael Bay Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles live action movie kind of got a lot of flack.  To be fair, though, it’s not actually directed by Michael Bay, it’s just produced, so it’s not as awful of a live action remake as The Transformers movies are, it was however quite a departure from what people think of when they think Ninja Turtles.

The second film in this series is Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, and it seems to be the answer to what a lot of people wanted and expected from the first movie.  Where TMNT is an updated modern take on the basic Turtles vs The Foot idea, Out of the Shadows is a very blatant tribute and Nostalgia fest for the original 80s TMNT cartoon show.   It actually kind of feels a little sad with just how blatant of a tribute it is.

Rocksteady and Bebop? Check!

The Turtle Van?  Check!

Krang? Check!

Baxter Stockman?  Check!

The Technodrom?  Check!

Also, unlike a lot of remakes and updates, things stay fairly true to the original, or at least, much more aligned with the spirit of the original.  Rocksteady and Bebop for example, are pretty unmistakable.  Krang is a little weird but still very much is obviously Krang with his goofy robot body.  Baxter Stockman follows the original comic and modern show versions of being African American instead of a goofy white guy with orange hair, but he’s still a goofy scientist.

This movie very much feels like a response to the “This isn’t the Turtles I remember” complaints of the first TMNT film.

Honestly, I kind of feels like it makes the film better.  I didn’t hate the original TMNT, but the nostalgia level of Out of the Shadows definitely does it’s job.

The biggest fault of this film is the some what flimsy plot.  It’s not awful, but there’s quite a few “what” moments, one of them is a pretty crucial hinge to everything.  Early on in the film, The Shredder is rescued by The Foot, amidst the rescue, he is suddenly kidnapped by Krang, who wants to recruit The Shredder to gather several McGuffin devices in order to open a portal from Dimension X so Krang can take over The Earth.  Very Classic 80s Cartoon to be sure.  It’s just very, sudden, however with zero build up.  It’s just suddenly “Hey, giant brain man, let’s work together”.  It kind of feels like it could have been massaged a little bit on the flow.

There’s also a subplot involving Casey Jones tracking down Rocksteady and Bebop which feels pretty superfluous to the everything.  It seems to exist entirely so create an excuse to throw Casey Jones into the movie.  He basically fills the role of Vernon from the first TMNT, someone for April O’Neal to pal around with when she isn’t hanging out with the turtles.

There’s also an ooze subplot that goes nowhere after Rocksteady and Bebop become a thing.  That is, it’s there to mutate Rocksteady and Bebop, which is fine, but then it lingers around a bit until the end where a choice is made, one that never really felt like it had any appropriate build up to actually give it any meaningful impact.

The real bottom line is that the plot, or plots aren’t awful ideas, it’s more that there’s just too much crammed into one film, and as a result, nothing gets fleshed out to any meaningful level.  Maybe I’m looking for too much from a movie about giant martial artist turtles, but I can’t help but think that maybe, splitting things out a across a couple of films would have helped solidify everything a bit better, giving us something much better than what we got.  Maybe run with Shredder being rescued and meeting with a shadowy unknown, creating Bebop and Rocksteady and introducing Casey Jones as more of an antagonist and foil, then keeping Krang and the idea of being forced to live “In the Shadows” as a plot for a third connected film.

Review – Movie – Logan (2017)

The latest and supposedly last outing for Wolverine, or at least, Hugh Jackman as Wolverine, Logan is one of the better comic book movies we’ve had for sure, though not totally flawless.  Most of my complaints with this movie however stem more from how sloppy Fox has been with the X-men universe continuity, and not so much with the film itself.  Much like the previous Wolverine movie, The Wolverine, this film pretty much exists in a vacuum from the other movies in the series.  There’s a vague underlying theme about how awful Logan’s existence is because, while he never dies, everything he cares about eventually does.  There’s also a brief mention of “The Statue of Liberty” which is a throwback to the original X-men when Hugh Jackman took up the role, but it felt more like an Easter egg than a plot point.

It also brings up the question of “Where does this fall in continuity”.  Is it the old time line or the new timeline?  If he mentioned the Statue of Liberty from the first X-men, that would imply this is old timeline, except there are a few little nods to the new timeline, like the return of the mutant Caliban seen briefly in X-men Apocalypse.   Or the point about how there haven’t been any new mutants in something like 25 years, which seems contradictory to X-men 3, which showed us some future where there were clearly some young mutants in the school.

Nitpicky continuity stuff aside, the movie starts off a little rough but ends up on a pretty good note overall.  It’s also worth noting that this movie, like Deadpool, is definitely rated R.  Where Deadpool was more R rated for it’s crude sexual jokes, Wolverine gets it’s rating for language, a lot of gory violence, and one moment of very, very brief, non sexual nudity.  I only bring this up really because it’s worth noting in case anyone wants to take their 9 year old to the film and because it kind of felt a little unnecessary.  I hate to sound like some sort of grump over language, but given the history of the X-men franchise and the character, adding in a bunch of “fucks” almost makes some of the characters seem out of character and all of the extra goriness on the claw slashing didn’t really add a lot to the plot.

It all also felt a bit out of place as the movie progressed and more and more of Laura and her backstory, the young girl tagging along with Wolverine, became the focus of the film.  It’s like hey, here’s a bunch of kids going completely psycho in the movie violent way possible because “Edgy cool”.

The whole film also does a pretty effective job of being a bit of an emotional roller coaster, as everyone around poor Logan seems to get harmed or killed by the people following them.  Not to mention Logan himself, who is not anywhere near peak form as the poisoning in his body from his Adamantium skeleton is finally getting the best of him.  He’s feeling a lot of pain, his claws don’t always work, and he isn’t quite healing as well as he used to.  It certainly helps give some urgency to the character.  The regular X-men movies usually managed to write off Wolverine when Magneto was around, since Wolverine can’t do anything to Magneto, The Wolverine had Logan under the influence of some poison that suppressed his abilities, I guess something needs to be done to make a guy who can’t be harmed interesting (see also The Hulk).

The core of the movie is about the interaction between Logan, Laura and Xavier as they run from a band of pretty bland bad guys.  They are involved in Laura’s past, but they are essentially just an extension, spin off or figure version of Alkali and Stryker’s band, that same old repeating thread.  There is also Weapon 24, who is the main baddie for Wolverine to battle.  It’s not super clear what makes this guy so special other than “He’s like Wolverine only extra feral” and ultimately is pretty much a throw away nobody who only exists as someone who can stand toe to toe with Wolverine and not get killed in 1 claw swipe.

Laura manages to be an interesting character, despite being mute for much of the film.  The aged Charles Xavier is also incredibly likable in this movie, though his purpose and point isn’t super clear to the big picture.  He’s basically become a super powered senile old mutant, he has some mysterious vaguely explained crisis from the past, and serves as a father figure to Logan who in turn serves as a father figure to Laura, which makes a fun dynamic, but also felt like there were some pieces missing to help explain, at the very least, why Logan hadn’t just put him out of his misery already.  I mean I get that they are old friends, but he really feels like he is suffering with no possible recovery, if Logan really cared he could have saved both of them a lot of trouble a long time ago by giving him a quiet quick send off.  I know that sounds cruel but in the context of the film world presented, it honestly isn’t.

But alas, now I’m getting off on a tangent, and running a bit long.  Logan really is a good film, it’s definitely the best of the Wolverine trilogy, though I’m not sure that it’s quite the best X-men film.  It’s also a nice send off to Wolverine while also serving as an origin story for X-23, Wolverine’s replacement.

Review – Movie – The Wolverine

I’m feeling a little lost on the logic behind the X-Men movies, just a bit.  I mean there’s the original X-men trilogy, then there’s the new timeline X-men, then there’s these Wolverine movies sprinkled in.  The Wolverine definitely takes place after X-men 3, since there’s these little flashes of Famke Janssen as Jean Grey and references to X-men 3.  What it doesn’t really reference at all is Origins: Wolverine, which is sort of the actual predecessor film.  Actually aside from the few almost unneeded references to X3, The Wolverine feels really isolated from the rest of the X-men universe.  The setting, all of the other mutants, the villain, it all feels like it exists in a vacuum.

This kind of hurts this movie quite a bit.  It’s an interesting setting and story, but there’s this little back of the mind nag that says “Where is everyone else?”  There’s no Sabertooth, though technically he died in X1, something that could have been explained away.  I mention Sabertooth because he would have been the obvious thread to tie this film a bit to Origins: Wolverine, since he was such a centerpiece of that movie’s plot and character development.    Still, there’s also not really any mention of Xavier’s school, or Storm or Rogue or anyone Wolverine has been fighting with for years.  Instead we get a little opening bit involving Wolverine getting pissy at some hunters for poisoning a bear.  This all felt like a wasted chance to tie this into the bigger picture better.  It would have been expensive to drop cameos from everyone in the X-men universe but dropping in a couple of the lesser know (cheaper) actors for a bit at the beginning at the school then having Yukio pick him up from there would have worked much better.

Instead we get hunters and a story in a vacuum despite having all these little bits happening around it.

Aside from that issue, what about the film itself.  There’s definitely a different tone to these single character movies than the larger X-men films, The focus is Wolverine, all the way, he’s always present and the whole plot revolves around his burdens and life and what makes him tick.  Most of the film takes place in Japan, as Logan is invited by an old friend who is on his death bed, wishing to thank Logan for saving his life many years ago during WW2.  There’s a lot of fish out of water element to this story, as the rough and tumble Wolverine navigates through the orderly Japanese landscape.

There’s a lager plot at work however, and Wolverine gets a bit of a taste for life without his healing ability, which makes things complicated during his battles.  The fight sequences are probably the best part of this film, and they are numerous.  There’s definitely a very Asian cinema style creeping into things here, and not just because of the setting.  The camera work and choreography of the fights are all much more stylistic in nature.  Wolverine’s feral fighting style definitely shows it’s difference from the much more fluid martial arts methods employed by his opponents.  It’s a nice chance of pace in these films really and is handles pretty nicely given the different fighting techniques.

Really the entire movie kind of feels like an excuse to get Wolverine to fight Ninjas.

There’s also the romance sub plot.  It seems a bit relevant to mention the plotline of this movie is lifted a bit from a comic plot line, though it involved a few more other X-men, a lot of the surrounding characters are there.  Mariko in the comics is one of Wolverine’s sometimes love interests.  In fact the comic some of the events of this film are inspired from draw involved the X-men gathering for a wedding between the two.  In this movie however, their romance feels, and is, really rushed, especially considering the climax amounts to Wolverine staging a rescue of his captured love.  Considering he didn’t even want to come to Japan originally and only planned to stay for a day originally, it seems a little out there that he essentially is willing to run somewhat recklessly into this rescue attempt.

This is compounded more by the really pointless Jean Grey scenes spliced in randomly.

Which also brings up another dodgy bit on the plot side, it’s never really shown well what connects Logan and Yashida Wolverine is just sort of in Japan during Hiroshima, for unclear reasons, saves this one random Japanese soldier from a nuclear blast, for which he is clearly grateful, and then as near as the story tells us, they have not seen each other since.  Its understandable Yashida would want to thank Logan one last time before his death, it’s not super clear why Logan should or would care.  Not to mention that part of Logan’s character is that he can’t really remember anything from his past, which presumably would include that time he saved some random Japanese guy.  I mean he didn’t seem to remember his actual blood brother during the first X-men movie, one whom he fought along side during WW2 if the Origins opening is to be believed, but hey, random Japanese business guy.

So yeah, there’s a lot of off points on the plot, and the film feels like it is completely disconnected from the X-men universe, aside from the one thread that feels like a random after thought.  I will give it a good point though, the effects are much better than Origins: Wolverine.  The action is also really great with a good Asian style going on with things.  One thing I will also add, there could be some redemption with the upcoming Logan film, if it bothers to reference anything in this film.  Part of the plot involved taking Logan’s power away and transferring it to another, now we get Logan, with Old Wolverine, maybe he has aged as a side effect of what happened during this film?  I’m not sure if they are organized enough on these movies to make the pieces feel like part of the same puzzle unfortunately.

Review – Movie – John Wick (Chapter 1)

Occasionally a movie comes along that’s just so simplistically perfect in what it’s trying to present.  Recently it seems there have been two such movies, and John Wick is one of them.  Where so many movies try to make everything a deep metaphor or some sort of social commentary on the world at large, John Wick gives us a straight forward tale of revenge, with hints at a deeper world beyond.

I feel like this layered simplicity is what really makes this film work.  That and the top notch action choreography.  This movie is loaded with shoot outs and guys getting shot and beat up, but it all works extremely well and flows along very well.  Everything is intense and tight and fast, but it manages to keep some level of gritty realism as our hero gets injured and tired and remembers to reload his gun from time to time.  The centerpiece moment is the fight in the middle of the film in The Red Circle Club, as John Wick, chases his target through a crowded night club battling henchmen all along the way.

But the action isn’t the meat of this film, and neither is it’s revenge based plot, the meat is the rich criminal underworld created as the film moves along.  Specifically, the way John Wick never stops to explain anything to us, but still presents everything in a way that’s clear as to how things work.  Take the Golden Coins we see several times in the movie.  They are simple gold coins, probably valuable in their own right, but they also seem to represent more than just a coin, favors perhaps.  A way of trading trust throughout this world of mobsters and assassins where everyone knows everyone else.  John has many of them, and spends several of them in clear logical ways that give us the idea of what they are without hand holding the viewer along.

There is also John Wick himself.  John is a retired hitman for some powerful criminal organization.  We never get to see John Wick in his “glory days”.  Instead, we get the feel of just how much of a bad ass John Wick is by the way other characters react to seeing him “back in action”.  The way his old boss has nothing more to say than “oh” when learning that his son has pissed of John Wick.  The way his colleagues immediately respect him and treat him highly.  Through the vague story of what length John went through to retire and get married in the first place.    And of course through how determined and skilled John is at dispatching dozens of grunts along the way despite being “retired” for some years.

It’s this little detail that helps keep the action flowing without stopping to get bogged down in the details while simultaneously not leaving tons of “well what the hell does that mean” moments.  It’s a fine line that other similar movies often fail at because they are too vague with the details or too talky about it.

The movie itself may not be quite for everyone, mostly because it’s pretty violent, though it’s also violent in a way that’s not overly gory.  Another nice point of this film, it would have been easy to get gratuitous with the violence, with constant blood splatters and whatnot, but the film avoids these cheap gimmicks which just helps push that subtle layer of realism that I mentioned earlier.

The bottom line is, this movie is pretty fantastic, especially if you are at all into action movies with excellent fight choreography.

Review – Movie – Speed Racer (2008)

The original Speed Racer anime series from the late 60s is one of the earliest Anime shows to be brought to the US.  Originally titles Mach GoGoGo in Japan, Speed Racer follows the exploits of Speed Racer (literally first name/last name) and his friends as they participate in races and adventures using the Mach 5 Super car.  Stylistically, especially at the time, it was quite unique, with it’s unique Japanese animation style and look.  Though live action adaptations of animated features don’t always work well, Speed Racer does it’s best to replicate the intense colorful style of the anime, and anime in general.

Fortunately for the movie, it’s the one thing that it succeeds at, and succeeds at very well.  The visuals of this entire film, from start to finish, are pretty incredible.  A lot of what makes it work where a lot of cartoon to live action fails is that it completely embraces it’s origin and never looks back.  There’s no out of place realism to the way the cars move and literally glide around the track, there’s no punches pulled on the stunts or action.  Even during the downtime off the track the sets are colorful and full of detail that’s both dense and simple at the same time, keeping with the base styling you’d likely see in an anime series.

Everything just meshes together to keep everything believable within he context of the fantastical race obsessed world presented to the viewer.  There are also a lot of interesting Transitions used almost constantly throughout the film that help push this effect even farther.  Overlays of announcers, and crowd watchers and other drivers sweep across the screen giving everything loads of atmosphere.

Visuals don’t really make a movie though, even a really pretty movie isn’t worth watching without some sort of plot.  The general plot is essentially Speed Racer and his crew working their way up through the racer ranks to become the best racer in the world.  Along the way there’s a few subplots involving Speed Racer’s brother who died in a race in the past, the mysterious Racer X and an evil corporation trying to use the race for nefarious purposes.  There isn’t a lot of depth to anything going on here, but it gets a little complicated and the film itself is pretty non stop in it’s pace which makes things feel a little messy at times.  It also makes the film feel a little long, but more because it’s kind of exhausting keeping up with the constant barrage of crazy visuals.

The cast also does a great job of selling the whole experience.  In the same vein as the visuals, the cast does a pretty good job of selling the idea of being cartoonish in nature.  John Goodman and Christina Ricci are both pretty good as Pops and Trixie as do the rest of the supporting cast.  Emile Hirsch as Speed does a nice job of selling the Speed’s obsessive racing desire and need to be good as well.  What really helps to is they all look the part.

Often with adaptations such as this there are “changes” done to modernize things or make them more hip.  Or worse, the actors chosen look nothing like their original counter parts.  A lot of what makes Speed Racer’s style work is that it sticks close to it’s roots.  Sure, there’s a “new” Mach 6 race car, but the traditional Mach 5 is plenty present in this film and the new car does a good job of keeping the spirit of the Mach 5 without going overboard in it’s redesign.

Speed Racer isn’t a movie that’s going to win any awards for depth, though it’s definitely a technically impressive film.  It’s almost too visually busy at times honestly.  It’s still worth checking out if you can handle the predictably simple plot that holds it all together.

Review – Movie – Xmen Origins: Wolverine

You know what’s quickly starting to become a ridiculously overplayed part of the X-Men Cinematic Universe?  The origin story of Wolverine.  I mean, ok, I get that he is a big part of the X-Men universe, and he’s been in every X-men movie so far except for Deadpool.  His origin was sort of touched on in X-men 1, X-men 2 went into much more detail as they return to Alkali Lake, Wolverine Origins gives us the details and events actually surrounding one origin of the event, Days of Future’s Past touches on it a bit with Stryker, we see it again, sort of, in Apocalypse.

How many times do we need to see this?  It’s honestly not even super interesting.  Maybe the upcoming Logan movie can give us a retelling of it with X-23 instead!  It’s also kind of fishy and questionable about how much this film is still considered “canon”.  Probably not a lot other than maybe the general idea.  Obviously the events of the Adamantium infusion are different, since they show up in a different film which occurs later.  Probably the most glaring part of out of canon is the Deadpool movie, which gives Deadpool a proper origin.  The Deadpool film does make some reference to Wade Wilson’s time doing wetworks ops though, depicted in the early part of this film, and Ryan Reynolds plays Deadpool in both films.

Speaking of Deadpool, the biggest travesty of this film, is the butchering of Deadpool.  I mean, ok, I “get” reimagining characters for the big screen.  Not every character will be identical to their comic counter part, some may be quite different.  There is a difference though between reimagining, and more or less name slapping a popular name on a nobody that has nothing to do with the character.  Not to get too many spoilers here, but the creepy shirtless mute with Wolverine Claw style swords that shows up in this movie, isn’t Deadpool, in any way shape or form.

The other big offender here is the special effects, in particular, just how god awful they get throughout the film, especially later with Wolverine’s Adamantium claws.  Considering this is like 90% of the identity of this character, the CGI is incredibly poorly done.  The lighting is all off, and often they don’t properly match his arms and hands properly, especially during movement.

There is some pretty decent Wolverine action in this film, and a lot of interesting appearances by other mutants such as The Blog, and Gambit.  Gambit’s almost wasted however.  He shows up kind of randomly when he does pop up and despite dropping Wolverine off to his final confrontation, he doesn’t actually participate in the battle.

There is also a subplot involving Sabertooth and Wolverine being brothers at odds.  As in literal blood related brothers.  The opening montage shows them working together through several wars, and eventually during a special operation involving Deadpool, a skinny Blob and some other mutants, they have a falling out as Sabertooth starts to get too violent for Wolverine to handle.  This whole plot point is honestly, a little awkward.  Wolverine and Sabertooth have always had a confrontational sort of two sides of the same coin relationship, but they were never brothers.  It’s a little bit of a weird change that doesn’t really serve a huge purpose.  The implication before this revelation was they simply lived in the same household, one a servant family to the other, this kinship would have served just fine as a catalyst for their later adventures, especially coupled with their shared “problem” of being mutants.

Generally speaking, there are just soooo many flaws in this movie, both large and small, that really kind of ruin it.  If you pretend Deadpool is just some sort of unnamed Super mutant and can forget about how ugly Wolverine’s claws look during many scenes, its not an awful movie, but at this point it’s also pretty much non-canon to the Xmen universe, so it’s probably not really worth bothering with.

Tuesday Trailer – John Wick: Chapter 2

So, hey, John Wick 2.  The first John Wick seemed to be a bit of an unexpected hit of a movie.  It was so brutally simplistic in it’s story, pacing, action and well, everything.  There wasn’t a ton of heavy nonsense going on, just a tough ass hell killer going on a revenge driven rampage.  The world was also incredibly rich and felt pretty complete despite not once stopping to sit around and bog things down by giving some crazy explanation.  It just did by showing.

So now we have John Wick 2.

I’m actually a little disappointed and a little worried.  I’m worried that this movie will try so hard to replicate the goodness of the first movie, that it will come off as well, too much.  It will be too overly dramatic, or try to introduce too much clever unspoken lore making the world too complicated, etc.  I’m also disappointed a bit because probably the best suggestion I’ve heard for a follow up to John wick was to just make a series of movies, unrelated, directly, but all in the same world.  All keeping a common thread in the hotel and club from the first film.

But, we get more Keanu Reeves and John Wick, which is fine, and I’m not saying the movie is going to be bad, I’m just saying I am worried it might push things too far and soil what made the first movie work.  Also, Laurence Fishbourne, I have to wonder if there will be some joke or Easter egg around the Matrix, but that really would probably be kind of out of place.  One last note, there are a few scenes in this trailer with his new car, and they look to be a bit more active than the car scenes in the previous film.  Considering getting his car stolen was part of the catalyst for the first movie, and he’s shown as seeming to be a pretty bad ass driver, it would be nice to get a kick ass John Wick car chase scene in this film.

There’s not enough quality car chases these days it seems.

Review – Movie – 10 Cloverfield Lane

What an interesting psychological thrill ride here in 10 Cloverfield Lane.  The tagline “Monsters Come in Many Forms” is also a very appropriate descriptor, as there are monsters who are not monsters and monsters who are not monsters who are monsters.  There’s also a tiny cast, there’s only three actors involved in most of the movie, a fourth for a few minutes and a fifth who is only a very brief voice (Bradley Cooper, incidentally).

The core of the movie revolves around Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), who is involved in an accident and wakes up locked in a bunker with Howard Shambler (John Goodman) and Emmitt DeWitt (John Gallagher Jr.).  According to Howard, he rescued Michelle after her accident and brought her to his underground bunker to save her from an unknown catastrophic event that has made the world above uninhabitable.  Emmitt also showed up at the bunker, having helped Howard build the place previously and this knowing of it’s existence when things in the world started to fall apart.  Howard isn’t sure if it’s aliens or nuclear fallout or just invading armies, but he knows things are not safe up above.

As the plot rolls on, things end up possibly not being too safe inside the bunker either, and is the outside world actually a radioactive alien infested dead zone?  Twists and turns to keep you guessing all the way to the end here.  The real flaw of the movie is that it’s the “Spiritual Successor” to the movie Cloverfield, and so if you know anything about Cloverfield, you kind of already have some idea of some of the truths this movie tries so hard to keep a secret.

The whole cast does an exceptional job here, especially John Goodman, who does a great job with being slightly slow and a little creepy while doing his best to just be the savior he thinks he is to Emmitt and Michelle.  It’s clear he’s not quite right in the head right from the start, just how not right is part of what keeps you wondering the whole time of his true motivations.

It’s a pretty good movie that I enjoyed a lot more than I expected.  It’s not quite a horror movie, more suspense, though it felt like it was somewhat billed as a horror film.  It’s also relatively clean with it’s PG-13 rating.

Spoiler-tastic thoughts beyond so be warned… (more…)