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Entries in Will Arnett (4)

Thursday
Aug072014

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

I don’t remember a world when the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles didn’t exist. I had just turned one year old when the original cartoon debuted in 1987 and it was, to my recollection, the first thing outside of friends and family that I fell in love with. I’ve watched every show and movie, played every video game, read many of the comics and even owned much of the merchandise; boxes of various Ninja Turtles paraphernalia are still resting underneath my bed, in my closet and in my attic. While I’ve abandoned much of my childhood loves, the Ninja Turtles are the one thing I still enjoy to this day.

Couple my admiration with pre-release reports of a troubled production and various other controversies and I became sure the newest movie, succinctly titled “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” was going to be a disaster. After all, if they could change the design of the heroes in a half-shell to something so atrocious, surely the rest of the filmmaking decisions would follow suit. I didn’t want to, but I was ready to trash this film if the final product called for it. However, nothing pleases me more than to say that such negativity is unwarranted. Although the design of the Turtles have changed, their personalities remain intact. This is an impressive, action packed film with some terrific humor and an expectedly hokey plot that is both to its benefit and detriment. This new movie won’t convert non-fans, but if they can look past the visual changes, longtime devotees will find much to love.

April O’Neil (Megan Fox) is a television reporter in New York City who has been relegated to fluff stories. Much like any young reporter, she longs to make her big break with an independent investigation on the local criminal organization, the Foot Clan. She gets too close to the story, however, and finds herself stuck in a bad situation, only to be rescued by vigilante heroes that nobody has seen before. Her focus quickly turns to them and she ends up discovering that those vigilantes are actually mutated, walking, talking turtles. Pleasantries will have to wait, though, because a threat is looming over the city. The Shredder (Tohoru Masamune), the leader of the Foot Clan, is in cahoots with business mogul, Eric Sachs (William Fichtner), and together they intend on taking over the city.

As far as story goes, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” isn’t the most creative, nor does it deviate much from the tried and true formula set forth all those years ago in the original show: the Shredder hatches a ridiculous plan while the Turtles fight his goons and crack some jokes along the way, leading to a “close call” finale—when our heroes may or may not foil his plan at the very last second. This is all to be expected.

But as the old adage goes, it’s not the destination that matters, but the journey, and TMNT is filled with enough clever jokes (“That’s stupid” April says at one point after someone mistakes the Turtles as aliens, a clear reference to the pre-release controversy that suggested our heroes’ acronym may need to be modified to TANT, an unfortunate acronym depending on how one pronounces it) and surprisingly impressive action scenes to make that journey worthwhile. In modern cinema, ill-advised attempts to enhance the action through shaky camerawork and rapid editing have put a damper on what would otherwise serve up some serviceable excitement. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” for the most part at least, avoids this perplexing tactic. Things get hectic, sure, but the camerawork remains fluid; not once does it lose its way. A standout scene takes place on a snowy mountainside (though one must wonder where such a place exists in New York City), as the Turtles and their enemies slide downhill with all manner of chaos revolving around them. This sequence is well choreographed and extremely exciting, marking itself as one of the standout action scenes of the summer.

More interesting is that April’s connection to the Turtles extends beyond the “damsel in distress” role she has been relegated to in previous Turtles iterations. While I hesitate to explain what that connection is out of fear of spoilers, it nevertheless makes her inclusion in the narrative more integral than she has been in the past. In this movie, April O’Neal is a strong female character, a fearless reporter that has dreams of becoming more and not settling for mediocrity. She’s more than just a pretty face, despite what Megan Fox’s casting may suggest, even if the actress isn’t entirely believable in the role.

For fans of the franchise, the largest deficiency will undoubtedly be the design of the characters. Only Splinter (mostly) retains his expected look while Shredder looks like a metallic Edward Scissorhands and the Turtles could rightfully be classified as the Teenage Mutant Hipster Turtles, their design obviously updated to appeal to the young kids out there as they wear sunglasses on their heads and puka shell necklaces around their necks while Donatello’s tech equipment is akin to those obnoxious Bluetooth devices many folks wear even when not actually using them. More than anything else, the character designs leave much to be desired.

Other minor nagging issues rear their ugly heads from time to time, like the voice casting of Johnny Knoxville as Leonardo, whose voice is far too recognizable and clearly stands out from the rest of the gang, and some childish humor that, even though it fits within the context of teenage immaturity, is worthy of little more than an eye roll and disgruntled sigh. Luckily, this type of humor is few and far between, serving only as a minor detour from the spot on self-deprecating and pop culture jokes.

There is much to like in this new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Don’t let the pre-release controversy or lackluster trailers sway you; it is more than the sum of its parts. It may or may not work for the uninitiated, but Turtles fans are sure to have a good time.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles receives 4/5

Wednesday
Feb122014

The LEGO Movie

When “The LEGO Movie” was announced, the world let out a collective groan. While the beloved brand has branched out in recent years to various media forms, including an ever growing popular series of video games starring Batman, Harry Potter, Indiana Jones, the Marvel heroes and more, a movie just seemed too much. At the time, it would not have been unfair to assume it would be a 100 minute commercial and, in a sense, it is, but this final product so much more than that. This is not a cheap cash grab by the company and the movie doesn’t have a singular purpose to sell product (though I imagine that will be an added bonus). This is a funny, thoughtful film with a surprisingly resonant story that warms the heart. Older audiences will hope “The LEGO Movie” will at least be watchable while it entertains their kids, but they’ll soon find a childlike wonder they haven’t experienced in a while. If you’ve been pining to feel like a kid again, “The LEGO Movie” will do it. It’s not just “good for a kid’s movie,” as many cynics may suggest. “The LEGO Movie” is destined to be one of the best of the year.

The story starts out silly enough. Emmet (Chris Pratt) is an ordinary guy, which is meant in the purest sense of the word. There is truly nothing special about him. He wakes up, does a few jumping jacks and heads off to work as a lowly construction worker. He’s a happy person, though much of that happiness is simply a façade to hide his loneliness. One day, however, things change when he stumbles onto an artifact known as the Kragle. Long ago, as the wise sage Vitruvius (Morgan Freeman) puts it, a prophecy was foretold of a Master Builder who would save the world from the potentially devastating effects of the Kragle, and much to his surprise, he's that hero. Along with his newfound partner, Wyldstyle (Elizabeth Banks), he sets out to stop evil mogul, Lord Business (Will Ferrell), from freezing all of the world’s inhabitants and creating a perfect city.

These early moments are seemingly the most inconsistent for “The LEGO Movie.” It has some satirical bits, lampooning simplistic, one-joke television sitcoms with the LEGO world’s most popular show, “Where’s My Pants?” and generic pop music with the equally popular “Everything is Awesome!” But these moments are fleeting, as it quickly moves onto something else. It similarly pokes fun at itself, namely the immobility of the LEGO figures. When Emmet does those aforementioned jumping jacks, for instance, his motions are awkward, almost like he’s jumping up to cheer for something than to exercise, as the LEGO arms don’t extend out like is required for jumping jacks, only forward and backward. Another great moment is when the film admits that all LEGO characters essentially look the same (a search for Emmet by the evildoers yields no results because he “matches everyone in our database,” an underling says). But these moments come so rapidly as to seem a little inconsistent.

The story too is all over the place, a little bit like an ADD child on a sugar bender. Once it introduces its multiple universes angle, you start to wonder if the film is going to go completely overboard. But then something magical happens. A twist, which I dare not spoil, brings everything together. It explains why the story jumps around and why all of these seemingly unrelated characters from the vast Lego collection (which ranges from Shaquille O’Neal to Michelangelo the painter to Michelangelo the Ninja Turtle) have come together in one place. Unexpectedly, the film finds a purpose. In this silly, joke-a-second corporate product pushing movie with what appears to be, at first, a sporadic and inconsequential narrative, a giant heart is found. What happens is something that will seem all too familiar to certain members of the audience. While hardly revelatory, its ultimate message of letting loose your imagination and creativity is nevertheless endearing. It’s enough to make the parents in the audience want to take their kids home and let them run around and explore, creating magical worlds in their heads that only they can comprehend. It is that impactful.

If, somehow, the ending doesn’t touch you, there’s so much more to enjoy that it will hardly detract from your experience. The sight gags are contextually brilliant, like the fire effects that are merely see through orange plastics, and the absurd amount of cameos thrown into this thing is enough to make any nerd, LEGO fan or otherwise, smile with joy. From Harry Potter to the Simpsons to real life historical figures like Abraham Lincoln, the movie is packed to the brim with excellent inclusions, most of which you need to see for yourself. Even its soundtrack brings the goods, including a hilarious song written by Batman (Will Arnett) that satirizes the brooding nature of the character’s recent cinematic endeavors. Like a good spoof movie, the jokes come so rapidly here that one viewing is simply not enough. Most viewers are bound to miss the more subtle references and quick comedic jabs that “The LEGO Movie” throws in.

Too many adults these days seem to be lacking an imagination and a childlike sense of wonder. Their cynicism seeps through every facet of their being and they find that the ability to lose themselves in an adventure is now seemingly impossible. If you’re one of those people, especially one of the ones who desperately wants to recapture that youthful spirit, go see “The LEGO Movie” immediately. It’s about as magical and wondrous a movie as I’ve seen with more laughs per minute than any movie in recent memory. “The LEGO Movie” is an absolute delight.

The LEGO Movie receives 5/5

Friday
Feb172012

The Secret World of Arrietty

Studio Ghibli is the Pixar of Japan. Like Pixar (at least until Cars 2), they never put out a bad movie. Everything they release is full of incredible imagination, wit and heart. From My Neighbor Totoro to Spirited Away to 2008’s wondrous Ponyo, Studio Ghibli produces some of the best animated feature films to ever be released. If you haven’t seen any of their movies, there’s no better time to start then now with this week’s new release, The Secret World of Arrietty. While it doesn’t quite reach the brilliance of those aforementioned films, it lags not far behind. Young or old, The Secret World of Arrietty is magical and is not to be missed.

The film follows a sick young boy named Shawn (voiced by David Henrie) who is spending a week in the house his mother grew up in to rest before his upcoming heart operation. He used to hear stories of miniature people living under that house, but as most people would, he thought of them as nothing more than feel good tales, but his disbelief quickly vanishes when he arrives and spots Arrietty (voiced by Bridgit Mendler) jumping from leaf to leaf in a nearby bush. Arrietty is what you would call a “borrower” and she, along with her father, Pod (voiced by Will Arnett) and mother, Homily (voiced by Amy Poehler), lives off the resources of the human beings living above her. Their existence is secret and they only sneak up when the coast is clear so they can grab what is essential to live. Past incidents have shown them that human beings aren’t to be trusted, but Shawn is different and Arrietty strikes up a friendship with him against her parents’ wishes.

There’s a lot to be said for computer animation. Computers can create images that hand drawings can’t. They can build realistic three dimensional worlds that are as detailed as if you went out with a camera and physically shot something yourself. But when every animated movie uses this format, it becomes stale. That’s one of the many reasons why Studio Ghibli is so great; their movies are hand drawn. Sure, some things are spruced up a bit with three dimensional renderings (most notably in Princess Mononoke), but their animation technique is one not seen much these days. The Secret World of Arrietty continues in the studio’s tradition of hand drawn animation and it’s arguably their most gorgeous one yet. With visuals reminiscent of a watercolor painting, it’s like watching an artist’s still canvas come to life. They’ve crafted a world that feels real, defying your adult brain that should know it’s not, and that’s a testament to the many talented people who have lovingly put this together. It’s a vivid world that will capture your imagination even if the story doesn’t.

Luckily, the chances of that happening are slim to none. It would be easy to brush The Secret World of Arrietty off as a children’s film, but nothing could be further from the truth. Although it’s accessible to children, it also takes a surprising look at mortality and the value of life, no matter how small. As previously mentioned, Shawn is deathly sick. His heart is not strong and he’s facing the harsh truth that, if his operation isn’t successful, he may only have a few days left to live. While certainly not an emotionally weak child, his eventual companionship with Arrietty makes him stronger and gives him optimism that the world will go on after his operation and he’ll still be there to partake in its pleasures.

Conversely, Shawn teaches Arrietty a thing or two. Because of her size and the impending danger that lurks around every corner, including a hungry bird and cat, Arrietty knows little about the outside world. She has never met another borrower, much less an actual full sized person, and she has been taught her entire life that humans are evil and to fear them. It’s all she knows, but when she meets Shawn, the kind and gentle soul he is, she learns that her fear is unwarranted. There may be some bad people out there, but Shawn isn’t one of them and gives her a new perspective on life.

It may seem crazy that a G-rated animated family film could be as deep and contemplative as this, but that’s the strength of Studio Ghibli (and Pixar for that matter). Their movies always have a tremendous amount of heart and brains. The Secret World of Arrietty is bright and colorful, yes, but it’s also awe inspiring and spiritual. It’s a wonderful adventure.

The Secret World of Arrietty receives 4.5/5

Friday
Jun182010

Jonah Hex

Comic book movies are all the rage these days. With Iron Man, The Dark Knight and the X-Men flicks tearing up the box office, it should be expected. Coming soon are Thor, Captain America and The Green Lantern, but for now we have to contend with Jonah Hex, a cataclysmic disaster that was dead in the water from frame one.

The film stars Josh Brolin as Hex, a former soldier in the Civil War who had everyone and everything he ever loved taken away from him at the hands of the evil Quentin Turnbull, played by John Malkovich. On top of the emotional torture from watching his family burn to death, Turnbull brings him some physical pain by branding his initials on his cheek, though Hex quickly does away with it later by burning off the side of his face, leaving a giant whole in his cheek and a cleft lip on his right side. Now he lives only to seek vengeance and kill Turnbull, finding himself closer than he's ever been after gathering information on his whereabouts by talking to a dead guy (did I mention he could do that?). Oh, and there’s also a prostitute named Lilah, played by Megan Fox, who has some sort of history with Hex and loves him despite his monstrous looks.

I guess. Take away the credits and Jonah Hex is one hour and 15 minutes. There’s so little time spent on story that there practically isn’t one. Why does Lilah love Hex? How the hell did he get that power? And what is Turnbull’s motivation? After killing Hex’s family, we find out that he has a plan to destroy the soon-to-be-one-hundred-years-old America with a previously unused weapon, a bunch of shiny yellow balls that can apparently wipe out whole continents. His hatred for America is never explained. Nothing is. This thing putters along exhaustingly and still barely reaches the finish line despite its short runtime.

I suppose that’s okay, though, because the little bit of story that is here is unappealing and nonsensical. Stretching it out would have been unbearable. It’s a lose-lose situation no matter how it’s looked at. It hides behind the veil of a comic book and throws in some mysticism for good measure, but Jonah Hex is little more than a revenge picture, not unlike the hundreds of others we’ve already seen, and it’s a terrible one at that.

Its main drawback is that Hex simply isn’t an engaging character. He lost his family in a devastating fire at the hands of a madman, but he cracks jokes as often as possible. He pretends to be doing good deeds, but he’s a ruthless killer and will take you down if you step in his way. There’s no reason to root for him. The usually reliable Brolin gives a lackadaisical performance, as if he knew he was working his way through dreck and couldn’t wait to be done.

It feels that way for the rest of the actors as well. Most are miscast, including Malkovich and funnyman Will Arnett as Lieutenant Grass whose usage in the film is nebulous at best, but Fox trumps them all. Outside of one moderately passable creepy turn in Jennifer’s Body, she has churned out one bad performance after another, proving herself to be little more than eye candy.

The only thing left when you take away the nonexistent story, bad performances and uninteresting characters is the action, but the director Jimmy Hayward, whose only other directorial effort is the animated Horton Hears a Who!, doesn’t know how to stage them. Not since National Treasure have I been so bored watching what ultimately amounts to inconsistent, dull, phony action.

Writing credits on this train wreck go to Mark Neveldine and Brian Taylor, the minds behind Gamer and the two Crank pictures, and when they saw the potentially disastrous route this thing was heading down, they gave up their spots as directors and abandoned it completely. Consider this if you will: their previous films are dumb fun at best and just dumb at worst. Jonah Hex couldn't even meet those standards. And that's saying something.

Jonah Hex receives 0.5/5