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Entries in william fichtner (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
Jul032013

The Lone Ranger

It seems like a strange time to reboot “The Lone Ranger,” the Western themed radio/television show that debuted back in the 30s when the idea of the Western hadn’t faded from society’s interest, much like it has today. Today, audiences seem to want robots and explosions and carnage and new technologies, not a shootout in pre-industrialized America with tumbleweeds rolling around in the background. Perhaps that’s why this 2013 version of “The Lone Ranger” decided to sell its soul. This movie is a Western for the ADD-addled generation, those who need every sense needlessly bombarded with pounding music, sound effects and visual flash. While I hesitate to label it a disaster as some have, “The Lone Ranger” is missing the essence of the genre and it doesn’t do enough to make up for it.

John Reid (Armie Hammer) is a lawyer. Despite ridicule from his brother and the general populace, he believes America is heading in a direction of prosperity, a bright and evolved future that will do away with the need for violence to bring criminals to justice. However, while traveling on horseback with the local rangers, including his brother, he is attacked by a wily band of savages, led by Butch Cavendish (William Fichtner), a recently escaped madman who was to be executed. In the ambush, everyone is killed except for John, who is restored back to health by a Native American named Tonto (Johnny Depp). A treaty has been drawn up between the Comanches and the man who plans on building the transcontinental railroad in or around their reservations, Cole (Tom Wilkinson), but the newly formed team of Tonto and John, eventually dubbed the Lone Ranger, discover not is all as it seems, so they set out to uncover the conspiracy.

I suppose I should clarify one thing. When I speak of “visual flash,” I’m not saying it isn’t welcome. On the contrary, the film is so bland, predictable and unfunny that it’s one of the only things keeping this thing from sinking closer to the bottom of the barrel. Regardless of what one might think of director Gore Verbinski from a narrative viewpoint, his eye for beauty is virtually unparalleled. He’s one of the most visually interesting directors currently making movies (and one of the reasons why “Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End” remains underrated today) and his talent shines through here. There are some terrific shots with some striking imagery that you can’t help but gape in awe at. The problem is that much of that pizzazz is misplaced.

This movie is set in 1933, when the country was becoming more prosperous and looking to leave its life of wild west outlawing in the past. It was a time to look forward, but a ton of work still needed to be done. It was still a rough and gritty transitional period, yet the visuals here are squeaky clean, never conveying the tone or time the movie is set in. “The Lone Ranger” is, more or less, “Pirates of the Caribbean” set in the old west, but whereas those fantasy adventures benefited from these touches, “The Lone Ranger” suffers. With all of the excessive action, it is unfortunately bogged down by an overuse of obvious CGI, a misjudgment in a movie that needed to be toned down to begin with, not bloated with extravagance.

And speaking of bloating, “The Lone Ranger” is overlong. Running at only a tick under two and half hours, the film drags along with nowhere to go. The eventual revelation of who could be behind the madness is transparent from the start and no other reason is given to care. Sure, there’s a kind-of romance between John and the newly widowed Rebecca (Ruth Wilson), but it’s underdeveloped and ignored for the most part. It’s almost as if the three writers of the film picked one piece of an outlined story, wrote about them without consulting one another and then tried to place them together, resulting in a movie with no flow or cohesion.

“The Lone Ranger” is one of those strange movies that doesn’t do much of anything particularly well, but it’s hard to outright hate it. Its humor lands with a thud more often than not and even its somewhat insulting portrayal of Native Americans—more so in the way it uses their cultures, values and beliefs for laughs than the casting of Depp as one—never truly kills it. The only real reason to see the movie, if you can get past its modernized computer animated façade, is the action, particularly the final moments aboard a speeding train, but even that proves to be futile. If that’s what you’re looking for, you need to look no further than Buster Keaton’s 1926 masterpiece, “The General.” Nearly 90 years later and that silent film trumps this one in nearly every way and, without the help of computers, still stands as one of the most thrilling movies ever put to screen. “The Lone Ranger” on the other hand is a two and a half hour time suck. Here’s hoping Verbinski puts his skills to better use with his next project.

The Lone Ranger receives 2/5

Friday
Mar012013

Phantom

Phantom, which is inspired by largely mysterious, but believed-to-be-true events, runs into a very significant problem right off the bat. It takes place almost entirely on a Soviet submarine and all of its inhabitants are Russian, yet all the actors, or all the major players at least, are American. Despite an opening title card sequence that sets the time and place in the Soviet Union during the Cold War, it takes some time to realize that these characters aren’t actually American, partially because nobody even tries to hide it, seemingly forgetting that they’re, you know, actors and should be capable of crafting a character of a different ethnicity. This is just one of many blunders in Phantom, a tepid thriller filled with empty dialogue and clichéd plot turns.

Ed Harris plays Demi, the captain of the vessel, and his mission is vague, written on a piece of paper and locked inside a safe onboard. Additionally, he has a few straggler technicians that have been sanctioned to accompany them for reasons unknown, the leader being Bruni, played by David Duchovny. Bruni is the forceful type and demands he follow his orders, despite a chain of command that places Demi at the top. Eventually, Bruni’s sinister intentions become clear and the boat splits into two sanctions. An underwater battle is about to ensue and the victor will either save the world or destroy it.

Phantom sounds exciting. A war between friendlies turned against each other inside of an underwater metal tomb full of claustrophobic spaces and unforeseen consequences should lead to the type of tension that causes nail biters to file them down until their fingers start bleeding, but such is not the case here. Up until the final sequence of events when the tension is admittedly palpable, the most exciting thing that happens is a slight bump with a cargo ship. Such an event is surely dangerous in real life, but it doesn’t make for a particularly exciting movie.

Perhaps aware of this, the filmmakers give Demi a haunted past, a past that is burdened with bad memories and difficult decisions. This gives way to hallucinations that recall that troubled past. There are fires, floods, collisions, blood and more, most of which make sense given that these moments he’s recollecting took place during a doomed expedition, even if they are superfluous to the actual story at hand. Now, the ghost dog that jumps out at him, where that came from is anybody’s guess.

Due to some surprisingly committed performances, particularly from the great Ed Harris, Phantom is at its best when it isn’t talking. The actors say more with their eyes than they ever do with their words, especially given that much of it is drab Navy dialogue that all but the already underwater initiated will find boring. There’s lots of plotting courses, ordering dives, readying the weapons, reaching thermocline and more and most of this dialogue is yelled into the intercom to the crew rather than spoken through character interaction. This type of dialogue will fail to resonate with most and it doesn’t do much to help craft compelling characters either.

Furthermore, the editing of the film fails to keep its place consistent, particularly in the placement of certain characters in relation to others. When one quietly sneaking sailor rises out of a cover in the floor to an imposing boot, one naturally believes he’s accidentally stumbled onto an enemy, but in reality, he’s come full circle and is back with his comrades. To make matters worse, most of these characters are extraneous in nature, so it’s difficult enough to separate them into good and bad camps, much less keep track of what they’re doing and where they’re heading.

Phantom is a mess. At times, particularly during the final sequences (at least before its hokey ending that plays up the crew’s sacrifices), it’s an enjoyable mess, but its few positives certainly don’t outweigh its general sloppiness. Submarine thrillers aren’t exactly oversaturating the market, so if that’s your cup of tea, I suppose Phantom will scratch that itch, but everybody else can steer clear knowing they aren’t missing much.

Phantom receives 2/5

Friday
Feb252011

Drive Angry

3D is the bane of cinema. There, I said it. And I’m glad I did. Despite the occasional three dimensional triumph (How to Train Your Dragon), most movies do not need it. Rarely have I been thankful I saw a film in 3D, fearful that I may have missed something watching it in boring old regular 2D. After the backlash from shoddy up conversions, it appears studios now deem it necessary to advertise their film as being “shot in 3D,” as evidenced by the Drive Angry poster, though at this point, it hardly matters; the extra dimension is still unnecessary. Nevertheless, I’ve always stood by this point: 3D, as good or bad as it can be, is never the deciding factor in the quality of a picture. So as much as I hate the notion of wearing those silly glasses and looking at a dim picture, I still must admit to having quite a bit of fun with Drive Angry.

Nicolas Cage (who seems to be in every other movie these days) plays Milton. He has just escaped from Hell and is on a mission to save his infant granddaughter from being sacrificed by a Satanic cult led by Jonah King, played by Billy Burke. On his journey, he befriends Piper, played by Amber Heard, and has to contend with “The Accountant,” played by William Fichtner, who is on a mission to capture him and bring him back to Hell.

If you couldn’t tell by that ridiculous plot synopsis, Drive Angry is essentially a B-movie. It has a B-movie story, B-movie dialogue, B-movie acting and, keeping in line with its B-movie brethren, a number of nagging narrative inconsistencies. Although I suspect some of its inanity is unintentional, most of it is a wink and a nod to the people in the audience who get it. Aside from a couple of dramatic missteps (mainly due to the fact that drama even exists—in a movie like this, it shouldn’t) it knows exactly what it’s doing. Drive Angry is a silly, violent, purposely over-the-top picture that is accompanied by blazing heavy metal whenever someone struts or postures. It's exactly the type of low grade filth many will shun, but there's no denying that what it does, it does well.

It’s a movie that wishes to channel those old grindhouse films while keeping a modern tongue-in-cheek vibe. In a way, it aspires to be like 2007’s Shoot ‘Em Up, even going so far as to replicate one of its crazier scenes. However, Drive Angry doesn’t have the style or humor of Shoot ‘Em Up. With the exception of a few funny lines, only William Fichtner channels the type of vibe that film nailed so perfectly. Every moment he is onscreen is a delight and as soon as he disappears, you’ll be counting down the minutes until he comes back.

There’s not much more to say about Drive Angry. It’s big, loud, relentless and stupid, but it’s fun. Not random-trip-to-Vegas fun; more like a casual trip to a restaurant with friends fun—you’re glad you did it, but once you’ve digested it, it’s time to move on.

Drive Angry receives 3/5