TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS (2016)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 52 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sci-Fi Action Violence

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Directed by: Dave Green

Written by: Joseph Appelbaum & Andre Nemec

(based on the TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES comics by Kevin Eastman & Peter Laird)

Starring: Megan Fox, Stephen Amell, Will Arnett, Brian Tee, Tyler Perry, Brittany Ishibashi, Laura Linney, Pete Ploszek, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher, Jeremy Howard, Tony Shalhoub, Gary Anthony Williams, Sheamus & Brad Garrett

Though it didn’t jive too well with hardcore fans and most movie critics, 2014’s TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES was a box office success. Of course, this meant an inevitable sequel was on the horizon. Two years later, we have TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS, a follow-up that noticeably improves upon its bland predecessor and yet still falls victim to a couple of the reboot’s shortcomings. It should be noted that I’ve never been a big TMNT fan, so I’m not exactly a person to ask regarding if this film delivers for fans of the comics, cartoons, and franchise as a whole. Strictly taken as PG-13 family fun and a big dumb summer blockbuster, OUT OF THE SHADOWS is by-the-numbers entertainment driven on a handful of cool moments and lots of questionable writing.

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A year after the turtles saved New York from the evil Foot Clan, Shredder (Brian Tee) remains in police custody and cameraman Vern Fenwick (Will Arnett) has taken credit for the ninja turtles’ heroic deeds. The teenage turtles (composed of: leader Leonardo, aggressive Raphael, geeky Donatello, and fun-loving Michelangelo) live in the sewer and observe the world from the shadows (hiding in the Jumbotron at Knicks games, stealing pizza from delivery drivers, etc.). When Shredder breaks out of police custody, it appears that the four turtles have their work cut out for them. It’s going to be harder to take Shredder down this time around, because he’s being assisted by warthog Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and rhinoceros Rocksteady (Sheamus), and has also formed a world domination plot with tentacled alien Krang (Brad Garrett). To throw even more problems into the mix, Shredder has acquired a purple ooze that could possibly turn the teenage mutant ninja turtles into humans, which causes personal conflicts to emerge within the reptile team.

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OUT OF THE SHADOWS is the first TMNT movie to feature Rocksteady, Bebop, and Krang. Even though I vaguely knew of these villains, I was pretty excited to see them on the big screen. Shredder is actually made into a real bad guy this time around and doesn’t look like a giant silver Transformer, all while Rocksteady and Bebop inject a sense of humor into the movie. You’d think that a film revolving around giant pizza-eating turtles who practice martial arts wouldn’t take itself so seriously, but you’d be surprised. Rocksteady and Bebop alleviate the brooding self-serious tone by being two goofball henchmen. They’re silly cartoon characters brought to life through computer effects, one happens to be a pig and the other is a rhino. Don’t worry about their origin story because it is given, albeit in a half-assed way.

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As for Krang, I was mightily disappointed with his lack of screen time in this film. Even though the script sets him up as the main antagonist, Krang receives a total of two scenes (one of those being the finale). He only shows up to make a bad joke about his tentacle mucus to Shredder and eventually returns to fight the turtles. The final confrontation between the turtles and this gooey pink alien is fun to watch, but I wish this villain had more of a presence in the overall scheme of things. As a result, I cared more about Shredder, Rocksteady and Bebop than Krang…and this finale felt like an afterthought.

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The 2014 installment focused on a convoluted and silly origin story, but the turtles are actually far more developed in this 2016 sequel. In the reboot, their only discernible differences were different colored masks. This time around, they’re given distinctly noticeable personalities from the opening frames. I was able to understand their differences better and the personal conflicts between them actually made sense, even if the story was repeating similar scenes from the first film. Because this sequel focuses on the turtles, the human characters are shoved aside as walking plot devices.

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Megan Fox’s April looks sexy and gets info for the turtles, while never becoming the damsel-in-distress that she usually was in the cartoons. Will Arnett’s Vern is underused, but supplies one of the funniest scenes in the entire film. Tyler Perry isn’t bad as mad scientist Baxter Stockman and if they make a third installment, I’m positive that we’ll be seeing more of him. Stephen Arnell is boring and forgettable as masked vigilante Casey Jones. I guess this character is a huge fan favorite, but he seemed like a generic bland sidekick to me. Maybe, this movie just screwed up the character of Casey Jones? On a side note, Laura Linney seems noticeably embarrassed to be starring in this film.

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There’s not a moment in OUT OF THE SHADOWS where you can’t fully predict the entire movie from start to finish. The script hits a series of expected beats and follows a familiar road that’s been seen in plenty of other movies, just not ones featuring giant talking turtles. The narrative is brainless, but the set pieces and effects are entertaining. I really enjoyed this sequel’s CGI, which looked like a monumental improvement over the first movie’s effects. The action scenes are mostly fun, but also get bogged down in distracting shaky cam. As a film made for families and people who want to watch ninja reptiles, TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES: OUT OF THE SHADOWS is throwaway entertainment. Kids will love it. Fans of the series are likely to catch details that casual viewers will miss. SHADOWS is a step above its mediocre predecessor entry and there’s something to be said for that.

Grade: C+

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES (2014)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 41 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Sci-Fi Action Violence

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Directed by: Jonathan Liebesman

Written by: Josh Appelbaum, Andre Nemec & Evan Daugherty

(based on the TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES comics by Peter Laird & Kevin Eastman)

Starring: Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher, Johnny Knoxville, Jeremy Howard, Tony Shalhoub, Tohoru Masamune & Whoopi Goldberg

When a trailer for this TMNT reboot arrived, shit hit the fan from everybody who grew up with the original giant talking turtle cartoon. I was never a fan of the TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES and as a result, I don’t have the nostalgic factor for them that most do. I still didn’t think that this glossy reboot looked good enough to see on the big-screen back in August and most people (fans and non-fans) were anticipating TMNT to tank at the box office. In a surprising turn of events, the film wound up grossing almost half a billion worldwide and is currently spawning a sequel (due in August 2016). Seeing as I’m indifferent to the franchise and going into this as my first full TURTLES movie, I was hoping for something fun at the very least. The new TMNT may have been a box office success, but is far from a success in quality.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES, Leonardo (voice: Johnny Knoxville), 2014. ph: ILM/©Paramount

The place is New York. Crime is at an all-time high due to the sinister Foot Clan wreaking havoc on innocent citizens. April O’Neal is a reporter investigating Foot Clan activities in order to score a bigger story than the fluff that she’s usually saddled with. After a damsel in distress encounter, April stumbles across four unlikely vigilantes. They’re turtles, who also happen to also be mutants, ninjas and teenagers. However, knowledge of the turtles’ existence has caused the leader of the Foot Clan, Shredder, to enact a deadly plan that could mean the destruction of the entire city. It’s up to April, her cameraman sidekick, four ninja turtles, and Master Splinter, a karate-trained sewer rat and the turtles’ father, to save the day!

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES, from left: William Fichtner, Megan Fox, 2014. ph: David

Michael Bay has a producer credit on TMNT, but didn’t direct it. He may as well have. The frantically edited action, by-the-numbers storyline, and bombastic overuse of certain techniques suggests that Bay had more than just a producer’s role in the making of this movie. The action is almost dizzying at times because it can’t focus on one single shot for more than 10 seconds. You’ve likely seen this plot play out many times before and not necessarily in films that feature giant talking turtles. What’s more laughable is the use of clichés and plot revelations that aren’t given enough time to sink in before the movie rushes on with its formulaic story. No character development is given, so there’s no reason to feel anything for anyone (though some performers are better than others). Then there’s the trademark lens flares, explosions and pointless slow-motion that seems as if either Michael Bay was backseat directing on the set or that Jonathan Liebesman was trying to emulate Bay.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES, from left: Michelangelo, Raphael, Leonardo, Donatello, on set, 2014.

Clearly, a wrong choice was made in casting Megan Fox as a leading lady. She’s already notorious for her lack of believable emotions, but she’s just plain bland as April. We’re thrown into April with no knowledge of who she is other than that she wants to be a successful reporter and we don’t receive any discernable character traits for the rest of the film either. Whoopi Goldberg also shows up for some strange reason and gets about 5 minutes of screen time as April’s boss. Will Arnett is actually the only decent comic relief in the film. Arnett isn’t as funny as he usually is, but there’s a likability to him. William Fichtner usually delivers in every role he takes on, the same can be said for his part as a shady businessman in this film. The villain of Shredder felt like he was a blend of two very different movies, which adds to the jumbled tone of this entire film. Though Shredder’s battle suit resembles a smaller Transformer, he’s plays up his brief non-armor moments as a serious terrorist.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES, from left: Splinter, Shredder, 2014. ph: ILM/©Paramount

I can say that the movie is vibrant and colorful in spite of overused style choices and bad scripting/acting. The designs on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles themselves look like complete crap though. These monstrosities look more like Shrek than giant turtles. Out of the title characters themselves, I preferred Raphael (the hot-tempered fighter) and Donatello (the bland leader) to Michelangelo (an annoying pop-culture spewing CGI abomination that’s close to Jar-Jar Binks level awful) and Donatello (a nerd stereotype stuck in a turtle’s body). Master Splinter is also equally as hideous and annoying. It certainly doesn’t help matters that the turtles feel like side characters throughout most of their own film as the main focus is misguidedly centered on Megan Fox’s April.

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES, from left: Raphael, Leonardo, 2014. Ph: Industrial Light &

TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES accomplishes what it set out to do by selling toys to kids and entertaining them. That was its ultimate purpose, but good family entertainment should be enjoyed by both children and adults on a different (though, sometimes the same) level. I was never expecting TMNT to be particularly good, but I was hoping it might be halfway decent. I don’t have the nostalgia for the franchise that most do, so I can’t rightfully say if it rapes a childhood favorite. I can suggest that it’s a complete waste of time for anyone above the age of 10. This is a TRANSFORMERS movie that happens to have turtles instead of robots.

Grade: C-

JENNIFER’S BODY (2009)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 42 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Sexuality, Bloody Violence, Language and brief Drug Use

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Directed by: Karyn Kusama

Written by: Diablo Cody

Starring: Megan Fox, Amanda Seyfried, Johnny Simmons, J.K. Simmons, Amy Sedaris, Adam Brody, Kyle Gallner, Cynthia Stevenson & Chris Pratt

In the Fall of 2009, it seemed like it was horror overload at the movie theater. There was practically a release every weekend. A few were mighty successful (ZOMBIELAND, PARANORMAL ACTIVITY) and others flopped hard (PANDORUM, CIRQUE DU FREAK). JENNIFER’S BODY was a casualty of a oversaturated Halloween season, but the iffy marketing didn’t help matters either. The film received positive word of mouth from its Midnight Madness premiere at TIFF in early September and was penned by Diablo Cody (of JUNO fame). Reexamining the film today, JENNIFER just isn’t as cool, hip, funny, or scary as it tries to be. There are positive qualities, but they’re either balanced out or buried by the story’s flaws.

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Needy (real name: Anita) is as obvious a dork as you can be. She’s good at school, does her homework, doesn’t sleep around and wears glasses. That’s why everyone is surprised that she’s always been best friends with the slutty, popular cheerleader Jennifer. It can be argued one of these two is a bad influence on the other, but I’ll let you decide if that’s possibly true or not. One night, the pair are at a rock concert in an isolated little bar and a fiery blaze ignites. It kills nearly everyone, but Jennifer and Needy make it out alive. While Needy goes home a weeping wreck, a dazed Jennifer gets into a creepy van with the indie band Low Shoulder and vanishes for the night. Jennifer returns to Needy a little more dangerous, sexy and with a new bloody appetite. Needy tries to juggle her love for her best friend with the monster Jennifer is becoming.

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The biggest problem here is that a majority of the film relies on the relationship between Needy (Amanda Seyfried) and Jennifer (Megan Fox), but there’s little to no chemistry between the two supposed life-long friends. Seyfried plays the dorky angle to a point that’s almost damn near clichéd beyond belief. Fox fails to deliver an ounce of talent as Jennifer. Her delivery is stitled, even in a role as meaty as a bitchy flesh-eating cheerleader. The best actor here is J.K. Simmons as a teacher with a hook for a hand, though he only pops up for about three scenes total. I also liked Johnny Simmons as a genuinely nice boyfriend to Needy and Adam Brody was awesome as the scumbag lead singer of Low Shoulder. However, the dialogue every cast member is given doesn’t leave much to work with. While Diablo Cody’s oddball sayings worked in JUNO, they don’t work here. In fact, a majority of them just add a “y” to the end of a word and call it good (jelly = jealous, shutty = shut up, wetty = wet, salty = cute, etc.). You practically need a decoder for some of the phrases in this film!

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The plot is basically GINGER SNAPS (an awesome Canadian horror film) with a demonic twist as opposed to a werewolf. I enjoyed the nice touches that were thrown in with Low Shoulder banking on the tragedy there were playing at and exploiting it for fame and fortune. The frequent use of their song “Through The Trees” made me laugh nearly every time it popped up. It’s also not a bad tune either. A few twists come later on in the film and make the familiar story slightly more interesting. The bookending scenes are creative as well and I only wish that the entire film had sustained that level of wit.

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The blending of horror and comedy isn’t very well done either. There’s far more comedy than horror and that’s not a big problem. However, not many laughs come out of the obvious jokes (puns or a sight gags). The movie also can’t seem to make up its mind about what kind of vibe it wants. I’m not referencing the uneven blend of laughs or creepiness, but rather if it wants the R rating or not. A handful of scenes have gore (one of which looks great) and the rest almost feels like a PG-13 flick aimed purely for Junior High kids or early High School cliques. This is probably what also contributed to it barely making its money back at the box office. JENNIFER’S BODY is a confused mess that isn’t aimed for anybody.

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Little details that made me chuckle and the creative beginning/conclusion are redeeming qualities. There’s also a nice shot of very good-looking gore that only hints at what kind of horror-comedy this might have been if it had fully embraced its potential and the R rating already being handed to it. However, it falters under the weight of bad characters, lame dialogue and a worse story. The equal quantities of good and bad turn JENNIFER’S BODY out into a middle-of-the-road mess.

Grade: C

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