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+

1408 (2007)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 44 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for Thematic Material including Disturbing Sequences of Violence and Terror, Frightening Images and Language

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Directed by: Mikael Hafstrom

Written by: Matt Greenberg, Scott Alexander & Larry Karaszewski

(based on the short story 1408 by Stephen King)

Starring: John Cusack, Samuel L. Jackson, Mary McCormack, Tony Shalhoub & Jasmine Jessica Anthony

Stephen King is a mixed bag on film. Some of his plot points don’t properly translate from page to the screen (the ending of DREAMCATCHER being the biggest pet peeve of mine), while other stories aren’t that good to begin with (TOMMYKNOCKERS). 2007 proved that great adaptations of the famous horror author’s work could still be made for the big screen. We received two King short stories turned into films and both were stellar. While many cite THE MIST as being one of the best King movies of all time, I actually think 1408 (which came out a few months before THE MIST) is the better of the two. Taken from a short story in the collection EVERYTHING’S EVENTUAL, 1408 is essentially THE SHINING on a small-scale with more psychological scares thrown into the mix. I’ll argue this cinematic take on the material actually tops the original short story as well.

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Mike Enslin is a paranormal investigator with a best-selling line of books (with titles such as 10 Haunted Graveyards, 10 Haunted Hotels, etc.). Despite constantly spending his nights in supposedly haunted locations, Mike is a complete and utter skeptic. He doesn’t believe a word that he writes and feels that all of this supernatural stuff is all a bunch of spookhouse bullshit. However, Mike is in for a rude awakening when he makes a visit to the prestigious Dolphin Hotel and stays in the notorious Room 1408. Allegedly, the room is responsible for 56 deaths and no guest has lasted more than an hour within its walls. Mike enters the room…and all hell breaks loose as he finds himself stuck in a waking nightmare from which there doesn’t seem to be any escape.

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The key difference between 1408 and many other ghost stories of its ilk is that this film isn’t simply about a haunted location. Instead, the room serves as an ingenious plot device to dive into the tragic past of a broken man. Mike finds himself being not only confronted by ghosts and spooky occurrences (including the room morphing and changing around him), but also the events that led him on the path of being a cynical skeptic. It’s not as if any of the plot points and revelations made about this character feel cheap or out-of-the-blue either, because the movie brilliantly sets these up from the very beginning. Little details and bits of dialogue come back in a big bad way, which are only further highlighted by multiple viewings (this is a horror film that I saw numerous times on the big screen).

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To carry what essentially becomes a one-man-show for a majority of the running time, John Cusack mounts himself perfectly as Mike. He plays the cynical asshole role with such bravado and conviction that I find myself forgetting that I’m watching Cusack every single time I stick this movie in. The character of Mike Enslin isn’t only a jerk though, but also has a huge vulnerable side to him. Cusack really brings this out during a couple of moments that begin as spooky and ultimately become heartbreaking. The supporting cast is noteworthy as well. Samuel L. Jackson, Mary McCormack and Tony Shalhoub all make the most of their brief moments of screen time (mostly seen before the story enters Room 1408).

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Besides the acting and screenplay, 1408 also manages to be very, very scary. Of course, there are jump scares. I mean, just look at that plot synopsis and you’re bound to expect jump scares. However, the jump scares in this movie always come from something that’s legitimately scary and threatening. We don’t get any fake-outs (that I can remember) of a simple loud noise or something that’s only meant to jolt you out of your seat and nothing more. The ghosts in this film (of which we see a handful) have pretty cool effects going on in that they almost look like fading projections and there’s also a memorable scene in a vent that’s freaky beyond all words. What’s pretty amazing about 1408 is how it makes little supposedly mundane details (a key hole, some paintings, a peep-hole, a baby crying in the next room, etc.) into something completely terrifying. The film caps all of this off with stellar sound design (including a perfect soundtrack) and a well-timed sense of humor that never outweighs any of the horror.

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1408 is probably the most underrated Stephen King adaptation out there. This isn’t simply about a haunted hotel room, but goes into far deeper psychological areas. Cusack dominates the screen in one of his most demanding roles as Mike Enslin and the hotel room becomes a character unto itself. This film is basically about one man confronting his past and pain in a frightening way that manifests itself through a hotel room. In my honest opinion, 1408 is one of the best Stephen King movies ever!

Grade: A+

SPY KIDS (2001)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 28 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG for Action Sequences

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Directed by: Robert Rodriguez

Written by: Robert Rodriguez

Starring: Antonio Banderas, Carla Gugino, Alexa Vega, Daryl Sabara, Danny Trejo, Alan Cumming, Tony Shalhoub, Teri Hatcher, Robert Patrick, Cheech Marin, George Clooney, Mike Judge & Richard Linklater

The 90’s gave birth to many talented new filmmakers. One of these names was Robert Rodriguez. With two violent westerns and an R-rated vampire comedy behind him, it seemed a bit odd that the next step in Rodriguez’s career would be making a children’s film. However, he wowed audiences and critics alike with SPY KIDS. This is a film that I have fond memories of watching multiple times during my childhood. I saw this film in theaters and owned the VHS tape (back in the day when they were still making those), so I was a bit hesitant to revisit this film with so many years having passed me by since I last viewed it. I was expecting my memories to be overly nostalgic and the actual movie to be a potential disappointment. However, that was not the case at all. SPY KIDS has aged fantastically over time and remains a quality dose of family entertainment that provides fun for both adults and children alike. Color me pleasantly surprised.

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Ingrid and Gregorio Cortez are far from your typical married couple. They were originally rival spies hired to eliminate each other, but they fell deeply in love instead. Soon enough, they got hitched and had two kids. Now raising their children, Carmen and Juni, these married former spies find themselves out of their element in domestic life. Any average filmmaker could have stopped there and called that the plot, but Rodriguez continues by having Ingrid and Gregorio abducted during one last mission by a madman. It’s up to young Carmen and Juni to thwart a super villain’s dastardly plans (which involve robot assassins) as well as rescue their parents.

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There are a number of reasons why SPY KIDS stands high above most of the recent live-action efforts masquerading as family entertainment. The biggest of these is the stunning amount of creativity on display. Robert Rodriguez clearly had a distinct vision of how he wanted to tell this story, when to incorporate humor and how to combine multiple character arcs. Most of the laughs come from good old-fashioned humor on display. I couldn’t point out any moments of innuendo and there was only one potty joke (which is brushed off casually as Rodriguez giving the obligatory obvious poop joke that we all saw coming). In the wrong hands, SPY KIDS could have been an easy, overly familiar kid-friendly spin on 007 (think AGENT CODY BANKS). Instead, this film seems intent on entertaining everyone and it accomplishes that goal in style.

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What makes SPY KIDS even more enjoyable is the talented cast. Antonio Banderas (known for playing typically darker action heroes) and Carla Gugino (who later went on to star in R-rated comic book adaptations like SIN CITY and WATCHMEN) play against their usual characters as two spies who are out of their element as parents. This provides a lot of jokes that adults will latch on to. Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara, both newcomers at the time, star as brother and sister: Carmen and Juni. Though they can be wooden at times, they come across as likable protagonists worth rooting for. Other familiar faces show up in Danny Trejo (playing their Uncle Machete…get it?), Robert Patrick (as a briefly seen baddie), Cheech Marin (as an undercover agent) and George Clooney (in a brief, but very funny cameo). The best casting decisions come in Alan Cumming and Tony Shalhoub as the main villains. Cumming plays his evil mastermind as sort of a demented Dr. Seuss type who also happens to run a nightmarish kids’ show (think a cross between YO GABBA GABBA and TELETUBBIES). Shalhoub is the power-hungry Minion who becomes increasingly concerned that his boss is more obsessed with his TV program rather than the actual evil plan at work.

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SPY KIDS runs under 90 minutes and feels perfectly paced as a result. There’s a lot of stuff happening in every scene and not a wasted frame. There are also two story-arcs distinctly aimed at adults and children. The adults will connect more with the two former spies dealing with the stresses of starting a family and kids will connect with the sibling story-arc about the importance of family, though the latter can definitely be appreciated by older viewers as well. The action scenes are brought to life through mostly good effects that combine CGI and practical work (including mutated kid’s show mascots and robotic guards made entirely of thumbs). It’s downright whimsical and enjoyable all the way through.

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I am definitely surprised at how well SPY KIDS holds up over a decade later. The story is creative, the characters are all fleshed out, and the humor is likely to connect with viewers of all ages. While most live-action family fare in the new millennium has struggled to find that nitch for both adults and children, Robert Rodriguez walked that tightrope with 2001’s SPY KIDS. This film manages to bring solid entertainment that can be appreciated by viewers who want something creative and deliberately silly. Give it a look and you’re likely to have a lot of fun.

Grade: B+

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.

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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!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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-

THIR13EN GHOSTS (2001)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 1 hour 31 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Horror Violence/Gore, Nudity and Some Language

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Directed by: Steve Beck

Written by: Robb White, Neal Marshall Stevens

Starring: Tony Shalhoub, Embeth Davidtz, Matthew Lillard, Shannon Elizabeth, Rah Digga, F. Murray Abraham

William Castle was a connoisseur of campy horror gimmicks. This was a man who stuck joy buzzers underneath seats in order to convince his audience that a monster was loose in their movie theater and had death insurance policies in case one of his movies scared you…to death. He also had an inflatable skeleton wiz across the theater ceiling and let the audience “choose” the fate of the sadistic Mr. Sardonicus. In 1960’s 13 GHOSTS, William Castle provided each person in the screenings with a “ghost viewer” a special set of glasses that could add or remove the ghosts from the theater screen.

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Dark Castle is a studio that began by specializing in remaking two of William Castle’s biggest films. 1999’s underrated HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL was a hit over that Halloween weekend. Two years later, they updated 13 GHOSTS into a gleefully cheesy and fun horror flick with really cool production values. The rest of the movie isn’t up to the superb level of the ghosts themselves and the great set design. This makes THIR13EN GHOSTS just okay entertainment that could have been a lot better.

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Arthur Kriticos, a father of two, is struggling with the loss of his wife, who died in the fire that took their home. To make do, he is living in a cramped apartment with his two kids (teenage girl and young son) and their annoying nanny (who really doesn’t serve a purpose at all). A lawyer unexpectedly shows up to inform the family that their long-lost uncle died and left a house in his will. This house is a glass plated construction in the middle of nowhere and harbors a deadly secret.

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Actually, it’s more like 13 undead secrets (see what I did there?). There are many tormented souls hidden in the basement and the house is actually a machine that unleashes these spirits one-by-one. Aided by a couple of psychics and using specialized glasses that reveal the unseen, Arthur and his family must find a way out of the house before they join the spirits in the afterlife.

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THIR13EN GHOSTS has some amazing production values. The set design is phenomenal and the look of the house, a literal place with glass walls, is wholly original. Then there are the spirits themselves. Instead of using cheapo transparent effects, the wise decision was made to cast the ghosts as real people in creative make-up designs. The look of each spirit is totally unique and very creepy. If you dig on the spirits, it’s also a good decision to watch the “Ghost Files” special feature on the DVD, which gives a cool background story for each individual.

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The script itself is a bit of a mess though. The dialogue is really cheesy too. There is more camp to be had here than actual scares. In this sense, THIR13EN GHOSTS is a fun time-waster that doesn’t do much in terms of terror, but is entertaining enough. Plot-holes litter the place like crazy, including the laughable idea of ghosts being frightened of flares.

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Then there’s Rah Digga. She’s a rapper turned movie star and THIR13EN GHOSTS was her debut. She’s every single bad stereotype that people associate with the black character in horror movies and amped up to 11. While none of the acting from anybody else is great (Matthew Lillard is annoying in places), Digga is the worst part of this entire movie. She’s annoying beyond belief and single-handedly ruins some of the potentially fun scenes. To add insult to injury, the film ends with her ranting and then a rap song over the credits….by her.

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THIR13EN GHOSTS is a guilty pleasure. It’s not a good movie and I am aware of this. There are definitely some really awful moments and one of the worst performances in the history of modern horror cinema. However, the special effects are good. There is some ghoulish entertainment to be had and it still remains a fun time, despite the major problems. Sometimes, that’s all you need.

Grade: C+

PAIN & GAIN (2013)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 9 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Bloody Violence, Crude Sexual Content, Nudity, Language throughout and Drug Use

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Directed by: Michael Bay

Written by: Christopher Markus & Stephen McFeely

Starring: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub, Ed Harris, Rob Corddry, Bar Paly & Rebel Wilson

The name Michael Bay immediately turns the stomachs of a lot of people, but it appears that every director (no matter how bad their filmographies are) has one good project in them. Paul W.S. Anderson had EVENT HORIZON. Uwe Boll had POSTAL. Now, Michael Bay has created (for a significantly smaller budget than what he’s used to) a unique movie that is based on the absolutely ludicrous true tale of three small-minded criminals.

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In the mid-90’s, the Sun Gym Gang committed murder, fraud, and stole money from some very rich people. The details of the case are what makes this story really interesting and I hesitate to give away too many of those, for fear of spoiling the movie. Those interested in the actual story, might want to research it beforehand. Just know that for a movie based on a true story, PAIN & GAIN sticks surprisingly close to the actual events. There are a couple of moments that may have been exaggerated for effect and one incident didn’t even take place, from what I know. This is still a movie based on true events, rather than a factual retelling. You might be surprised at just what parts of the film are very much based in reality and if for no other reason, it’s the purely ridiculous story that makes PAIN & GAIN worth a watch.

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Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) is a fitness instructor with goals. He’s also a recently released convict who has no real problem in scamming people out of money. After making a bit of success for himself and attending a self-help seminar (which comes into play as a recurring joke throughout the film), Lugo wants to DO big things. With the help of his best friend and fellow body builder, Adrian, and a former coke-head jail-bird Jesus-freak, Paul (Dwayne Johnson in his best role yet), Lugo has big plans. These plans happen to involve the kidnapping, extortion and murder of a rich gym-goer (played by a delightfully smarmy Tony Shalhoub).

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After a couple of things go extremely wrong, murder is in the details. But even that doesn’t go quite as planned. While the trio are living it up in their new lifestyles, Lugo and the other two can’t help but set eyes on another potential target. Long story short, things don’t go as planned. Boy, they don’t go as planned! The trio find themselves in a situation that spinning wildly out of control with every second that passes and you’ll just have to see where it goes from there.

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PAIN & GAIN is a blend of multiple genres. On one hand, the material is treated with seriousness in scenes and there is a decent amount of tension being built through the frantic third act. Then there’s also the humorous side of things. This is where I can see people having problems with the film. Yes, this is based on horrible crimes and yes, the people who did it are scumbags deserving the death sentence. The biggest misconception I’ve seen is that some viewers and critics think that Michael Bay wants you to take sides and feel sympathy for these criminals. I didn’t see it this way at all. I was laughing at the sheer stupidity of these morons and I think that’s exactly what Bay was going for.

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It certainly helps that the performances are quite good from everyone involved. Mark Wahlberg receives a lot of flack (even though he’s been in some great movies, including THE DEPARTED), but his turn as the murderous criminal bodybuilder is far from anything he’s done in previous efforts. Dwayne Johnson is also at his peak as the bible-thumping, well-meaning idiot and provides some of the biggest laughs in the whole movie. Tony Shalhoub (who hasn’t really been given anything memorable since MONK) is absolutely great as the Sun Gym Gang’s first potential victim. Ed Harris also makes a welcome appearance as a private investigator and Rob Corddry also pops up in a few scenes.

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However, the film is not without a few faults. Just like any other Michael Bay flick, there could have been some serious editing and it would have made for a much tighter film. I won’t say the movie drags, but by the end it feels like it’s about to wear out its welcome. There are also a couple of plot threads that are forgotten or pushed aside as the movie progresses. The movie definitely could have done without some of these funny, good, but ultimately pointless scenes.  Sometimes, the jokes don’t quite hit their mark, but the majority of the time they do. At the end of the day, Michael Bay has still retained some of the qualities that make his movies infamous (yes, there is an explosion in this film), but it’s still quite a good film!

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PAIN & GAIN is a unique movie and a pretty funny dark comedy when you get right down to it. It may be directed by Michael Bay, but this is unlike anything that man has ever touched before. Dare I say it, he may be maturing as a filmmaker. That might be a stretch, but if this is a demonstration of Bay’s future efforts, then count me in! The poking of the dark situation in a rather humorous light may turn people off. I may just have a sick sense of humor, but I was entertained and wholly satisfied by the ending. Michael Bay has made his best movie thus far and even if he goes back to making TRANSFORMERS-type blockbusters, we will always have PAIN & GAIN.

Grade: B+

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