Secret of the Shell

Everything about a movie comes down to the first five minutes. It’s the first impression to be set towards the audience and it can set up exactly what the movie is going to be. In the first five SECONDS of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, the iconic stars that fly around the Paramount Pictures logo have been replaced with…wait for it….ninja stars. Which, to be fair, is exactly how a live action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie should start anyway and sets up exactly what the audience is going to get: something silly, something easy and something as ridiculous as four giant mutated reptiles fighting bad guys with ninjutsu.

 

The people of New York City remain safe, but are unaware of their reptilian protectors. Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), Donatello (Jeremy Howard), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) and Raphael (Alan Ritchson) remain in the shadows and underneath the sewers while patrolling the city for bad guys, though some of them just wish to be accepted by humans. Meanwhile, The Foot Clan breaks Shredder (Brian Tee) out of police custody and have recruited some new followers: mad scientist Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry) and numbskull henchmen Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (Stephen Farrelly, aka WWE superstar Sheamus). Shredder plans to build an interdimensional transporter that will bring the giant alien robot Krang (Brad Garrett) to Earth for total domination. With the help of April O’Neil (Megan Fox), Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett) and corrections officer/hockey enthusiast Casey Jones (Stephen Amell), the turtles have to use their teamwork to save the world.

 

2014’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, under the direction of Jonathan Liebesman (Battle Los Angeles, Wrath of the Titans), was trying to be everything that the beloved comic-book characters/Saturday morning cartoon icons were not: dark, mean-spirited and most importantly, serious. Sure, there are characters that one could make with a modern gritty twist to it. But the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles? The pizza-eating, skateboard-riding, 90s surfer dude-talking, brightly-colored eye mask-wearing teenaged turtles? Designed as a parody of four comics from the 1980s? No, absolutely not. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles have always been one of the definitions of shlock and the most memorable adaptations of the Turtles have embraced them for what they truly are: unbridled garbage for the kids to enjoy.

 

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Bebop and Rocksteady (voiced by Gary Anthony Williams and Stephen Farrelly) in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows”

 

Now under the direction of Dave Green (Earth to Echo), the Turtles are as ridiculous as they should’ve been and it works so well. Mike flies a rocket-powered skateboard, Don lands a crashing cargo plane with his bo staff, Raph skips along the rivers of Brazil like a skipping stone and Leo commands the team from a garbage truck with giant nunchucks swinging on the sides. Green not only understands what makes the Turtles so beloved, but he amps it up to 11 and it makes it look good on-screen with some solid camerawork. Though it does get a bit headache-inducing in the final 20 minutes, Green does a fine job shooting the action for most of the movie and makes the fighting more cartoonish than ultra-violent. But like most kids’ properties, the fault here is in the writing. Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec have a script where nearly every scene is full of rushed plot exposition and corny one-liners for the Turtles to spout. There’s no explanation as to why Stockman is in cahoots with Shredder or how Krang gets involved in the entire plot other than fan service. The whole movie feels like the a stupidly funny episode of The A-Team.

 

It’s actually very fortunate that the movie focuses more on the Turtles this time around, because there’s very little to offer in the acting department. Fox isn’t as unbearable as she was in the first installment, but it’s probably because the story doesn’t center around her and she’s barely in the movie. One who is featured prominently is Amell as fan-favorite Casey Jones, who (SPOILER ALERT) only puts on his iconic mask once in the movie, so fans can be annoyed by that ahead of time. On top of that, Amell proves himself to be one of the luckiest guys in Hollywood (with his day job as Green Arrow on TV’s Arrow) because he’s pretty awful here. I actually looked forward to Amell playing the loose canon vigilante, considering his acting on Arrow is similar to someone so stiff he might have a tent pole shoved up his rear, but “loosened up cool guy” Amell is far worse. His voice is so awkwardly high-pitched for a guy of his physical stature, which makes his awkward delivery of lines all the lamer.

 

The best acting (and by best, I mean hammiest) comes from the bad guys, specifically the ones who look like they’re having fun (i.e. not Shredder). Perry is the wimpy dork that loves the diabolical science Stockman is cooking up, so he wears that poofy hairdo, bowtie and mustache like nobody’s business. It’s impossible not to chuckle at his villainess snorting laugh knowing he’s the patsy in all of this. And then there’s Williams and Farrelly in what is the best male pairing on-screen this year as Bebop and Rocksteady. They fully commit to being doofus henchmen and yet they’re irresistible as a couple, you just want them to ride off into the sunset together on their giant chopper motorcycles. Even Garrett gets some scenery-chewing scenes in as Krang, though he’s only in the movie for about ten minutes.

 

 

So is Out of the Shadows better than the last Turtles adventure? Absolutely! Is Out of the Shadows the best Ninja Turtles movie? Well it’s hard to beat the kitschy 1990 original, but it’s a visual laugh riot. Is it actually a good movie? Ehhhh……depends. If you’re a longtime Ninja Turtles fan, this may be the movie you’ve wanted and have deserved all along. It almost perfectly captures the spirit and silliness of the heroes in a half-shell. But if your tolerance for stupid is low and have grown up enough to dismiss geek nostalgia, it’s much more of a toss-up. Put it this way: if you enjoyed or at least laughed at the sheer stupidity of sports cars falling out of a plane in Furious 7, you will probably do the same when four giant turtles jumping from one plane to another 30,000 feet in the air and then watching a tank emerge from a Brazilian river in an action scene. Is it so bad it’s good? Is it childish or genius? It’s turtle power, live with it.

 

Final Verdict: 2.5 out of 4 stars

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Pop Life

Let’s face it: pop stars are ridiculous. Sure they make fun songs that we love to hear on the radio, but sometimes they use their fame and fortune to be total idiots. They erect statues of themselves, they say stupid things, they make idiotic songs, they have unreasonable demands and one of them is this guy. They can make music, but pop stars are just the worst and they’ve deserved a good ribbing for a while now. Now we finally don’t have to stress over it, because The Lonely Island are doing it for us.

 

Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping comes to the world from Andy Samberg (co-writer/star), Akiva Schaffer (co-writer/co-director) and Jorma Taccone (co-writer/co-director), the Saturday Night Live alums who helped merge YouTube humor with modern comedy television (take your pick). For their latest cinematic adventure (their first together since 2007’s Hot Rod), they create Connor4Real (Samberg): a cocky doofus in white-boy rapper clothes, faded haircut and millions of adoring fans. He’s got hit songs like “I’m So Humble,” “Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song)” and everyone’s favorite dance number “Donkey Roll.” He’s got a posse of enablers, ass-kissing handlers and an ego that’d make Kanye take two steps back. But when his second album starts getting “mixed” reviews (a -4 on Pitchfork, for example), he goes into crisis mode trying to keep his cool.

 

Just from the poster alone, you know exactly who Connor4Real is based off of (here’s a hint). But Popstar takes on the laundry list of what’s wrong with the pop music scene: no one cares who’s writing the songs, people are easily distracted by gossip, selling 4 million albums is barely a milestone these days and TMZ are scumbags. But The Lonely Island have two major themes that all popstars suffer from: desperation and ignorance. Connor tries everything to keep his rep up, including getting an opening act like Hunter the Hunted (Chris Redd), an unruly underground rapper with a nasty reputation (seems familiar) or proposing to his fame-obsessed girlfriend Ashley (Imogen Poots) with an army or wolves and a song from Seal. Connor will do anything he thinks is “dope” without the slightest input from anyone else, like releasing his album via streaming from kitchen appliances (again, seems familiar). The Lonely Island’s creation is one of unbridled optimism, which is all the funnier when Connor makes himself look more like a giant tool time after time.

 

 

Popstar is a team effort and the lineup is stacked. The likes of Tim Meadows and Sarah
Silverman try to keep their cool as Connor’s business team, while Taccone plays Connor’s DJ/childhood friend trying to keep him happy and Schaffer plays the exiled childhood friend holding a grudge and not doing a great job with it. There’s also a slew of celebrity bit players: some established music stars who get the joke and laugh with it (Usher, DJ Khaled, Nas, P!nk), other random celebrities who probably hate pop stars as much as the main trio (Emma Stone, Maya Rudolph, Will Arnett, Eric Andre). But every team needs a quarterback and Samberg might as well be Tom Brady. He’s game for anything and keeps his big-toothed grin on full display so the audience can imagine punching Connor in the face. Samberg is an ace goofball and he (along with the movie) only falters when the plot gets predictable in the last half hour.

 

So what’s the lesson of Popstar? Easy: pop stars never learn. No matter how much self-discovery they go through or how much they grow up, they’ll always be big-headed ego maniacs who are rarely as self-aware as they think they are. Popstar doesn’t want to tear down the definition of a modern pop star, far from it. They revel in it and celebrate it because they know they’d probably indulge in Adam Levine’s hologram if they could. It’s the nerdy kids snickering at how lame the popular kids are and it’s easy to love that in a time when these overhyped hacks are considered influential people. Popstar isn’t the full-on war against pop stars that we want, but it’s the silly farce that we all need.

 

Final Verdict: 3 out of 4 stars