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

Bay-triotism

A Michael Bay movie is like a Baconator: you know it’s bad for you and has no real benefit, but it combines so many things you like that it’s sometimes hard to turn down. Michael Bay will never be an auteur or an artist, he’s a director for the people. He knows what they want, even if they go on the Internet on a consistent basis and say they don’t. Even if the people are smarter and can think for themselves, Michael Bay believes he knows what’s best for them. He knows all they want is explosions, boobs and sound crashing through speakers. He remains detached from everything around him and sticks solely to his vision, love it or hate it. So how does he apply his polarizing directorial style to an event as serious as the 2012 Benghazi attacks? Thankfully with less boobs, but still the same detachment.

 

13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi is based off of Mitchell Zuckoff’s 2014 book about the Benghazi attacks told from the perspective of the American security team on the ground during the attacks. Adapted to screen by Chuck Hogan (The Town), the team consists of Jack Silva (John Krasinski), Tyrone Woods (James Badge Dale), Kris Paronto (Pablo Schreiber), Dave Benton (David Denman), John Tiegen (Dominic Fumusa) and Mark Geist (Max Martini). They’re brought to Benghazi in 2012 to help a secret CIA outpost protect in an incoming US ambassador. Tensions are high after the death of Muammar Gaddafi and the overthrow of the Libyan government, so American military presence is not advised. Nevertheless, militant forces storm the American embassy and threaten the life of the ambassador. Despite resistance from the CIA team chief onsite, the security team makes their move to save the ambassador.

 

For those wondering if there are any grand political statements 13 Hours has to offer, rest your minds (this is a Michael Bay film, after all). 13 Hours offers nothing more than Dollar Store-quality commentary on the Benghazi attacks. It’s all about how stuffy government agents are wrong and buff, bearded American soldiers are right. Hardworking, intelligent government agents ain’t got nothin’ on the strapping men of the Armed Forces and their macho guns. American soldiers are the BRAVEST AND TOUGHEST MEN IN THE WORLD!!!! Yeah, 13 Hours might as well be a parody song from Team America: World Police. Though it strongly supports American military, it has a real negative attitude towards American government politics. Whenever there’s a delay in support or a lack of firearms in the movie, the security blames on the “.gov” people. It feels as if it’s trying to be one of those “people should rule the country, not the government,”-type speeches without anything to back it up.

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It’s the most basic form of crowd-pleasing propaganda, but Bay doesn’t make much time for it. He’s too busy focusing on the firefight and building the story around it. The movie hits the ground running when Silva lands in Benghazi and starts throwing out military jargon and exposition. It would be understandable if Bay wasn’t always jerking the camera around every scene. Someone needs to tell Bay that he should take five to ten steps away from his actors since most of the shots in the movie are mediums and close-ups, creating a jarring and annoying experience. To make his gritty war movie feel more realistic, he takes the Paul Greengrass approach by using first-person shots from the rifles of the soldiers and constant shaking cameras to follow the movement of the security team. The bad news is that shaking cameras are in every action movie these days, what once was cool and innovative is now more cause for headaches during viewing.

 

To Bay’s credit, he does ease up on that in the film’s second half when the security team regroups at the CIA compound for an Alamo-esque last stand. He gets some impressive sweeping overlooks of the compound as militants swarm and packs on the dread with every new wave that approaches. He gives the movie time to breathe between shootouts to build the characters, which is needed since none of the actors really stand out. They do have funny banter between them, but it’s nothing more than a break from all the mentions of tangos and RPGs. And no matter how much John Krasinski beefed up for the role, there’s still that awkward demeanor that screams “Jim from The Office.”

 

The odd thing about 13 Hours is that I don’t blame Bay entirely for this being a bad movie. Bay doesn’t have politics: Chuck Hogan has politics, Paramount Pictures definitely has politics, but Bay honestly couldn’t care less. He doesn’t want to make a grand statement about Benghazi, he just wanted to make an action movie, albeit a bad one. Someone like Paul Greengrass or Clint Eastwood would’ve definitely used 13 Hours to make some commentary about the war or the American political climate, but Bay’s detachment from all basic forms of reality make the movie seem hollow. On top of that, the excitement of Bay’s directorial style becomes dull and worn out over time. The movie is nearly two hours and needed to cut about 45 minutes off to make anything seem exciting. There’s nothing to feel proud about after seeing 13 Hours, in fact there’s nothing to feel at all. It’s just another Michael Bay movie *sigh* yayy America.

Final Verdict: Freedom Fries out of 4 (1.5 out of 4)

So…….Who Cares?

Wow. That is the word that is primarily associated with the work of director Michael Bay. Bay’s action scenes are meant for “wow.” The actors (or more specifically, actresses) in Bay’s films are meant for “wow.” The special effects are meant to bring out the biggest “wow” possible. Michael Bay has been the champion of “wow” for almost two decades. However, Bay has brought out a new form of “wow” in his films. For example, his 2009 film “Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen” brought out reactions like “wow, this is incredibly stupid,” “wow, there is nothing interesting going on here,” or even “wow, this is one of the worst movies ever.” Similar reactions have been following Bay ever since his debut in 1995 with “Bad Boys,” but Bay’s films have been losing their “wow” factor gradually since he first signed on to bring Hasbro’s robots in disguise to the big screen in 2007. So now Bay has decided to give his cash cow franchise a spit-shine polish, despite not being super interested in making another “Transformers” film. The good news is that Bay has successfully eliminated the negative “wow” factor his films have garnered recently. The bad news is that it’s been replaced with an annoyed “ugh,” as in “ugh, this crap again.”

To be fair, “Transformers: Age of Extinction” does fill out the basic requirement of Michael Bay moves in that it looks cool. Sunsets and sunrises flood the Texas sky as muscular mechanic/inventor Cade Yeager (Mark Wahlberg, replacing Shia LaBeouf as the human hero) tries to scrape together cash to put his daughter Tessa (the unspeakably attractive Nicola Peltz) through school. When Cade and his employee Lucas (T.J. Miller, an actually funny comic relief) find an old truck that looks like it’s been through more than just road rage, Cade brings it home to discover that it’s actually Optimus Prime. Prime, along with the rest of the Autobots, are on the run from the governments of the world that are hunting down the robots after the Chicago attack seen in “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.” But when a government special ops team, commanded by Harold Attinger (Kelsey Grammer, stone faced and barely breaking an octave in his voice) infiltrates Cade’s farm, Optimus springs into action and reunites with the four remaining Autobots he can find (yes, Bumblebee is one of them). The Autobots then discover a high tech corporation, led by sophisticated but sleazy Joshua Joyce (Stanley Tucci, replacing John Turturro as the “weird, spastic old guy played by a credible actor” character), have harnessed the metal of the Transformers (called “transformium,” of course) and are starting to create their own army of Transformers.

I’m starting a new paragraph here because the previous dissertation is only half of the entire plot of the movie. In fact, “Age of Extinction” could be split into three separate movies instead of being (very poorly) put together for a nearly three-hour bonanza of boom. There is terrible pacing and transition between scenes, with nearly nothing to make moments gel together. The acting is either forgettable or just bland, especially from Nicola Peltz and Kelsey Grammer. Mark Wahlberg does his job of saying silly lines as serious as possible, which almost makes his lines enjoyably ridiculous. The Transformers themselves, Autobots and pseudo-Decepticon alike, are mostly forgettable despite being voiced by the likes of John Goodman and Ken Watanabe. No matter how many times the robots pull out a gun from nothing, transform, or ride robotic dinosaurs (which did tug at the heart of the 8 year-old in me), the new robots are better off as toys than they are as memorable characters.

In fact, the problem with “Age of Extinction” is that it has lost whatever lasting impression the previous films have left. Sure, the “Transformers” movies have left good and bad tastes in the mouths of others, but at least there was something to talk about when leaving the theatre. Even when “Age of Extinction” travels to China for its climax, has a cool looking spaceship, and tries to incorporate the robots’ involvement in the dinosaur extinction on Earth, it does nothing to make the viewer shift closer to the screen. While there may be some awe-worthy scenes for the young boys seeing the movie, anyone else will find “Age of Extinction” dead on arrival. It’s certainly not Michael Bay’s worst film (“Revenge of the Fallen” or last year’s “Pain & Gain” are tied for that dishonor), but it’s certainly the blandest film Bay has ever done. Think about that for a second: the man who is known for monstrous robots fighting each other in front of beautiful women and explosions made an extremely boring film about monstrous robots fighting each other in front of beautiful women and explosions. If one dares to view “Age of Extinction,” this question should be brought up after the movie’s over: Who is less interested in Transformers, the viewer or the director?

 

Final Verdict: 1.5 out of 4 stars