Saturday, February 28, 2015

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)


Several years after the famous/infamous series Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles had been laid to rest on the big screen, we have been presented with a reboot, which it may have admittedly been high time for in some regard (though I did want to see a follow-up to 2007's TMNT). And ultimately, it's a reboot that cannot seem to figure out for the life of itself if it wants to be a good upgrade to the original films (which look horribly dated now) and still pay tribute to its predecessors/source material--or if it just wants to take a a giant dump on them. 

We are introduced to the four ninja turtles--Michelangelo, Donatello, Raphael and Leonardo--all having been upgraded visually thanks to better CGI--and Splinter, their rodent master--trying to defend the city against the Foot Clan and their master Shredder, a samurai. Familiar storyline, for those who have seen at least the first 1990 film. 

We are also introduced to April O'Neil, who is perhaps one of the main subjects of how this reboot sometimes takes a giant dump on its predecessors--partially by casting Megan Fox as April. There goes our hope for acting down the tube. (And why, you may ask? Well, um... Michael Bay is involved heavily with this film. Producer, as a matter of fact.) And although the new origin storyline is acceptable for me, it is also probably going to make a lot of fans mad. What's more upsetting is the absence of Casey Jones and his replacing with Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett), who is honestly a bit of a perv. (Casey's absence is supposed to be fixed in the upcoming sequel.) 

As you can see, there has been a lot of modifying to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Some of it's good, for sure--for example, the hideout is much better now thanks to the turtles using modern-day technology now to spy on what's going on. Plus, Shredder's new armor is pretty darn awesome (even if his weird voice makes you go "Wha...?") Some of it's also not so good. I already mentioned the changes to the human characters, but a couple turtles themselves go through some personality changes of sorts. Raphael actually becomes a bit of a wimp late in the film. And Donatello is suddenly a glasses-wearing nerd. 

These changes, despite themselves, are hardly the only reason that this movie falls short most of the way through. The issue is how shockingly slow the movie is early on. We don't even see much in the way of actual action for almost the entire first half of the movie--a couple quick skirmishes, that's about it. Meanwhile we're left with... Megan Fox and a rather annoying Will Arnett. 

Once we do get into the action, it's pretty cool, to be sure. One thing you can be sure of from Michael Bay--even if he's only producing--is that action and special effects geeks like myself will be gawking (even if on a lesser level than in his other movies). We get to watch a pretty darn cool fight between Shredder and Splinter, and there is an extended car/truck chase/battle sequence in the snow that stands out in the film as its most memorable part. 

It's sad, but the truth is that a lot of what's wrong with this film is that we aren't getting *enough* action. The rest of the movie tends to be unfortunately dull at times. The turtles' wisecracks are lacking now most of the way (part of what made the original movie a guilty pleasure of sorts), and we don't even see a whole lot of the turtles themselves during that first third or half or so of the movie. 

There's potential, for sure. There are a couple funny parts, and if they decide to ramp up the action in the next film, that could actually help them a lot--with regards to at least being a bit more entertaining, anyway. It's tough to say, though. There will be some other things that will have to change in the process to get a significantly better movie. We will also have to remember that the Ninja Turtles series, even at its best, isn't A-grade worthy and probably never will be. 

Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Matrix


Ever think that there's something not quite right with this world? Or your life? That you're perhaps not in control of it?

Essentially, the Matrix is the epitome of the feelings something's wrong with our world--or even that it's not real to a degree--and is one of those films that will have you asking a lot of questions--including questioning your own existence.

"Unfortunately, no one can be told what the Matrix is. You have to see it for yourself."

This line that the character Morpheus speaks to Neo early on in the film actually has an element of truth to it (much like a lot of other things in this film). Because the Matrix is something that is pretty darn hard to explain in the space of a normal-length review, but I'll try my best.

Simply: Guy finds out that his world is not real, joins the "real" world. Fights back against the guys who formerly imprisoned him--in part because he learned kung fu and ninjutsu in about five seconds, but also because he is the subject of an important "prophecy."

Sure, perhaps that's the gist of this film for one who's trying to look at it in simpleton terms. Even that probably won't prepare for you for what comes in The Matrix. Set in a future where mankind is under control by artificial intelligence, uses humans as batteries, and where they created "programs" to exterminate any belligerents.

Thomas Anderson, aka Neo, is our main subject and the guy who learns kung fu and ninjutsu in about five seconds. (Seriously.) Ultimately freed by other "hackers" like himself who are also free of the Matrix, he is joined mostly by Trinity--basically a love interest--and Morpheus, a guy who speaks most of the awesome lines in this film and is basically Neo's teacher and the guy who believes him in without question. And their main nemesis? Agent Smith, one of the most awesome villains ever, and one of the Matrix "programs."

It's hard to find a serious flaw about this movie. The characters are interesting. The action sequences and visual effects are spectacular, especially for 1999 (bullet time!), and the fight scenes are amazing (particularly the ones between Neo and Smith). The dialogue varies from mesmerizing to hilarious to head-scratching to philosophical. The questions that this movie proposes are quite creepy, since when you think about, much of this movie could very well be/one day be true.

The only flaw I can really think of is the fact that some may find it confusing/too much to take in. Course, that hasn't stopped most from enjoying the movie just for the ridiculous effects. So even then that's going to only apply to a few.

The Matrix is arguably one of the greatest action films of all time, especially considering how it revolutionized the genre back in its day. The effects still hold up and will probably still hold up even about 30 years from now, much the way Jurassic Park's have. But just that shouldn't be one reason to see this film. You should also see this film because of the questions it raises. Because of its complex yet creative plot. Heck, you should just see this film (if you haven't already).

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit


First off, let's begin this review with a little disclaimer: I have never seen the Hunt for Red October, or  any of the other Jack Ryan movies (although I think HFRO is the only one most people care about). Thus, this universe was brand new to me when I first watched this movie. It looked pretty interesting--almost looked like a conspiracy theory type of movie when I first saw the trailer. 

It turned out to be nothing of the sort--it actually is more of a thriller than anything. Or at least, I think that's what it's trying to be. Jack Ryan starts out as a Marine who is no longer able to do his job due to a severe injury. And so who picks him up next? The CIA. And they have him doing what? Being a covert analyst trying to find possible terrorist attacks within... financial transactions and economy stuff. 

Being a guy who's never fully understood the economy/stocks business, things do tend to get confusing pretty quick. Jack *does* end up uncovering something... and of course it involves Russia. Someone trying to collapse the United States economy. 

It turned out to be a pretty sophisticated movie, which surprised me. Things go by pretty slow at first, but at the same time when I randomly paused the film about 61 minutes in, I was stunned to see that I was already two-thirds of the way through the film. I was immediately thinking, "They're not gonna have much time to resolve this" (it being a 107-minute movie). Turned out I was right--things get more frantic as the movie nears a close, and ultimately we do get a couple car chases and fights late in the film. 

There are indeed some issues with this film--one of them being that it doesn't even know what type of movie it wants to be. Does it want to be a thriller? Does it want to be an action popcorn movie? Does it perhaps want to be a drama of sorts? It kind of flits around at times. Meanwhile, those who do not fully understand the background of all the financial and economic stuff will be quite confused--and probably bored as well for close to the first hour of the film. As well as the genre being in question, the target audience is perhaps in question as well. 

There certainly are some good things to crow about, though. The acting is quite good--Chris Pine and Kevin Costner are good in their roles as Jack Ryan and the CIA guy who hires him, and Kenneth Branagh (who also directed the film) stars as a Russian villain and does a *brilliant* job of it. The action sequences near the end are pretty decent. 

I can certainly see this appealing to adults looking for a little more sophistication in their action and thriller films. Even then, it won't be perfect, but it'll be a little more enjoyable. Kenneth Branagh alone may be worth the trip for some. Sadly, few others are going to find much enjoyment. Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit isn't really that bad. But it's not really that good either.