August 12, 2014

Podcast Episode 26: TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES Is Totally Buck-Buck

The newest reboot of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a singular film experience in that it's the first time I've ever sat in the theater and felt like a movie was trolling me in real time.

To be fair, I am CLEARLY not this movie's intended audience despite having been a member of the original generation of young TMNT fanatics.  No, this horrorshow is custom built for today's nine year olds.  And not even the smart nine year olds but the dumb ones, the kids who need everything explained to them six times between a series of explosions and fart jokes lest they get distracted by something shiny and wander out into traffic.  This is a movie in which six-foot talking turtles who know karate aren't cool enough, so these turtles are also bulletproof and super strong, able to knock giant steel shipping containers 50 feet into the air with a single kick.  It's also got a faint whiff of racism - Splinter sports a fu manchu and wraps himself in Japanese affectations not because he comes from Japan, but because he finds a ninjitsu book lying in the sewer.  That's right, Splinter is essentially a rat doing yellow-face.

Character development?  Compelling relationships?  Coherent storytelling?

"FUCK THAT," this movie gleefully screams.  "We've got a car chase in the snow down a mountain with a close-up of Megan Fox's ass!"

The various incarnations of Ninja Turtles from my youth are hardly sacred, but this clusterfuck of blurry CG and leaden dialogue makes the first live-action film from 1990 look like Citizen Kane.  You can criticize the turtle suits all you want (and I actually think they hold up pretty well, all things considered) but at least that movie operated on a modicum of logic and it gave you 30 seconds to catch your breath between fight scenes.  The turtles in that movie are all distinct and multi-faceted.  Not only could you tell them apart, but you actually gave a shit about them individually.  The only difference between these version of the turtles is the color of their respective masks.  Oh yeah, and Michelangelo REALLY wants to bone Megan Fox, which is exactly as creepy as that sounds.  Oh yeah, and the actual ninja stuff is astoundingly unimpressive.

But here's the thing: I watched this movie in a theater full of kids and they went BONKERS for it.  Completely and utterly.  However, they were also whooping and cheering for the movie as soon as the lights dimmed.  These kids were obviously primed to love this thing before they every walked in the door and I suspect that has more to do with the movie's marketing than with the content of the film itself.  Apparently there is currently a Ninja Turtles cartoon airing on television, but I had to go look that up to be sure.  Before Michael Bay and director Jonathan Liebesman stepped in, the Turtles haven't felt like a real cultural touchstone in years.  Sadly, I expect that will all change as children are drawn into this hyper-kinetic bastardization like moths to a flame.  It's no surprise that the film massively outpaced industry estimates at the box office, nor that Paramount has already greenlit a sequel.

Episode 26 of the podcast features our longtime friend and Ninja Turtles fan Colin FX Garstka.  We marvel at the sheer idiocy of what we've witnessed, reminisce about the Turtles of days gone by and suggest which vintage characters we'd like to see introduced in the future.  Sadly, Krang feels pretty unlikely but giant insect/scientist Baxter Stockman doesn't seem totally outside the realm of possibility.  We also fancast the proposed all-female Ghostbusters and get psyched at the prospect of Bill Murray and Christopher Walken lending their voices to The Jungle Book.

For those of you who want to skip over the Teenage Mutant Ninja Nonsense and get right to Lady Ghostbusters, you can start it at 59:30.

Next Week: At the end of the episode we settle on Let's Be Cops, but it actually looks like we'll be talking about Expendables 3 instead.

August 05, 2014

Podcast Episode 25: The GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY Are Here To Save The Summer

To quote a certain blaster-toting raccoon, "Oh...YEAH."

This summer has been pretty fucking grim.  With the exception of 22 Jump Street, it's been a a steady stream of mediocre box office filler like Hercules or outright trainwrecks like Transformers: Age Of Extinction.  That's not to say that the summer's been a complete waste, but even the few bright spots like Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes, Snowpiercer and X-Men: Days Of Future Past have been largely dark and serious affairs - all three movies center around global apocalypse!  Where's the humor?  Where's the rollicking adventure?  WHERE'S THE GODDAMN FUN?

Turns out the fun lies with a sentient tree on the far side of the galaxy.

Marvel's Guardians Of The Galaxy, by far the company's biggest gamble to date, is an outright cinematic miracle.  On paper this, this movie simply should not exist.  Seriously, the very idea of a studio giving the Troma-raised James Gunn $170 million to make an outer space movie starring That Guy From Parks & Rec, a professional wrestler, a green-skinned assassin, a walking tree who only speaks three words and a smart-ass cyborg raccoon is absolutely preposterous.  The fact that it not only exists but has the same pound for pound entertainment value as The Avengers, a movie that needed five other films to set the stage before it could even happen, is mind boggling.

And yet, all these things are true.

Guardians Of The Galaxy finally sends the Marvel universe rocketing out into space and it's a fascinating place packed with oddball characters with whom you can't help but fall in love.  Sure, each character has their own particular set of quirks (Drax doesn't understand metaphors, Star-Lord is a font of 80's pop-culture references) that are essentially appealing on their own but it's the performances that truly elevate the material.  Chris Pratt cements himself as legit movie star (surely a relief to the Jurassic World producers) and Dave Bautista is an absolute joy on-screen, while Bradley Cooper brings a both acerbic wit and a wounded vulnerability to Rocket.  And for all the jokes about Vin Diesel playing a tree who only has one line, you'd be surprised just how much context and emotion can be conveyed solely in the phrase "I am Groot."  Special recognition should also be paid to Zoe Saldana and Karen Gillan as Gamora and Nebula, the daughters of Thanos.  Both characters are a tad clunky on the page, constantly tasked with delivering necessary exposition and explanation.  Yet each of these actresses just ooze so much charm and personality on screen that they're almost able to trick the audience into walking away thinking their characters are more substantial.  Still, they're each total badasses, and while their characters feel a bit thin I expect both will be much better served in their second outing.

This wonderfully endearing collection of misfits is what sets Guardians apart not just from the rest of 2014's summer movies, but all other Marvel movies as well.  The Avengers is probably the closest analog here, but even they are just a bunch of folks who fight together out of a sense of duty and honor.  They feel more like a group of friendly coworkers who do a job and then go home to their respective lives.  By the time the end credits roll, the Guardians are already so much more than that.  They're not just friends, they're family.  That's a dynamic that we haven't really seen in Marvel's previous films and it's so simple and affecting that I didn't even realize it was something I had been missing.

And that music!  THAT MUSIC!  Holy hell.  I really dig the score by Tyler Bates, particularly his main theme, but I defy you to walk out of this movie without humming any of the ridiculously catchy tunes that create the rich musical tapestry which seems happily omnipresent throughout the film's running time.  My only gripe is that Guardians didn't come out in June.  If it had, Peter Quill's Awesome Mix Volume 1 (available for download, naturally) would have absolutely been everyone's soundtrack of the summer.

Episode 25 of the podcast, featuring the return of my brother Tim, sees us breaking the film down character by character, along with lots of speculation as to how the Guardians might fit into Marvel's bigger picture heading into Phase 3.  Jamie reveals her own master plan for how Captain/Ms. Marvel should be woven into the MCU and, in light of Simon West's stated desire to see a space-based Con-Air 2, we all list off movies that deserve a crazy sequel set in outer space.  Also, I'm an idiot for not only saying there are five Infinity Stones (there are six) but also for referring to Yondu as Yondo through the entire podcast.  What can I say?  It was late and I still had to pack for an early flight.

Next Week: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, with special guests!

July 31, 2014

Three More Minutes Of BIRDMAN! "There You Go, You Motherfucker!"

While everyone else is fawning over 3 seconds of Johnny Depp's wolf-fingers in that new Into The Woods teaser, I'll be watching this new Birdman trailer on a constant loop.

Now if you'll excuse me...

July 29, 2014

Podcast Episode 24: HERCULES and LUCY Raise The Bar For Stupid

If you like dumb action, then have I got a podcast for you.

This week Bart and I tackled not one, but TWO action movies that sound great on paper but ultimately fall short of their own massive potential.  I had very high hopes for each of these movies to clear a very low bar.  Instead they both managed to trip over it.

First you've got Lucy, the latest film from Luc Besson starring Scarlet Johansson as a party girl who gets accidentally dosed with a new synthetic drug that gives her superpowers.  In fact, the entire premise is built upon the patently untrue assertion that humans only use 10% of their brains, so as the drugs activate more and more of Lucy's mental capacity (illustrated by towering percentage title cards interspersed throughout the film) her ability to control matter, energy, time and space all increase exponentially.  Now that sounds pretty fucking stupid, but it's the kind of stupid that I kind of adore.  And Johansson's flat, emotionless persona (this makes her performance in Under The Skin look downright bubbly) only makes her delivery of such dialogue as "I can feel my brain" all the more entertaining.  Throw in scene after scene of Morgan Freeman either soliloquizing idiocy in the guise of hard science or staring at Johansson in abject befuddlement and we could have had an all-time classic on our hands.  If only Besson had used all that brain percentage nonsense as the starting point for any kind of compelling story or character trajectory.  Instead the movie wanders aimlessly while Lucy does and says non-specific cosmic shit and Korean gangsters, led by a criminally underutilized Choi Min-sik, shoot up French hospital seemingly just because.  That's what's most frustrating about Lucy: while there's plenty of entertaining action and slick special effects, it's all completely unmotivated by anything at all.  Shit just occurs.  It's exhausting.

On the other hand there's Hercules, starring The Rock wearing a lion for a hat.  Actually, it's more of a hoodie, since he literally flips the lion head back and forth depending on his particular mood.  At one point he tosses a horse across a battlefield.  Yes, that's right, HE THROWS A GODDAMN HORSE.  How is this not the best movie of all time?  Part of the fault lies in the script and part of it lies in the marketing.  None of it lies in The Rock.*

I'm honestly not sure if Paramount's marketing department was trying to do some kind of cute subversion-of-expectations thing or if they just didn't know how to sell the movie they had and settled on a deceptive bait & switch routine instead.  Seriously, just watch this trailer:

That looks like an epic tale of a Greek demi-god battling a host of weird creatures while defending an oppressed people from an army of demons sent from the underworld, right?  That is not the case.  In fact, not only is Hercules not that kind of movie, it actively mocks and berates those movies.  This Hercules is just a really strong dude with a mind for military tactics.  He's not even really a soldier, he's the leader of a band of mercenaries.  They play into Hercules' own mythology and even employ his nephew as a storyteller who bolsters his allies' confidence or weakens his enemies' resolve, depending on the situation.  Herc, along with his merry band of badasses, wanders the countryside from job to job, hoping to retire and live out his days in solitude after maybe causing the death of his wife and children.  And here's the thing: that doesn't sound bad!  A grizzled, guilt-ridden Hercules who outsmarts his enemies a travels with a group of hired guns?  Sign me up!

But you lied to me, Paramount.  You got me all hot and bothered to see The Rock fight mythological monsters and then five minutes into the movie you basically spat in my face.  All that business with the Hydra and Nimean Lion and Cerberus the three-headed dog?  It's all bullshit.  What's in that trailer is essentially the sum total of what's in the movie and none of it turns out to be real.  That cool fire whip that grabs Hercules by the neck?  In the actual movie that's a whip made of bones and those fire effects are nowhere to be seen.  All John Hurt's talk of "an army descended from Hades"?  I don't even think that line is ever spoken.  That's some trailer-only ADR right there.  It's such a shame.  When it comes right down to it, what I really want is to watch a Hercules movie where The Rock kills a guy with one punch to the face, not one where he sneakily hides arrowheads in his fist to make himself look cooler.  Still, I probably would've enjoyed this movie so much more if only I didn't feel like I had been tricked into seeing it.

Bart and I cover all this and plenty more in Episode 24 of the podcast before delving into some of the news that came out of San Diego Comic Con and then drooling over that Mad Max: Fury Road footage.  I'm happy to say that this is easily the best sounding episode of the podcast to date thanks to some newly  acquired microphones.  (Thanks, eBay!)  Also, there's a silly little easter egg for those of you who listen all the way to the end.

Next week we're talking Guardians Of The Motherfucking Galaxy.  I can't wait.

*How do you know when to refer to him as Dwayne Johnson and when to refer to him as The Rock?  I've chosen to employ Justice Potter Stewart's approach to pornography: I know it when I see it.

July 23, 2014

Benedict Cumberbatch vs The Enigma Machine In The First Trailer For THE IMITATION GAME

Alan Turing has been all over the news in recent months.  First he received a posthumous pardon from the Queen of England after the state convicted him in 1952 for gross indecency, a.k.a. being gay.  Even if he hadn't committed suicide, a royal pardon would have been cold comfort after the British government had him chemically castrated for his "crimes."  Then in June there were claims that a computer had actually passed the Turing Test, a method for distinguishing artificial intelligence from human intelligence, although those claims remain suspect at best.

Now Turing is getting his own movie, The Imitation Game, which looks primarily focused on Turing's time as a British codebreaker during World War II.  He was largely responsible for breaking the Nazi's seemingly impenetrable Enigma code, which helped to turn the tide and (spoilers!) bring victory to the Allied forces.  I really hope that Turing's homosexuality is more than a historical footnote here, but I suspect this movie has little interest in telling that story.  Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Turing alongside Keira Knightley, Mark Strong and the seemingly ageless Matthew Goode.  Charles Dance also shows up, for all you Tywin Lannister fans out there.  There is no sign of Peter Dinklage or a crossbow. 

For those of you who prefer the written word to the moving image, Turing has a heavy presence in Neal Stephenson's incredible and dense novel Cryptonomicon, required reading for anyone interested in modern or historical cryptography. I first discovered Turing in middle school when I was reading Richard Hanley's The Metaphysics Of Star Trek.  You know, like all the cool kids do.

July 22, 2014

Edgar Wright's Next Movie Is Called BABY DRIVER. No, Seriously.

We were all very sad to see Edgar Wright depart Marvel's Ant-Man movie, but when Kevin Feige closes a door, Working Title opens another, more British door.

Deadline is reporting that Wright's next movie will be Baby Driver, a film that seems destined for a better title.  Apparently Wright has been working on the script for some time, whereas the title was slapped together haphazardly.  The project must be decently developed at this point because Wright's frequent producing partner Nira Park and the chaps over at Working Title have this thing on the fast track (to a better title).

No word on whether or not Simon Pegg or Nick Frost will have any involvement but I kind of doubt it at this point.  The Cornetto Trilogy is brilliant and finished.  I suspect that all parties involved understand the value of moving on to explore new artistic avenues, although that doesn't preclude a reunion tour of sorts a few years down the line.  In fact, one seems almost inevitable, but only when Wright, pictured above contemplating a less dumb title, is good and ready.

There's also no word on the film's plot.  According to Mike Fleming at Deadline, "The described as a collision of crime, action, music and sound."  I describe that sentence as a collision of words, punctuation and grammar.

Kind of like that title.