Film Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

This review was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 23 September 2014.

Way back in 1984, Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird self-published a single-issue comic, entitled Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Within five years, Turtle Power had swept the world. TMNT merchandise was everywhere. Driven by the popularity of the kiddie friendly cartoon series, we had action figures, lunch boxes, costumes, t-shirts and breakfast cereal. In Australia, a daily tabloid newspaper even gave away collectible TMNT coins. I still have the full set, stored safely somewhere under my parents’ house.

In 1990, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael and Donatello made their way to the silver screen with a live action blockbuster featuring animatronic character heads created by Jim Henson’s Creature Shop. Although very clunky, I have very fond memories of watching the feature alongside my cousins in a packed suburban Sydney cinema during the school holidays.

The film also spun off a top selling soundtrack album featuring some dodgy pop songs which happen to mention turtles in their lyrics (as most pop songs do). There was also quite a media frenzy when white rapper de jour Vanilla Ice was announced to appear in the sequel.

By the time the rushed follow-up big screen adventure was released a year later, the TMNT craze had peaked and Mr Ice’s 15 minutes of fame had expired at the 10 minute mark. In 1993, a second sequel debuted to little fanfare.

Following an animated attempt at a reboot in 2007, the “heroes in a half-shell” are back, and if you have kids, your disposable income is anything but safe. Directed by Jonathan Liebesman (Wrath of the Titans, Battle: Los Angeles), this $125 million live action feature is backed by producer Michael Bay.

With motion capture technology utilised to bring the turtles to life, this film is a Michael Bay production in every way but one. It doesn’t run for three hours. Otherwise, all the hallmarks of a Bay production are present: it’s an overblown, flimsy, yawn inducing disposable piece of toy marketing.

“Actress” Megan Fox stars as April O’Neil. An on-screen charisma vacuum, she is outdone by men in body stockings covered with ping pong balls in terms of acting and depth of character. Funny man Will Arnett is wasted as April’s cameraman, Vern Fenwick. And what on earth is Whoopi Goldberg doing here in a particularly unfunny cameo as O’Neil’s television news channel editor?

The plot follows puff piece TV presenter O’Neil as she attempts to uncover the mysterious Foot Clan which has infiltrated New York City. Witnessing an attack be thwarted by four turtle shaped shadows, she meets our heroes…you know the rest.

Plot holes abound but will probably go over the heads of the intended audience. A not-so-subtle plug for a certain pizza company that is associated with huts (not Jabba) made my wonder how one gets food delivered to a sewer. And a convenient new link between key characters, similar to the recent Spider-Man reboots contributes nothing but frustration. The 3D is passable but adds very little, except the ability to snooze with no-one noticing.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a definite miss in my books, but what do I know? The film has already grossed $333 million. Expect sequels, hopefully sans Vanilla Ice.

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Published in: on October 5, 2014 at 14:38  Leave a Comment  
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TV Review: Gotham

This review was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 7 October 2014.

In the comic adaption wars, Marvel may well and truly own the silver screen but DC has rapidly cemented its domination of our televisions. I’m a recent convert to Arrow, now about to enter its third season. With compelling characters and a gritty revenge based overarching storyline, it is easy to binge on an episode or five.

Joining the DC ranks will be the Arrow spin-off The Flash, premiering in the States tonight. Existing in the same universe, I’m looking forward to enjoying the adventures of Barry Allen following his encounter with an exploding particle accelerator and then being struck by lightning (as you do). Let’s hope it fares better than the 1990 series which starred John Wesley Shipp (who will appear in the new Flash series as the lead’s father) in an awkward Michael Keaton Batman inspired rubbery suit.

Already out of the gate this year is Gotham, a drama series set in the Batman universe. Actually, make that the pre-Batman universe. Focusing on a young Detective Gordon (The O.C.’s Ben McKenzie), the pilot episode opens with the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne. Gordon bonds with the now orphaned Bruce Wayne (David Mazouz) at the scene of the crime. At this moment, they are both set on their paths to become the future straight edge Police Commissioner and masked vigilante Batman. If you don’t know whom becomes who, then you probably should stop reading here.

For the casual Batman movie watcher, the references to future members of the Rogues Gallery is about as subtle as Bat nipples. A young girl tending to her plants introduces herself as Ivy. An ambitious criminal receives a beating that renders him with a penguin-like limp. A forensic specialist at the Gotham City Police Department likes to tell riddles. A young thief clad in all black likes to climb on things and often coughs up fur-balls (I made that last bit up).

Die hard fans will also appreciate the appearance of mob leader Fish Mooney (a fantastic Jada Pinkett Smith), as well as Detectives Renee Montoya (Victoria Cartagena) and Crispus Allen (Andrew Stewart-Jones), all relatively minor characters in the Batman universe.

The rendering of Gotham City is quite spectacular, in a comfortable hybrid of Christopher Nolan’s modern boom town and Tim Burton’s gothic megalopolis. At a glance, there’s no doubt that this is Gotham.

Here’s the thing. I’ve seen the first two episodes and come to the conclusion that what this show needs is Batman. Sure, the similarly veined Smallville kept Clark Kent out of the Superman suit for ten seasons (with the exception of the very last few seconds of the show) but the series still centred on Kal-El coming to grips with his powers. The only great change coming up for Gotham’s Bruce Wayne is puberty.

Comic book readers and film fanatics are programmed to appreciate Detective / Commissioner Gordon as a supporting character. I honestly don’t know if I can sit through at least a decade of this show waiting for Batman to appear.

Published in: on October 5, 2014 at 14:23  Leave a Comment  
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Film Review: X-Men: Days of Future Past

This review was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 27th May 2014.

After a lacklustre second sequel, an enjoyable prequel and two disappointing Wolverine solo outings, director Bryan Singer returns to take over the reigns of the X-Men franchise with X-Men: Days of Future Past. Combining the retro cast of X-Men: First Class (2013) and many of the significant characters from the original, Singer has crafted a mega lineup of mutants that should have any comic film fan salivating. The time bending plot will not disappoint. Unfortunately, as is the way with these sorts of features, not everyone gets enough screen time to satisfy.

In the distant future, mutant exterminating machines called Sentinels have almost wiped out all of the X-Men. A rag tag group of survivors led by Professor Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart) and Magneto (Ian McKellen) realise that their whole situation is a direct result of the assassination of the creator of the Sentinel programme, Dr Bolivar Trask (Peter Dinklage) by mutant Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) in the seventies. Using Kitty Pryde’s (Ellen Page) time travelling powers, Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) is sent back to convince Professor Xavier and Magneto’s younger selves (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, respectively) to put their issues aside and fight to save the future.

Although a welcome presence on the screen, I’m not entirely sure how it is that Patrick Stewart’s Professor Xavier is alive and well in this film. Last seen being blown into smithereens in X-Men: The Last Stand (2006), he then popped up in the post-credits sequence of The Wolverine (2013) with no explanation. I assume his mind control is so great that he can will himself back into existence. In that case, why not also fix your legs and get rid of the wheelchair? Never mind.

Bookended by scenes in the future, the majority of the film takes place in the seventies. Fish out of water Wolverine (Jackman absolutely inhabiting his signature character) attempting to bring the warring parties together leads to many memorable moments, in particular an excellent sequence featuring Quicksiver (Evan Peters) slowing time to ensure Magneto’s breakout from the Pentagon. McAvoy and Fassbender bring back their chemistry as the feuding mutant leaders but once again, Jennifer Lawrence proves that she can steal a movie from anyone. She looks great in blue body paint too.

Hot from Game of Thrones, Peter Dinklage is charismatic as the porno ‘tached Trask. Perfectly cast, it is significant that his lack of stature is not even mentioned in the film.

Back to the future (Marty), Stewart, McKellan and Halle Berry’s Storm have little in the way of dialogue, which is a shame for the two former and not so much for the latter. In fact, the biggest chunk of dialogue Stewart gets is in the much anticipated scene with McAvoy as the older (and balder) Xavier meets his younger counterpart. Like the iconic scene in Heat which saw De Niro finally share the screen with Pacino, the double Professor X scene is brief but noteworthy.

The CGI heavy action sequences are well done, with the imposing Sentinels particularly threatening. The scenes set in the future are quite dark, which might frustrate those viewing in 3D (I went to a 2D screening).

With an impressive array of cameos, Singer certainly knows how to craft a compelling X-Men tale. I don’t find his directorial style to be distinctive at all, but I suppose it is comforting to know that all of the franchise entries have the same look and feel. I don’t know if that’s a criticism of other franchise directors Brett Ratner, Matthew Vaughn, Gavin Hood and James Mangold, or a compliment to Singer’s obvious influence on the X-Men movies.

From a storytelling perspective, the events of X-Men: Days of Future Past make the plots of the original trilogy redundant. I suppose this splitting of timelines ala the recent Star Trek reboot will allow for more stories to be told, but I dislike my previous investment in the earlier movies to have gone to waste.

Farewell Whitney, Dr House… Hello Steve Winwood

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 14th February 2012.

This past weekend brought the news of Whitney Houston’s untimely passing. When Michael Jackson died on June 25 2009, the pay TV music stations ceased their regular programming and switched to non-stop Jackson videos. This did not happen with Houston. I’m not particularly surprised. Although arguably as big in the late eighties as The King of Pop, Houston’s days as a viable creative or commercial act were long behind her.

I only own one Whitney Houston CD. I bought it in 1987 with the money I had saved from collecting aluminium cans. I lost interest soon after. In Whitney, that is, not in collecting cans for money. Most of her fans from the eighties probably did the same.

It is always sad when drugs claim a life, regardless of whether they were famous. In Whitney’s case, it is such a waste. The knockout voice had departed but she had real potential for a comeback as an actress. Although I don’t care for the film or Kevin Costner, Houston was showed charisma in The Bodyguard.

 

Why is it that every time I go to the new supermarket, they are playing Steve Winwood’s 1986 hit Higher Love? I hadn’t heard it for years, and then in the space of a few days, twice I’ve found myself singing along as I wander the aisles. They’ve obviously done their research. Somewhere in the world, lab technicians in white coats are testing the effects of Huey Lewis on the shopping habits of rats. Well, the Winwood certainly made me increase my expenditure. Unfortunately for the supermarket, I just bought my usual stuff and then went home to order a copy of Steve Winwood’s greatest hits CD online.

 

Fox announced the cancellation of House last week. After eight seasons, this current one will be the last. As far as I’m concerned, the show had flatlined years ago. Recent ratings would suggest that most people agree with me. There is no doubt that the acerbic Gregory House will go down as one of the great TV doctors of all time, brought to life by the brilliant Hugh Laurie (although someone should have taught him to hold his walking stick in the correct hand).

Although it initially made for fascinating viewing, House was very formulaic. If you were one of Doctor House’s patients, you might want to get another physician. You are guaranteed to get a little better, then much worse, then a little better, then much, much worse, whilst House’s team of medicos misdiagnose you over and over again on a clear perspex whiteboard. Eventually, you’ll survive but only after lots of convulsing.

As ratings began to slide, the producers and writers resorted to more outlandish and silly storylines. Dr House goes to the mental asylum. He finally gets together with Cuddy but they hit turbulence which results in House driving his car into her, er, house. He goes to goal and jumps over a shark whilst waterskiing.

If there are two things I’ve learnt from watching TV, it’s to leave town when Jessica Fletcher arrives, because someone is going to die, and to avoid being admitted to Princeton-Plainsboro Teaching Hospital (House) or Seattle Grace Mercy West Hospital (Grey’s Anatomy). The medical staff are incompetent or way too distracted with each other to keep you alive. Try Eastman Medical Center and ask for Doogie Howser, M.D.

Terra Nova: hit or miss TV?

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This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 4th October 2011.

Steven Spielberg’s latest science fiction creation for television, Terra Nova, premiered this past Sunday night. A big budget affair, there are high hopes for this series from its studio Fox and production company, Spielberg’s Amblin Television.

Terra Nova begins on Earth in 2149. The polluted atmosphere is barely breathable and the law dictates that couples may only have two children due to overpopulation. Scientists have discovered a rift in the space-time continuum allowing vital personnel such as doctors, scientists and lawyers (I’m joking about the last one) plus lucky lottery winners to jump back 85 million years to Earth’s Cretaceous period. Fortunately, this Earth is also in an alternate time stream so the events of the past cannot affect the future.

In the new settlement of Terra Nova, doctor Elizabeth Shannon and her two children are secretly joined by her former cop and now prison escapee husband Jim and their illegal third child. Can they survive in a world populated by hungry dinosaurs living in a fenced village (or is it a hamlet, I can never remember) under military rule? Only future episodes and ratings will tell.

So far, things are looking up for this fledgling series. Ratings in the US are acceptable (just) and reviews have been generally positive with an aggregated score of 65% on Metacritic. Thirteen episodes have been ordered so at least we’ll get a decent story arc and season one box set to buy.

Executive producer Steven Spielberg has a mixed track record when it comes to television. He has overseen critical and popular hits such as The Pacific and The United States of Tara as well as flops such as Seaquest DSV and Amazing Stories. He is also not afraid of covering familiar ground and recycling old ideas. Alien abduction series Taken was a retread of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. This year’s Falling Skies feels a lot like War of the Worlds. Band of Brothers was a close relation to Saving Private Ryan. Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment also produced Earth 2, a short-lived sci-fi series with an extremely similar premise to Terra Nova.

Reportedly Spielberg vetoed Terra Nova’s proposed filming location of Hawaii in favour of Queensland. Jurassic Park’s lush forest locations were mostly shot in Hawaii and Spielberg wanted to differentiate them from Terra Nova’s lush forest locations.

I’d like to suggest that it’s not the trees that would make viewers think that Terra Nova is Jurassic Park-lite. That would be the fenced compound, armoured vehicles and the, wait for it, dinosaurs.

It certainly hasn’t been smooth sailing for the show so far. The pilot episode premiere was pushed back from May to September due to delays in completing the visual CGI effects. One of thirteen executive producers, David Fury, departed due to creative differences, and torrential rain delayed filming and damaged sets in Queensland.

I enjoyed the two hour pilot episode. The no-name cast was appropriately believable, the set and locations decent and the dinosaurs menacing. My only gripe was that perhaps too much was packed into the storyline. The rebellious teenage son got himself in and then out of trouble. Dad was shunned and then accepted into the security team. We met the breakaway settlement (the bad guys) and they attacked. Dinosaurs ate stuff, including people. How could so much happen in one day? It’s a good thing the storyline has established that the time travelling is one way only, otherwise I’d be on the first trip back to the polluted future.

With a production budget of $4 million per episode, Terra Nova is one of the most expensive TV series ever. Decent sci-fi is hard to find so let’s hope it survives past one season. A good indication will be if it manages to hold onto its Sunday 8:30pm timeslot. The ominous sign of a shift to 11:30pm on Wednesday right after the Proactiv ads will be an indication that Terra Nova is an endangered species.

Terra Nova airs Sunday nights (for now) at 8:30pm on Ten.

Published in: on October 17, 2011 at 05:18  Leave a Comment  
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Film Props: The Ultimate Collectible

This column was originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 24th August 2010.

Are you the ultimate movie fan? Is there one film that floats your boat the most? The problem is, how do you show your true devotion? Buying the DVD or blu-ray disc is an obvious choice, but anyone can do that. You can tell the world online, but who cares what a bunch of nerds think? You might buy the poster and frame it on your wall, but between your local cinema and the video store, posters are a dime a dozen.

For the hardcore movie devotee there is a new level of fandom, owning a genuine prop from the production. Why worship a poster of that Predator when you can actually buy a genuine life size Predator costume?

Classically, film studios warehoused and archived their costumes and props to be reused. In recent times, modern manufacturing techniques combined with the sheer cost of storing and maintaining all of these items have resulted in film studios beginning to offload these props and costumes to collectors.

Fox Studios currently operate an ebay store called VIP Fan Auctions. Collectibles from such films as G.I. Joe, Up in the Air and Shutter Island have been up for auction recently. I would think that the most highly prized collectible from Shutter Island would be the script. If I owned that, I might have a chance to work out what exactly happened in that brain boggling flick. The script for G.I. Joe would also be valuable and rare, especially since I’m not entirely sure that the movie was made with one.

By the time you read this column, auctions will be closing on a bunch of items from recently axed Fox shows Ugly Betty and 24. Fancy owning Betty Suarez’ rabbit fur scarf or Jack Bauer’s long-sleeve thermal shirt? Bid now, but be warned. The latter is currently sitting at US$630.

The best source of film props and costumes I have found so far is The Prop Store. Based in London and Los Angeles, they will ship your collectible to anywhere in the world, for a price. Their website is a film geek’s paradise, but be prepared to pay top dollar. Rest assured though, they do offer an interest free payment plan. With fixed prices, there’s no chance of that annoying last second ebay gazumping.

Perhaps you’re a fan of the Batman movies? For just US$12000 you can own Val Kilmer’s cowl and chest armour, complete with those controversial nipples. Lovingly mounted on a custom build frame, you’ll be pleased to know that your bat ears have been stuffed to keep them “looking pointy and ready for business.”

Gremlins 2: The New Batch was a fun sequel which took Gizmo and pals to the Big Apple. With a price tag of US$4995, you can take home a real Gremlin, which featured in the background of the film. Constructed of foam latex, this trouble making critter has animatronic arms and moving clawed fingers.

At the more affordable end of the scale are smaller prop items which were usually mass produced for the production. A bus schedule from Speed will only set you back US$145. A chocolate bar label from Tim Burton’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory is a bargain at US$59. Three balloons featuring the face of Orlando Bloom (or Orloondo Bland as I like to call him, sorry Miranda) used in the film The Calcium Kid can be yours for only US$12.

So in these uncertain financial times, why risk your future on gold or stocks? The only sound investment nowadays is in Alien egg sacs and Back to the Future hoverboards.

http://www.vipfanauctions.com

http://www.propstore.com

Published in: on August 26, 2010 at 13:08  Leave a Comment  
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