(Netflix Streaming, August 2018) It’s actually amazing, these days, how much effort and resources can go in making movies that barely make a blip on the cultural radar. We’re told that Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows cost $135M, a reasonable amount for a live-action film featuring CGI characters on-screen for nearly its entire duration, and dynamic action sequences—including one in the Amazon River. The film made nearly twice its budget back, which today means that it’s not nearly enough to offset marketing and other expenses. As a result, this is likely the end of the road for this third Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movie series—a reboot is likely to follow at some point. And yet, and yet, Out of the Shadows itself is often too uninteresting to be memorable. While it’s slightly better than the original—at least in terms of presenting a halfway-intriguing premise—, the film is practically a case study in 2010s blockbuster cinema and how, once the shouting and the explosions are over, it can be instantly forgotten. Out of the Shadows, like its predecessor, really comes alive during its action sequences: The highway chase sequence, the Brazilian river sequence and the Technodrome ending sequence are director Dave Green’s three claims to viewer enjoyment and excitement. When the film stumbles is in what’s probably a too-gross antagonist in a PG-13 film: Krang is executed as a Lovecraftian nightmare of exposed viscera and tentacles, which is in-keeping with the source material but executed too vividly to be purely enjoyable without a side order of nausea. But Out of the Shadows doesn’t, in the end, amount to much—if you’re a Turtles fan, you got your sequel. Otherwise, you got yet another CGI-heavy spectacle forgotten a week later. Such is the norm today.
(On Cable TV, April 2014) I happened to see Earth to Echo, a found-footage Science-Fiction film for young teenagers, at the end of a week where I’d seen one other dull YA SF film and two other found-footage films. To say that I wasn’t well-predisposed toward yet another found-footage film or YA SF, would be an understatement. But there is a bit of charm running through Earth to Echo, enough so to forgive the clichés and trend-hopping. It’s about three young teenagers, spending their last day together tracking down a mysterious signal that has taken over their cell phones. The signal leads to relics that assemble to form something much more alien than they expected. Shot through a variety of cameras provided by one of the YouTube-addicted protagonists, Earth to Echo does manage to settle down into a nice narrative rhythm, as the young actors get more comfortable in the roles and the story gets a bit more urgent after the introduction of government agents running at cross-purposes with the group. It’s obviously aimed at younger teenagers (meaning that adults won’t find as much substance to chew on), but the film does manage to grasp the intense but ephemeral nature of teenage friendships, presents a preposterously cute owl-like alien creature, and director Dave Green occasionally builds rushes of adrenaline fit to forgive the generic and predictable plot. Earth to Echo doesn’t play too long at slightly less than 90 minutes. As Science Fiction, it’s basic… but as a small-scale thriller for younger teenagers, it certainly meets its objectives.