(Netflix Streaming, November 2015) I did not expect much from this latest eponymous effort to revive the Turtles for the big screen: I’ve never been a big fan of the TMNT comic books, TV show or toys, and the various attempts to make a big-screen franchise out of them over the years are starting to look desperate. This latest version bets heavily on special effects to create computer-animated versions of the turtles set against a live-action New York. Much of it is almost instantly forgettable, except for a surprisingly good action sequence set on a snowy mountain (conveniently located near New York). Director Jonathan Liebesman is most at easy handling big action spectacles, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has a big truck sliding down a snow-covered incline, with ninja turtles jumping all over the place in an effort to do something fairly trivial. It’s the sole (but significant) highlight of a film that otherwise doesn’t manage to make different characters out of its amphibian heroes, nor make much out of its human characters (as nice as it can be to see Megan Fox on-screen again.) Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’s tone is resolutely juvenile despite half-hearted attempt at fake grittiness, and ILM’s top-notch special effects work doesn’t quite manage to keep things interesting outside the action sequences. Having no real reason to exist except to sell toys and reboot a franchise of undistinguishable films. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles seems to exemplify the worst in contemporary blockbuster filmmaking: so much effort for so little results, forgotten as soon as the next such effort makes it to the big screens. My low expectations weren’t even partially met.
(On Cable TV, October 2015) Comedies about unlikable protagonists are a tricky act to keep up: There’s a limit to the amount of bad behavior that audiences will tolerate before tuning out, and at times it looks as if How to Lose Friends & Alienate People isn’t afraid to test this limit. Reportedly based on the true story of Englishman Toby Young working for American magazines, this film features Simon Pegg playing one of his most unlikable character: a fame-obsessed smarter-than-thou obnoxious shmuck, gifted with the ability to annoy people almost instantly. He’s surprised when the fights he picks come back to haunt him, while the audience rolls their eyes. Much of the film seems aimless, jumping from one set-piece to another without much connective tissue. When How to Lose Friends & Alienate People does remember that it is a romantic comedy, it’s almost too late to care. Similarly, the film goes from a prickly but interesting comedy to a far more conventional romantic vehicle as it goes along, although it is far from being the only such movie to suffer that fate. I suspect that Toby Young’s autobiography is far more interesting, and that the film fell victim to the adaptation-standardization process. There are, fortunately, a few intermittent bright spots here and there, particularly in taking a look at celebrity journalist and the New York magazine scene. Pre-fame Megan Fox shows up as an object of desire, while Kirsten Dunst shows up for an undemanding role as the hero’s true love. Still, there’s a sense of missed opportunities, of pointless unpleasantness here that prevent How to Lose Friends & Alienate People from leaving a better impression. At least Pegg gets to play a real cad for once, and doesn’t screw it up.
(On DVD, October 2010) “Not as terrible as rumoured” isn’t much of a positive review, but given how Jonah Hex was savaged upon release as one of the worst big-budget release of 2010 (with rumours of a very troubled production), it’s almost a relief to watch the film and notice a few worthwhile things. Much of those, alas, are conceptual rather than actual: It’s a movie that sounds a lot better than it plays largely because it ineptly executes its most interesting ideas. Part of the problem is the script’s middle-of-the-road commitment to the Hex comic book mythology’s most outlandish aspects: The resulting film feels as if it never commits to full-blown fantastical concepts, and its occasional anachronism feel like weak sauce in today’s steampunk-knowledgeable media universe. It’s not often that Wild Wild West is held up as an example to follow, but it –at least- didn’t forget to have some fun in introducing anachronistic concepts in a Western setting. Worse yet is Jonah Hex’s execution of what it chooses to embrace: Thanks to the scattered direction, It’s not rare to figure out after the fact what the film was trying to do, and think that there was a far more coherent way to achieve it. It’s violent without being gory, and yet displeasingly so in a film that otherwise seems suited for an escapist romp. As such, Jonah Hex limps along from one semi-interesting scene to another, and it ends (after a mere 80 minutes) with an underwhelming, overly-familiar whimper. So, what are its good points? While Megan Fox’s character is useless and John Malkovich is wasted as the antagonist, Josh Brolin does a fine tortured Hex. There are occasional flourishes of direction in, say, resorting to comic-book panels to show what would have been unbearable to watch as live action, and there is some interesting twisted western imagery in the mix. But even with those advantages, Jonah Hex goes in the “almost” category: almost interesting, almost good and almost worth watching.
(In theatres, September 2009) Juno, Mamma Mia! and the Transformers have little in common except for how they set up expectations (and reactions) to this hum-drum horror/comedy movie in which a high-school sexpot is transformed in a man-eating succubus. Would screenwriter Diablo Cody resurrect a tired genre with her lively dialogue? Would Amanda Seyfried look less like a froggy muppet? Would Megan Fox know what to do without giant robots around? But while Jennifer’s Body is more interesting than most of the other teen horror movies out there, it’s practically the definition of a sophomore slump: Unsatisfying, disjointed and “off” in ways that are hard to pin down precisely. (Although if you want an idea of why the dialogue doesn’t always work, wait for the “Wikipedia” line.) While the script shows moments of cleverness, genre-twisting and killer quips in answering the age-old question “what if the virgin sacrifice wasn’t a virgin?”, the plot as a whole seems to advance in unnatural fashion as determined by the screenwriter: Motivations are suspect, clichés abound, scenes don’t make much sense and even the self-conscious dialogue heightens the artificiality of the story. Worst of all, Jennifer’s Body seems curiously unambitious in what it’s trying to do: the comedy falls flat, the horror is banal, the metaphors are weak and more than a few scenes seem to go through the expected beats. At least some of the actors do well: well-cast Fox gets a bit more to do here than in Transformers, while Seyfried shows signs of being able to outgrow her current round-faced cuteness. Overall, though, Jennifer’s Body is a letdown considering the anticipation surrounding its release, and a generally lacklustre film even taken solely on its own. While its surface qualities are interesting (it’s a rare high-profile horror film written and directed by women, acknowledging teenage sexuality, and featuring two actresses with only secondary roles for the actors), it’s far less subversive than you may expect or hope for.