FlixChatter Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

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For anyone who grew up in the late 80s and early 90s, you probably heard of the Ninja Turtles even if you were not a fan. As a young boy back in those days, I was a huge fan of the turtles, my brother and I used to watch the morning cartoon show every day and I’ve watched the original film countless times on VHS. The first film released back in 1990 was a huge hit but unfortunately the two sequels that followed were quite awful and the franchise went on hiatus for a few years. The studio tried to restart the film franchise with a CG animation and released an animated movie simply called TMNT back in 2007. Even with voices by well known actors such as Sarah Michelle Gellar, Chris Evans and Patrick Stewart, the movie never caught on with the public. For a while many thought the franchise was dead, at one time John Woo was attached to produce and direct another film version but of course that never happened. The franchise ended up in the hands of Michael Bay and now we’re finally got to see another live action movie version.

With a comic book style introduction, this new movie takes us right into the chaos. Apparently Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) and his foot clan army have been terrorizing the citizens of NYC for a while and it seems to no one can stop or find him. Young reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox) is eager to become a real reporter and wants to find out who these foot clan are and what they’re planning to do next. One night she ran into the clan’s illegal activity and then witnessed the clan being took out by some mysterious figures. This scene was basically a rip-off of scene from Nolan’s Batman Begins when Batman was introduced, in fact the whole “plot” of this turtle movie was a rip-off of Nolan’s first Batman flick. Of course those mysterious figures turned out to be our heroes the Ninja Turtles. O’Neil wants to break the story about how someone is fighting back against Shredder and his army but without any proof her boss (Whoopi Goldberg) refuse to run the story. In fact she fired O’Neil because she’s becoming an annoyance. Now jobless and still wants to prove that the Turtles do exist, she decided to confide in her late father’s co-worker Eric Sacks (William Fichtner) and told him about the Turtles. Well wouldn’t you know it, Sacks happens to be the minion of Shredder and of course this leads to O’Neil being in danger and our heroes in the half shell came to her rescue.

I went into this movie with very low expectations since it’s directed by journeyman Jonathan Liebesman, the same man who directed some awful flicks including Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning and Battle: Los Angeles. Also, any movie with Michael Bay‘s name attached to it, I just don’t think it will be any good. Surprisingly I thought Liebesman did a pretty decent job with this movie, he remember to hold the cameras steady for most of the action scenes and staged one pretty awesome action sequence. A chase scene with our heroes being pursued by the foot clan army down a snowy mountain, seeing that sequence in 3D was quite great. Unfortunately though, the script by Josh Applebaum, Andre Nemec and Evan Daugherty was quite dreadful. As mentioned earlier the whole plot of this movie was a rip-off of Batman Begins but it’s also full of amateurish humor that only teenage boys will enjoy. One thing I really hated about the script was how they decided to change the origins of the turtles and their master Splinter. It’s so idiotic that I almost laughed out loud when that scene appeared.

Performances wise, you can’t really judge the actors who voiced the turtles so I’ll just focus on the human characters. As we all know Megan Fox can’t act and it’s quite painful watching her “act” in this movie, she’s asked to carry the movie for the first 40 minutes or so and it wasn’t fun watching her trying to act. William Fichtner and Tohoru Masamune didn’t have much to do except playing the straight one dimensional evil characters. Will Arnett showed up as the sidekick to April O’Neil and unfortunately his comedic role was just that, a comedic sidekick. I thought they might make him into Casey Jones by the end but I’m glad that never happened.

The movie wasn’t as bad I expected but it’s still not something adults will enjoy but I’m pretty sure most teenagers will have a great time with this one. I enjoyed some parts of the movie but in the end, it’s just another loud action/adventure movie from Mr. Bayhem.

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Have you seen this one? Well, what did you think?

FlixChatter Review: ELYSIUM

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As a big fan of District 9, I had been looking forward to this for some time. I erroneously thought this was the follow-up to Neill Blomkamp‘s sci-fi thriller set in South Africa when I did this post but by the time the trailer came out, obviously this is an original story that doesn’t involve aliens from another planet.

This sci-fi fantasy takes place in 2154, where the gap between haves and the have-nots have reached astronomical proportion. 99% of humanity’s population are still slumming in a ‘diseased, polluted and vastly overpopulated’ earth, whilst the 1% of the elite and wealthy folks live in the lush and green ELYSIUM. It’s the ultimate ‘gated community’ aboard a lavish space-station where every mansion is complete with robotic servants and magical medical beds that can heal ANY ailments, yes including cancer and a full facial reconstruction surgery in a matter of seconds! Ok, so there’s no superhero in this movie but heck, who needs one when you’ve got a SUPER healing mechanism at your beck and call. Unfortunately, the machine only works if you’re a citizen, and Elysium’s border patrol is equipped with rockets ready to fire at illegal aircrafts entering its airspace.

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Elysium VS Earth – It’s definitely better up there!

Matt Damon plays a down-on-his-luck Max, a parolee who’s dreamed of leaving in Elysium ever since he was a little boy living in an orphanage. There’s one comedic moment in the entire movie where Max had to see a mechanized parole officer, as the rest of the law officers and other service workers are in the form of robots. Things just gets bad to worse when Max gets exposed to a lethal dose of radiation at the factory. With only 5 days to live, he’s desperate to get to Elysium. In order to get up there, Max has to somehow download crucial information from an Elysium citizen’s brain straight to his. That’s what those exoskeleton stuff you see on the film posters are for. The surgery scene is brutal, I have to shut my eyes as metals are drilled and screwed into Max’s body as if he’s a car in auto shop. When he finally comes out of it, Max practically looks like a robot with powered metals attached all over his body and a computer implanted into the back of his head.

I enjoyed watching all the fantastical futuristic elements, and Blomkamp surely isn’t lacking imagination and ambition. What this film also lacks is subtlety, just like D-9 was an allegory for apartheid, Elysium’s political and sociological themes on class warfare, healthcare and immigration are sure to divide audiences. He cites that growing up in South Africa is the main inspiration of the class division theme in this film, and despite the seemingly obvious commentary about border security and universal healthcare, he said that there’s no political agenda here. Even the über Liberal and politically vocal star Matt Damon downplays the political overtone. I think how much those stuff bother you depending on your political views and interest. For me, this is just another big Summer thrill ride that gives us a bit more food-for-thought amidst some bombastic (literally) action sequences.

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Speaking of Damon, I think he acquits himself well here though I didn’t really have as big of a emotional connection as I did with D-9’s character Wikus, who I think is a far more tragic character than Max. I also think that though Max is played out like an action hero (Bourne meets Terminator?) instead of a truly desperate and ruthless character hellbent on saving his own life at any cost. I read that Blomkamp originally wanted Eminem in the role, now I’ve never seen him act before but I wonder if he’d actually do a more convincing job. Jodie Foster as Elysium defense secretary Delacourt is distractingly awful here with her robotic acting style and absurd accent. Yes I know that Blomkamp intended the accent of Elysium residents to be an amalgam of different languages but it just makes me laugh! I wonder if having those residents speak multiple languages (like in the underrated sci-fi drama Code 46) instead of with a myriad of accents might’ve been more realistic.

It’s also too bad that Sharlto Copley is reduced to this sadistic special ops agent whose killing method of choice is blowing people up into pieces. His character can’t be more dissimilar than his debut in District 9, which proves he’s a capable actor, but his villainy role is written like a caricature.  I like the International cast here, Brazilians Wagner Moura and Alice Braga, Mexican Diego Luna, Pakistani-descent Faran Tahir, as well as veteran character actor William Fichtner made up the supporting cast.

In terms of special effects and production quality, clearly this film delivers, thanks to a much bigger budget of $100 mil. But having more money and A-list cast don’t always translate to a better film, in fact, D-9 with its uniquely organic style is still more compelling in terms of my the emotional connection I have with the protagonist. Plus, Elysium is decidedly more ‘Hollywood’ in that it’s more predictable and comes with a feel-good and simplistic ending. Yeah as if it were THAT easy to solve such an extreme class warfare. Seems that Blomkamp ends up being preoccupied packing the third half with relentless fight scenes and stuff blowing up that the finale feels rather out of sync with all the sense of realism and intriguing ideas that preceded it. At a relatively brisk 109 minutes, there’s barely room for character development either, the villains are just evil for evil’s sake with no real motivation.

Final Thoughts: Now, even though I think Elysium is a bit of a downgrade from D-9, there are still many things to appreciate. As I mentioned before, the futuristic space stuff are fun to watch and the story also gives us something to ponder even if we don’t necessarily subscribe to the idealism being presented on screen. It could’ve been a more in depth and compelling film though, alas the the typical Hollywood happy ending keeps this from being a notch above a cool Summer sci-fi escapism.

Three and a half stars out of Five
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What are your thoughts on this movie? Did you like this more or less than I did?

A ‘sequel’ I actually want to see: District 9 follow-up ELYSIUM

One of my favorite films of the last decade was the low-budget sci-fi movie District 9. In my review, I said that it’s such a distinctly moving, poignant and provocative film that makes you ponder long after the end credits roll.

Not long after I saw the film, there’s immediate buzz for an inevitable sequel, which I talked about here, but that was three years ago! It’s certainly taken a while to materialize but Variety reports that SONY has secured a release date of March 1, 2013. Now, with the recent casting news of the South African actor Sharlto Copley as the villain for the American remake of Park Chan-wook’s Korean action thriller Oldboy, it seems like a good time as any to update you on:

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Plot and Production Notes

Like a Christopher Nolan movie, the plot is shrouded in secrecy. Per Deadline, the movie will have the social allegory theme like in District 9, but done in a much bigger scale, set 100 years in the future. However, /Film reported this interview with the film’s producer Simon Kinberg that “… [the sequel is] a very different movie than anything you’ve ever seen before. It’s not necessarily an alien movie … Visually, stylistically it’s actually very different than District 9.”

Hmmm, what does he mean it’s not necessarily an alien movie?? I wonder if he meant that it’s more than just a genre film, much like 28 Days Later is NOT just a zombie movie, or that the film is dealing with something else entirely?

I presume those reading this article knows that at the end of D-9, the protagonist Wikus van der Merwe has transformed into this prawn-like alien being. The ending seems to lend itself to a sequel, but it sounds like the sequel doesn’t pick up the story where it left off.

South African director Neill Blomkamp is back at the helm and has hired famed set designer Syd Mead (Blade Runner, Aliens) to design the set for this film. The budget has jumped from $35 mil for D-9 to roughly $120 mil for Elysium [per THR]. Filming has wrapped last December and is now in post-production work. As Peter Jackson was the executive producer of D-9, his company WETA is now involved in the conceptual design and various special effects for this film.

Casting

One thing for sure, I’m looking forward to seeing Copley teaming up with D-9 director Neill Blomkamp again.

Mr. Copley’s star-power has risen considerably since starring in that film, though he’s only been seen in The A-Team since then. I think he’s perfectly capable in carrying a movie on his own, as he did in D-9, in fact I liked him so much that I wrote this article on how a lot of Hollywood A-listers can learn from him.

Well, two A-listers have in fact joined the cast: Jodie Foster and Matt Damon.

Damon had this to say just before filming started:

I’ve never done anything quite like this and I kind of responded to what’s out there and what’s in and what’s good. The movie is going to be good, he showed me basically the entire world which he’s going to build and it’s really, really exciting. And I can’t wait! – per MovieWeb

Jodie Foster is said to be playing a leader of an alien planet. She revealed to TotalFilm that the main reason she signed on to the film was because it was a chance to work with Blomkamp.

“Yes, definitely. He did District 9, which I think is as close to a perfect movie as you can get … It’s just an extraordinary film. And, this film has a lot of that social commentary in it, but uses sci-fi to get there. It’s great.”

There’s no news yet what role Matt Damon will be playing but judging from this Vancouver set photos of him with a shaved head wearing a prison jumpsuit and has some sort of futuristic weapon thing-y strapped on him, my guess is he’s an ex-con who managed to escape?

Anyway, the rest of the Internationally-diverse cast includes Mexican actor Diego Luna, Brazilians Wagner Moura and Alice Braga, and go-to New Yorker character actor William Fichtner.

Viral Campaign

What’s brilliant about D-9 is the bizarre but brilliant ‘Non-Human’ viral marketing campaign. Now virtually every major movie, for better for worse, have employed similar strategy. /Film posted this poster on the right spotted at Comic-con last year that points to a website with this video clip below. Basically it’s a recruitment video by a fake company called Armadyne seeking “zero g welders, mega-structure engineers, quantum networkers and experts in zero g coupling and multi-generational planning,” in order to accomplish “the most ambitious project ever undertaken by mankind.” Take a look at the video below from the ‘official’ company website:

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I hope the trailer is released soon. I do hope that Copley will have a prominent role here instead of being completely sidelined by Damon. What I like about the first one is how completely believable he was as Wikus and the strong emotional connection I had with the character. Now, both A-listers here are obviously very talented actors, so I’m optimistic in that regard. I’m also hopeful that the 31-year-old Blomkamp is more than a one hit wonder.


Are you a fan of District-9? If so, what do you think of this project so far?