REVIEW: TMNT (Kevin Munroe, 2007)

Since the day I first heard of this project I've held it in my mind as a huge misstep for the turtle franchise as a whole - a dishonor to the turtles that I knew when I was a kid. The animated route in a turtles feature was altogether unsettling while the text-message style abbreviation of the title was out and out nauseating. I only ended up seeing the unrealistically realized reincarnation as an afterthought - a 90-minute sidenote to top off my day at the cinema. In the end though, it was well worth the time and actually proved to be the most movie-related fun I had that day.

The first half of the film was actually just as I expected - an even more cartoony rendering of our heroes and their friends (Casey Jones is given a head like a carrot while April O'Neil looks as though she could toss out a Pokeball at any moment) that is more kid-oriented than we're accustomed to seeing the half-shelled mutants, whose personalities are now more one-dimensional than ever. The storyline is only a shade or two better than that of an episode of Power Rangers. Even though the core of the movie is a group of mutant amphibians who talk and fight in bandannas, it's difficult to accept a whole new batch of lore attached to a whole new villain (whose build makes him look like he'd be put to better use as a bookcase), especially when it involves not only immortal, living statues but also a multitude of rampaging beasts of no particular purpose. I mean really, couldn't they have just stuck with the foot clan?

Surprisingly and thankfully the second half (beginning with Raphael's Ram Jam fight with the so-called Jersey Demon, for those of you who have seen it and are wondering where I'm taking off from) is pretty darn fun and well composed. The point of no return is easily the best moment and features a certain long-lived rivalry coming to a head. Splinter even gets in on some action and finds a moment to lay a line on us almost as funny as his classic, "I have always liked... Cowabunga" from the first film back in 1990.

So if you don't mind sitting through about 45 minutes of child's fare in the beginning, punctuated with relatively well choreographed action sequences, this colorful return to the world of the sewer-dwelling, pizza-munching, amphibian ninjas makes for an enjoyable ride.


REVIEW: Pathfinder (Marcus Nispel, 2007)

The premise sounds good enough to anyone who is as fascinated as I am by the Native American cultures - a young boy is left behind after a ship of Viking explorers crashes on the shores of the new world and grows up to be their defender when his people return to lay waste to the natives. This is no Terrence Malick epic, however, no - this is a B-grade action flick starring none other than Karl Urban (DoomLord Of The Rings: The Two Towers), the new hero staple for this current generation of high schoolers.

Pathfinder seems a project that didn't quite have the budget that it needed to accomplish what it wanted (hell, it resorts to stock footage during an avalanche scene). While there is an abundance of messily executed gore, there are plenty of pulled punches to go with it. The first act plays like a student film that stumbled on a few million bucks to spend on costuming and practical effects (which actually reminds me of something to credit the movie on - very few uses of CGI). The second act actually isn't too bad considering the context, and seems more like something that I wouldn't mind sticking with on television during spell of late-night channel-surfing. We then fall into the third and worst act, which is more slowly paced and yet more rushed than any of the other segments, including the tedious developmental stages.

The most surprising aspect of the film is that Laeta Kalogridis, who co-wrote the beautiful dialogue of Alexander with Oliver Stone, penned the sceenplay! I can understand being eager for just about any project after 'Xander unfortunately flopped, but to drop to this? Well, turns out she was one of the original authors of the graphic novel (to my understanding, anyway... there doesn't appear to be much info online about this). Still, the dialogue was only a shade better than you might find in a Sci-Fi channel movie of the week.

Perhaps the most appalling aspects of the movie are the characterizations of the two groups of people. The natives appear gullible and weak (and they speak English, which bothered me despite my understanding of the language's implimentation in a movie of this sort) while the Vikings were turned into exaggerated behemoths who were more monster than man.

In short, there is barely any worth to this mostly brainless and claustrophobic flick and it is absolutely understandable why the studio waited over a year to find a fitting release date for it. If you want action, re-watch M:I:III or Resident Evil: Apocalypse... or wait until the term "summer blockbuster" stops translating to "superhero threequel".


REVIEW: Grindhouse (Robert Rodriguez & Quentin Tarantino, 2007)

It's no secret to subscribers to Tarantino that the guy's a massive fan of "grindhouse" films - exploitation pictures you never hear about from the 70's that usually showed in cheap, smelly theaters - and he considers the stylings therein more or less a lost art. It is with this in his fanatical mind that he has gotten together with his friend and frequent collaborator Robert Rodriguez to create an homage experience to the double-features of old with Planet Terror, a zombie action thriller, and Death Proof, a fast and furious driving movie. Each 90-minute piece features a menagerie of both vaguely and vividly familiar talents who are either established (Bruce Willis, Kurt Russell), looking to become as such (Freddy Rodriguez, Marley Shelton), or simply a regular with the Troublemaker/A Band Apart studios (Michael Parks, Jonathan Loughran) and everyone involved seems to be having a great time.

A great time was assuredly had by the two feature directors, at least. Rodriguez is known for constantly pumping out films left and right while Tarantino (who is beginning to look like someone punched a young Randy Quaid in the face) does a lot of talking on the subject but doesn't seem to do any work to give his talk legs. In these respects, Grindhouse was the perfect forum for each of them to have some fun. Rodriguez could take it relatively easy with a more fun and loose piece while Tarantino could get back behind the lens without exerting the effort that one of his larger ideas like the much-discussed Inglorious Bastards would require.

For the most part, fun is to be had by the audience as well. I could complain about many aspects of Rodriguez' Planet Terror not appealing to me, but I think it simply comes down to taste. More importantly than the fact I've never genuinely enjoyed a Rodriguez picture (despite my great respect for his production style and often awesome editing that does indeed rear its sexy head here), I'm just not a horror buff so a lot of what the first double-feature installment has to offer doesn't work for me beyond uncomplicated amusement. I could also praise Tarantino's Death Proof for being more up my alley with its stellar antagonist and orgasmic soundtrack but the way Tarantino neatly giftwraps and sells it to us just works better for me on an aesthetic level.

Being a greater fan of Tarantino in general, I noticed several things about Death Proof that simultaneously add to and take from it. 'Tino spends a lot of time performing what I'll refer to as 'cinematic masturbation' during which he has his characters discuss the very films his work is inspired by and certain elements from his previous films (sets, recurring characters or fictional brand-names) make appearances. With a greater storyline these Askewniverse-esque, self-celebratory (and admitedly, occasionally fun) excursions would likely be less obvious and see greater successes. Also, the lack of a constant Rodriguez-style barrage of special effects gives the piece a more authentic feel while the overabundance of falsely bad reels and the like from Planet Terror also takes a major backseat. Beyond the taste factor, this is why I prefer Tarantino's handling of homages. As he presented extensively with Kill Bill and somewhat with Jackie Brown, his modernization of older filmmaking techniques and specific signatures of certain directors works in favor of originality while Rodriguez' film feels like a typical big-budget blockbuster of today that happens to have a bunch of computerized chemical burn.

So overall both major elements of this double-feature, particularly the latter despite its often idiotic characters, are enjoyable and well worth going out of your way for. The minor additions like fake trailers, age restriction warnings and advertisements are also just as fun as you've likely heard they are even if the movies themselves fail in their attempts at authenticity by using "grindhouse" traits only to their conveniences rather than truly teleporting the pieces back to the 70's. Let's just hope that Tarantino has gotten it out of his system and he'll now move on to something original!