TMNT (2007)

In anticipation for the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie set to release August 7, 2014, I am reviewing the four previous Ninja Turtles movies.

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Some time after defeating the Shredder and their trip back in time to feudal Japan, the turtles have gone their separate ways: Leonardo is training in Central America to be a better leader, Michelangelo runs his own kids party company, Donatello works as an IT specialist, and Raphael fights crime as the vigilante Nightwatcher.

tmntturtlesaprilcaseyApril O’Neil and Casey Jones are dating, and April has left her job as a news reporter to run her own consulting company.  She’s been hired by Max Winters to track down four statues.  As Leonardo returns, the turtles discover a cosmic event that happens every 3000 years, and Winters, the fifth general cursed to live forever, is trying to set things right.

After the disaster that was Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, it would be fourteen years before another film was released.  In that time, there were a few television programs with the turtles, but for the most part the franchise had faded from its heyday in the late 80s and early 90s.  When I originally heard that they were making this movie back in 2007, I was highly skeptical.

However, I was pleasantly surprised by this film when it came out.  Though it’s certainly not the greatest film of the franchise, it was a small step up from Turtles III.  The switch to full CGI for this film works given the cost and return of using live action animatronics like the original films.  However, the complete CGI use made this film feel more like a glorified TV episode, maybe a 3 or 4 episode mini series.

One of the things that made the original films great was the character interaction and snarky wit.  This film missed that by a wide margin.  If there was one thing Turtles III did better than TMNT, this was it.  Some of the character interactions such as Casey and April in the Turtle Van seemed more fit for TV rather than a movie.  I don’t want to call it too juvenile since that age and under are the target audience, but that balance of being juvenile and witty to older audiences just wasn’t there.

Plus most of the funny dialogue was given to Michelangelo and Donatello, a pair of comedians, but it could have been spread out with the rest of the cast.  Splinter has a couple of funny lines, but overall it just didn’t stack up.

tmntsplinterleo Mako voiced Splinter in this movie, which ended up being his last as he died before the film was completed.  While it was nice to see him back in a more fatherly mentoring form instead of the useless semi-comedian he was in Turtles III, he seemed both dark and cold for most of the film.  Perhaps this was another problem with the movie in general as a lot of superhero type films have gone the route of the darker, gritty tone (thank you Christopher Nolan).  The turtles are competent ninjas, but they are fun at their core.

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The turtles are moving forward with their lives.  Having defeated the Shredder and keeping the city pretty safe, it makes sense for the turtles to be in a rut at this point.  Unfortunately for the replacement villains, Winters and the four generals, run into the same problem Walker had in Turtles III: they’re not the Shredder.

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Though I was initially impressed with this film, TMNT has lost some of its appeal for me in the sense that it seems more suited for TV than the big screen.  The jokes are semi-funny at times, but nowhere near the original trilogy.  I’d recommend this for Turtles diehards, and suggest going in with very low expectations.

My Rating: 2 out of 5 stars.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III (1993)

In anticipation for the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie set to release August 7, 2014, I am reviewing the four previous Ninja Turtles movies.  I’m incredibly skeptical about this new film, and will probably write some previewing commentary based on what I know of the new film.

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“Would somebody please tell me what the heck is going on around here?

“Well, relax, April. It’s just your, uh, ordinary time travel equal-mass-displacement kind of thing.”

With Shredder and The Foot defeated, New York City is safe once again thanks to the turtles.  Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael spend their time practicing their ninja skills, but Raph grows weary of it since they have no enemy to fight.  April O’Neil (Paige Turco), who is about to leave for vacation, has picked up some antiques for the guys to keep them entertained.  One of the items is an ancient Japanese scepter she’s gotten for Splinter.  It has the ability to switch people of the same weight in time.  The scepter is activated, whisking away April to feudal Japan, and replacing her with Kenshin (Henry Hayashi), a prince from that time.

Naturally, the turtles go back and face new villains: Walker (Stuart Wilson), an opportunistic Brit who does business with Lord Norinaga (Sab Shimono), Kenshin’s father.  Aiding the rebels, among them Kenshin’s mate Mitsu (Vivian Wu), the turtles try to end the civil war and bring April back to the present day.

Growing up I always thought this movie was entertaining and fun.  As time has gone on, though, the reality that this film does a lot of things wrong, ultimately being the last turtles film from New Line Cinema, have become very apparent.

Having killed Shredder at the end of Secret of the Ooze, the turtles have no real enemy to worry about.  The city is safe, and they’re left twiddling their thumbs and continually practicing their skills.

tmnt3walkerThe replacement villains just don’t match up with Shredder and the Foot Clan.  Though I don’t know what else they could have done with Shredder had he lived, I would imagine it would’ve been better than Walker, his bumbling sidekick Niles, and Lord Norinaga.

This was the first turtles movie that didn’t use Jim Henson’s Creature Shop for the animatronics, and it definitely shows.  The mouth movement with the turtles’ dialog wasn’t great in the first two films, but here it’s so far off it’s just plain sad.  Most of the time it’s not even close.

tmnt3caseyThis film brought back Casey Jones.  Though I prefer his character over Keno from Secret of the Ooze, here he’s used in a more comical surface-level character in Turtles III.  One of the things I enjoyed most about him in the original film was the depth and interconnectedness he had with both the turtles, April, and Splinter.  It was interesting, though, how they incorporated Elias Koteas into ancient Japan as Whit.

Unfortunately Casey, along with the rest of the cast, is reduced to juvenile comic relief.  As much as I was disappointed with how they used Casey, Splinter’s surface level role was more disappointing.  Whereas he provided depth, historical context, and fatherly insight in the first two films, here he’s just another comic.  Paige Turco returned as April O’Neil.  As with many other aspects of the film franchise, I thought she gave a much better performance in Secret of the Ooze.  Her character had a bigger part in the previous films, but here she’s somewhat a voice of reason for the turtles, but primarily used in a more comedic way.

One of the only redeeming qualities in this film is the development of the turtles as they try to get back to present day New York City.  They did move Raphael’s character forward in his relationship with Yoshi, Mitsu’s son.  Seeing Yoshi’s temper and watching as Raphael moves from student to teacher was interesting and overall well done.

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As a film in general, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III was very disappointing, and it’s understandable why it was 14 years before another turtles movie, animated at that, was made.  By trading in-depth and a strong enemy like Shredder and his clan, the turtles franchise gave up some of the things that made the first two films great, and instead rely too heavily on comedy, comedy, comedy.  There was no balance of the serious sprinkled with the comedy.  It’s definitely geared towards a younger audience, but even at that it still wasn’t that great.  I’ll probably watch it again at some point, but that’s more because I’m a fan of the early franchise.

My Rating: 1 out of 5 stars.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze (1991)

In anticipation for the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie set to release August 7, 2014, I’ll be revisiting my childhood and reviewing the four previous Ninja Turtles movies.  I’m incredibly skeptical about this new film, and will probably write some previewing commentary based on what I know of the new film.

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Following the events of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie, the turtles and Splinter are living in April O’Neil’s apartment, much to her dislike.  Meanwhile, Shredder has survived and begins plotting his revenge.  April does an investigative report on TGRI, the company responsible for the ooze that mutated the Turtles and Splinter 15 years ago.  Shredder gets his hands on the last canister of ooze and uses it to create two new mutants, Tokka and Rahzar.

Growing up, this was the turtles movie I watched the most.  Probably because the first film had some profanities, hence my parents preferring that I watch this one.  The Secret of the Ooze takes some of the elements that made the first film great and either turned it to formula filmmaking or expanded and extended it.

turtles2tgriI enjoyed how they explored more of the turtles origins.  Though it’s explored much more extensively in the first film, the subject matter in this one kept it fresh and engaging without being too repetitive.

Some of the elements of this film were basically copy-and-paste from the first film: Raphael getting captured, Leo and Raphael’s back and forth, Mikey’s constant one-liners and bad puns.  There’s

Though I think this film is pretty close to the first film quality-wise, there are a few differences that give the first film the edge in my book.

tmnt2kenoCasey Jones is replaced by Keno, a less impressive, younger human counterpart for the turtles.  Don’t get me wrong, Ernie Reyes Jr. did a serviceable job as Keno.  His fight sequences were impressive, however, it’s hard to replace a character who played as essential of a role as Casey Jones did in the first film.  At times Reyes’ acting was more irritating than entertaining.  The martial arts elements were definitely more his strength.  The back and forth between Casey and April would have been nice to keep.

tmnt2pizzaPaige Turco replaced Judith Hoag as April.O’Neil.  Watching these films back-to-back was nice because I could see the two distinctive styles each actress brought to the role.  April had a more central role in the first film, offering observations on the turtles state while they were on the farm.  Here she’s another friend and messenger to the turtles from Shredder.  Turco does well with the smaller role her character has in this film.  The more helpful assistance for the turtles comes from Professor Jordan Perry (David Warner), a scientist for TGRI who is very familiar with the ooze.

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Tokka and Rahzar helped in keeping the battles between the turtles and Shredder fresh.  The filmmakers avoided the same old “we fight you, you fight us” back and forth by introducing these characters.  It also kept the story fresh by incorporating the ooze and helping the enemy evolve.  I’m a bit surprised that they chose Tokka and Rahzar over say, BeBop and Rocksteady.  Either way, it worked.

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It’s a Super Shredder!

  Shredder’s motivation in this film isn’t to build an empire, rather, plain and simple revenge.  He had less face time in this film, probably because Tokka and Rahzar were the primary villains the turtles had to face.  Still, it’s good that they evolved his character instead of recycling the same old storylines.

 

 

"A true Ninja is a master of himself and his environment: so don't forget, WE'RE TURTLES!"

“A true Ninja is a master of himself and his environment: so don’t forget, WE’RE TURTLES!”

Following the successful live-action film from the previous year, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze does a good job of keeping the story fresh and entertaining.  They do a good job of developing more of the turtles origins and evolving their confrontations with the enemy.  Though some of the casting and character changes hurt the film, it’s still very entertaining and enjoyable for me to watch nearly 25 years later.

My Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

NINJA RAP!

NINJA RAP!

With regards to the new film:

Another thing I am concerned about with the upcoming Ninja Turtles movie is Shredder.  His original story has been left behind, or perhaps adapted to today’s world.  Either way, I’m skeptical about how his character is going to do.  I like William Fichtner as an actor, but I’m not sure he’s cut out for this kind of role.  He’s made a living being a strong secondary character, and I just don’t know if he’s got what it takes for a role like this.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Movie (1990)

In anticipation for the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie set to release August 7, 2014, I’ll be revisiting my childhood and reviewing the four previous Ninja Turtles movies.  I’m incredibly skeptical about this new film, and will probably write some previewing commentary based on what I know of the new film.

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“For 15 years now, we have lived here. Before that time, I was a pet of my master Yoshi. When we were forced to come to New York, I found myself for the first time without a home, wandering thew sewers, scavaging for whatever I could find. And then, one day, I came upon a shattered glass jar and four baby turtles.  The little ones were crawling into a strange glowing ooze from a broken canister nearby. I gathered them up in an old coffee can and when I awoke the next morning, I received a shock. For they had doubled in size. I, too, was growing. Particularly in intellect. I was amazed by how intelligent they seemed.”

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, based on the popular Nintendo video game and cartoon series, brings to life four mutated turtles and a mutated rat who have lived in the New York City sewers for fifteen years following exposure to radioactive ooze.  Splinter, the rat, is the father figure and mentor to Leonardo, Michaelangelo, Donatello, and Raphael, and he has taught them the ninja fighting style and way of life.  They fight The Foot, an organized crime family targeting teenage men and causing all sorts of criminal problems for the city.

I’ll do my best to be impartial, but since this is probably one of my favorite movies from my childhood, that’s probably not going to happen.

Making a movie like this work is very difficult.  Since it was made in 1990, CGI was still in its infancy, so puppeteer effects are used in bringing the turtles to live action.  A problem with this was the mouth movements with dialogue.  It’s forgivable because a movie like this is targeted towards kids, but I can’t overlook it.  The puppeteer crew does an admirable job in bringing the turtles to life.

Each turtles represents an element in team chemistry.  Leonardo is the leader, Michaelangelo is the comic relief, Donatello is the intellectual who is also socially awkward, and Raphael is the angry loner in the group.

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“Wise men say, ‘Forgiveness is divine, but never pay full price for a late pizza.'”

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” Yeah? Well, you act like a JERK sometimes, you know that? And this attitude of yours isn’t helping anything.”

Something I enjoy about this movie, besides the fact that I can quote it almost verbatim, is the various relationships the movie showcases.  Though the characters roles become oversimplified in later films, here it’s interesting to see the balance and conflict as it plays out between the various characters.  The back-and-forth between Leonardo’s calm leadership with Raphael’s temper, Raphael’s and Casey Jones’ (Elias Koteas) anger issues, Casey and April O’Neil’s (Judith Hoag) back-and-forth, and Splinter and Shredder’s history, among others, provided some great lines and contrasting personalities.  They’re all entertaining, and none of them overpowers all the others in dominating the storyline.

I also like how the film takes a step back in assessing what is going on.  April’s reflection out on the farm helps sort the various layers of conflict and circumstance.  Splinter does fantastic as a voice of reason and demonstrates the fatherly elements both with the turtles and with Danny Pennington (Michael Turney).

 

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“A Jose Canseco bat? Tell me, you didn’t pay money for this?”

At its core, this movie is fun.  The scene when Raphael and Casey Jones meet for the first time is incredibly funny, and I like how they develop a mutual respect for one another.  Each of the fight scenes is complemented by a good amount of bad clichés, most coming from Michaelangelo, others coming from Donatello.

Side note: Sam Rockwell played the gang leader.

Side note: Sam Rockwell played the gang leader.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles works as a film adaptation for the popular television and video game series.  Since the formulas haven’t been set just yet with the film series, this film balances comedy with storytelling and developing the various characters history and relationship with one another.  Of all the films, this one is probably my favorite, and though I can quote most of the movie, I still enjoy watching it every time.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.

With regards to the new film:

One of my fears with the new film has to do with casting Megan Fox as April O’Neil.  Judith Hoag, and Paige Turco in the second and third film, are both strong characters who roll with the punches and handle themselves professionally.  Megan Fox is eye candy, and nothing more.  I think it’s very telling that she had no dialogue in the first trailer for the film, and she has a very limited role in the extended trailer.  We’ll see, but like I said, this is one of a few things I have serious doubts about with the upcoming film.

Movie #101: Independence Day (1996)

Director: Roland Emmerich

Starring: Will Smith, Bill Pullman, Jeff Goldblum, Mary McDonnall, Randy Quaid, Judd Hirsch, Brent Spiner, Robert Loggia, Vivica A. Fox, Margaret Colin, and Adam Baldwin

Academy Awards (1997):

Best Effects, Visual Effects: Volker Engel, Douglas Smith, Clay Pinney, Joe Viskocil

Academy Award Nominations:

Best Sound: Chris Carpenter, Bill W. Benton, Bob Beemer, Jeff Wexler

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“I saw what they’re planning to do. They’re like locusts. They’re moving from planet to planet… their whole civilization. After they’ve consumed every natural resource they move on… and we’re next.” ~ President Thomas Whitmore

A seemingly indestructible alien race attacks Earth on July 2nd.  As they destroy every major city in the world, President Thomas Whitmore (Pullman), Captain Steven Hiller (Smith), computer genius David Levinson (Goldblum), and many others lead the counterattack in hopes of saving life as we know it.

Independence Day has a lot of things that work in its favor.  Public interest in the extra terrestrial, exemplified with the popularity of The X-Files, and Emmerich’s well-balanced ensemble cast and entertaining story made this film larger than life.  Released the same year that The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, this film launched Will Smith’s highly successful film career.  I was fairly young when this film was released, and though I’ve seen it many times, I still find it highly entertaining.

This is the type of film that though it has its fair share of dark moments, it still has an inspiring resolution without being completely dark as many of the newer summer blockbusters are.

Though the special effects have clearly become dated, Independence Day does a great job of destroying a lot of the world’s major landmarks in a convincing way.  Specifically, the White House getting destroyed, from a visual effects standpoint, was probably one of my favorites.  The worst of the effects was probably when the aliens were chasing Hiller and Wilder (Harry Connick Jr.).  At times, the effects with the alien spacecrafts weren’t up to par.

There is a good balance of comedy, action, and drama between the various cast members.  Smith has it all, Goldblum is perfect as the paranoid computer genius, Pullman is a serviceable president.  Randy Quaid does great being Randy Quaid.  The various relationships throughout the film, Hiller and David Levinson, Whitmore and General Grey (Loggia), Hiller and Jasmine (Fox), David and Julius Levinson (Hirsch).

Judd Hirsch gives one of the greatest supporting comic relief performances.  He has a few shining moments where he brings order to the immediate chaos, but for the most part he does a great job at lightening the mood in the scenes he’s in.

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Though this film has a wide range of major cast members, Will Smith is the true star of this film.  He’s got great stage presence, his quick wit makes his both funny, relatable, and likeable for audience members.  He also has to deal with a lot throughout the film.  I guess everyone does, but his relationship with Jasmine, losing his squad, his desire to be an astronaut and eventually seeing that dream come true.   It’s just enjoyable to see him showcase his acting talent and range.  My only critique of Smith’s performance is that I think some of his smack talk runs a little too long.  His monologue while dragging the unconscious alien through the desert got a little old.

I like to call this the type-cast lineup, at least with Robert Loggia (middle) and Adam Baldwin (right). Sorry other guy.

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“In the words of my generation: UP YOURS!”

Randy Quaid, though annoying and insufferable at times, delivers some of the greatest lines in the film.  His abducted by aliens bit got really old, but though they tied his character in perfectly by the end.

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“Perhaps it’s fate that today is the Fourth of July, and this movie is called Independence Day.”

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“Yes Will Smith, I did just shoot that green shit at you.”

Independence Day has everything a summer blockbuster should have: entertaining story, likeable characters, balance in comedy action and drama, and a happy ending.  The right balance in cast members chemistry make this far out concept more down to earth.  The story has just the right amount of comic relief without it being too over-the-top and ridiculous.  Watching this film won’t become an Independence Day tradition for me, but I’ll definitely revisit this film every once in a while.

My Rating: 4 out of 5 stars.