Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014) Review

Extremely cartoony, but full of heart. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a movie that I’ve always wanted in theory. I grew up watching or reading the turtles and the idea of a live action movie seems great until you actually see it. I didn’t spend money going to see it in theatres because it never looked that great, but I did catch it on DVD when it came out. I can’t remember generally how I felt about that movie, and I really couldn’t remember much about it at all. I was going through all of my movies and finally decided to give this movie another chance to see if it has grown on me over the years or not. I also forgot that Michael Bay produced this movie which is very apparent when you watch it.

The first thing I noticed when watching this movie was that Michael Bay did in fact produce this movie, but what surprised me more that he wasn’t the director. It could be that he was producing it and may have been on set, I’m not sure, but it felt very much like his movie that he was directing. The visual style, the angles, the flares and sexual references, everything seemed to fit right in with your typical kind of Michael Bay movie. He has this weird visual style that really feels most similar to his work on the Transformers movies.

The other thing I noticed was how familiar the movie actually felt to some other movies. One of the movies came out a few years before this and the other came out in the same year. The Amazing Spider-Man 1 and 2. If you watch this movie and haven’t seen those then make sure you watch them so you can see just how familiar it really feels. Every plot point outside of the characters being turtles felt ripped straight from those movies.

In all fairness though, the plot isn’t that deep that I’ll give it a pass for feeling similar since I’m sure that before Spider-Man we have probably seen this plot in other movies before. Everything is pretty basic about this movie, so the real draw comes from the turtles themselves, the action, and the rest of the characters. That’s the only chance this movie has at being enjoyable in any way.

Thankfully though, if you don’t look too much into the overall quality, this movie is actually enjoyable to an extent. I don’t see it as being entirely smart or actually standout as being a gem of any kind, but it does have heart and is a lot of fun. It’s interesting that Megan Fox plays in both this and Transformers, but in this case she plays more of the Shia LaBeouf character from the Transformer movies. I also completely forgot that Will Arnett was in this movie and he was a lot of fun to see.

As I said though, the real draw comes from the turtles, the characters, and the action. The characters outside of the Turtles, April and Vern are all one note and bland especially Shredder and Eric Sacks. As villains, they needed to have a little more depth, but they were just your typical kind of mustache twirling villain that had a plan that worked only as being a stupid idea that would only work for the sake of a movie. I guess I can’t fault it for that since this is a movie but still.

The Turtles though are actually impressive as far as style and actual character go. I would say that the CGI or motion capture for the turtles does look a little weird or more alien than anything else, but I never had much of a problem with that. I also like that even with them being CGI, they actually had quite a bit of depth. If you get past the ridiculous notion that April was tied to their backstory, they actually have a really good origin. It only gets better with their development throughout the film most notably from Raphael.

All of the turtles have their usual personalities that we know and love, but the real standout it Raphael who goes through the most development throughout the film. At first he’s reluctant to accept Leonardo as the leader and is more arrogant, but by the end of the film he reveals what was holding him back and fully accepts his role on the team. As I said before, this movie has a lot of heart and this is one of the instances.

The only other thing to really point out is the action overall and Shredder as a formidable foe for the turtles. Shredder looks like the Shredder that we know but if he magically found some Transformers tech and crossed over into this world. I’m not entirely on board with his design, but he was also pretty enjoyable to watch. The major downside being that we just don’t get enough of him as the villain. The action though overall is quite impressive and stuck out to me the most. It was thrilling and engaging with some great swooping camera shots especially during the chase scene on the mountain. I do respect it for having better visual action than I remember it having.

This movie is as forgettable as it is enjoyable for the moment. It’s one of those movies that you live in the moment with and as soon as it’s over you start to forget about it. I’m sure that in a few days I will have already forgotten about it. If you are a fan of the Ninja Turtles or even the Transformers movies then I’m sure you’ll enjoy this one. I don’t think this is for your average moviegoer and I think hits better with kids rather than adults. It’s weird though because the target is for kids, but it has a lot of inappropriate jokes like the Transformers movies that I just don’t understand the need for. In the end, it’s extremely cartoony but very much full of heart.

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Pawn Sacrifice (2014) Review

A fantastic performance can’t save this somewhat bland and unrelatable biopic. Pawn Sacrifice is a movie that I just now realized came out about five years ago. It was a movie that intrigued me with the trailers, and I’m also a sucker for Tobey McGuire because I believe he is an incredibly gifted actor that just isn’t working much lately. For some reason I never got around to watching it when it first came out and the lack of awards consideration didn’t help keep it in mind. Recently I was scrolling through Hulu and found it so of course I added it to my list and finally watched it to see if it was as good as I remember the trailers being.

This movie is about a chess prodigy, Bobby Fischer played by Tobey McGuire who is striving to be the best chess player in the world. All of this is based on true events and true real life people and also takes place during the Cold War so of course it’s the U.S. vs Russia. Now the premise is simple enough and isn’t your typical kind of biopic because I believe this to be the only chess movie that I can remember ever seeing. The problem with the premise though is that they actually have to succeed in telling a compelling story about this chess prodigy.

The easiest thing to point out about this movie that stands out is the performance by McGuire. He plays this prodigy who not only stands as being a very different person due to his obsessive desire to become the best chess player, but it gets so bad to the point where he becomes more insane. The man slowly starts to lose himself in his own insanity and paranoia that turns him into someone that can’t handle even himself.

While I do believe McGuire gives an incredible performance in this role, the actual person is such an unlikeable character that it actually hurts the film. In most of these biopics we have a reason to care about the person that we’re watching, but there is never a moment where I actually care that much about him and ever want him to be the best. His obsession makes him both arrogant and obnoxious as he interacts with every other character that has more emotion and feeling than he has ever had.

That does bring me to all of the other characters. Most of them they have smaller roles in comparison to McGuire, but they all succeed at being well rounded supporting characters that I tend to care more about than I do the person the movie is actually about. Liev Schreiber as Boris is a character that I think I would have found more interest in actually watching. He seemed more human and more of a down to earth kind of person that would have been more interesting to see his rise to power leading up to his matches against Bobby.

All of this really does just bring me back to how much I dislike the fact that Bobby is such and unlikeable character. I understand that the man has a very interesting life and story especially following the events of the film, but it really doesn’t make for a compelling film that you can care that much about. The movie seemed to be at its best when we actually got to see Bobby in the middle of a match with someone else. There was real tension as you could feel them struggling with putting together the right maneuvers and plans.

This movie tends to pull away from the matches rather than stick with them for long enough to get fully invested in what it is the fuss is all about. To care for Bobby’s want to strive for greatness, we also need to be able to connect with the subject that is pushing him to this point. We do get a lot of different instances of how chess games are processed in his head, but we just never get to see him playing it that much. The best parts of the movie were towards the end when all of the circus antics finally passed and we got to see Boris and Bobby going at it on the chess board. As soon as I got into the match, they skipped to the end to wrap everything up. It was all just very disappointing by the time I got to the end.

Pawn Sacrifice just can’t be saved by the great performance. It doesn’t live up to the concept of what seemed like a great biopic. The story is interesting and something that I didn’t know much about, but it doesn’t work for me because the subject is not a likeable character that you can connect with or care much about. I’m sure there are some people that this movie will work for, but overall I was disappointed by the film and wanted more out of it. I would recommend passing on it unless you want to watch it for the performance or if you’re a sucker for chess or biopics.

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Dismembering the Dead: an Examination of Dexter Season 6

I was excited to watch this season. Well excited to see how bad it got. Scott Buck of Iron Fist infamy took over as show runner, and checking the chart on the Dexter Wikipedia, this season was a steep decrease in quality. It is that, but it also is still kind of too decent to be Iron Fist levels of bad.

So, the plot this time concerns Miami being besieged by a pair of apocalyptic killers bent in recreating scenes from the book of Revelations. This causes Dexter to question the existence of God on his Dark Passenger. During that Debra is promoted to Lieutenant of the Homicide devision, Masuka gets an intern, Quinn and LaGuerta continue to be the worst, and Dexter gets a nanny.

The worst part about the season is the first episodes. The biggest thing that might stand out is Debra being promoted to lieutenant after being a detective for like a year, and her boss, Angel being passed over. That makes no sense, and I would hazard to say, not possible. The issue is that what it does for Debra as a character is interesting. It really forces her to confront who she is until that goes horribly wrong, but I’ll get to that.

The other worst part is how it feels like they forgot who Dexter was almost immediately. In the first scene he lures a couple of EMT’s that kill people for parts by calling in that he was stabbed. He then kills them with defibrillators while in the ambulance. None of that is part of his MO, and feels really sloppy. To build on that he’s seemed to stop showing off the victims to the criminals he’s captured, and he’s not ever really focused on the case. Or it feels too detached. Now, the point of the season is for Dexter to question who he is, but this never comes off as him questioning himself. Instead it feels like it was all done on accident.

The side characters still suck. Mostly Quinn, who gets nothing to do other than make terrible decisions, and dodge the blame. That alone is not bad, but he barley gets any blow back for his choices making it moot. Similarly, LaGuerta becomes Captain and her role is just to annoy Debra, and the audience by extension. She too, tries to play it off like it’s part of her character and that she is growing. The issue, again, is that there is no pushback.

Angel, bless that man, gets nothing to do other than worry about his sister, who is Dexter’s nanny, and go through a midlife crisis, sort of. He does some dumb actions like smoke pot on duty, but that’s it. Masuka getting an intern seems to be set up for next season. He starts with a hot girl that steals evidence then gets a guy who is a video game designer. That doesn’t make sense because he’s doing it for research on his game, but then he could just say that and not be an intern. Doesn’t matter, he develops a man crush on Dexter and is setting up something for next season.

Honestly, the main issue with the season is how boring the villains are. The previous 5 seasons all build on who Dexter is and wants to be. Adding a religious element makes sense. The problem is that it is rarely explored, and the character that helped was killed so early into the season it did not help.

Okay, to break it down. Colin Hanks and Edward James Olmos play religious zealots who think the world is ending so they try to kill these people in certain ways in order bring that about and be saved. They are not very interesting. All very one note. There is a twist with their dynamic that does not fully work, or could have been played better to help sell it. To help, Miami Metro calls in Brother Sam, a criminal turned preacher who runs an auto body shop. Dexter goes to him first to make sure he isn’t one of the killers, and then for advice. He has real pathos and feels like a full character. He gets to Dexter, but is removed so quickly and early into the main villain plot it feels like forever since we see him and his presence is lost on the show. That makes all the religious talk hollow and meaningless to Dexter. That too might be the point, but it does not feel like it was executed that way.

Oh right. Since Debra was promoted they get Mike Anderson, a cop from Chicago that feels like he came out of different show. He plays as the super knowledgeable, hard edge cop that goes to the line. Almost like he was from Network version of the show. He’s cool, but very off.

Now, most of this season is just dumb, or dull. There are some character breaking moments, but they don’t ruin the season. What does ruin the season is what they do with adopted siblings Debra and Dexter. So, outside the series they were married to each other, and it seemed to not impact the show. Well that changes and it’s revealed Debra has romantic feelings for Dexter. Yeah that sort of breaks it. The show desperately tries to play it off as one crazy character who believes it, but it feels more than that, and is creepy.

Even with that incestual bombshell the season is not the train wreck I’d hoped. Scott Buck is working with the same writers and characters he had before the take over. He can do a lot, but it would be hard to absolutely ruin them, even if he sort of is.

However the season ends on an interesting note I knew was coming eventually, but did not know when. I wonder how it all will be handled.

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Alita: Battle Angel (2019) Review

A great sci-fi movie that only scratches the surface of the larger world. Alita: Battle Angel is a movie that I had heard about for years starting with James Cameron’s involvement. Of course though he ended up sticking with his Avatar world and its sequels rather than direct this film himself, but he did serve as writer an producer. I knew very little about the source material of this character, but I do remember when the trailers first came out and there was controversy about how much it looked like an anime or at least Alita looked too anime with her extra large eyes. Needless to say I was not as excited when it was released to actually go out and see it and it took up to now for me to actually give it a shot.

The first thing I noticed right from the opening scene was that the movie does have a sense of anime feel right off the bat. One thing being that the CGI doesn’t quite feel complete enough to feel more realistic, but rather almost like a CGI animated anime movie. I’m sure there are some good examples of what I’m talking about, but I just don’t have any right off the top of my head. I also think that this may just be an excuse for the lack of sharpness of the actual CGI. It could use a lot of work, but I know with such a risky title they probably weren’t given the budget they would have needed.

That brings me to the overall design of the world and the need for a large budget and some top of the line CGI. Whether it be the actual world itself and all of the technical aspects of this dystopian future or the robotic bodies of many of the bounty hunters and others. I do think that the effects look best when there isn’t too much motion and when the imagery is somewhat simplistic. Case in point being anytime you just see someone’s robotic limb or when the kids are playing the street moto-ball.

It’s those smaller less detailed moments that also feel the sharpest and most detailed at the same time, while the big action set pieces seem to struggle to hold up as well. It may not be fair to knock it too much for its CGI unevenness since most of the film is just CGI, but it is still a fair complaint. One problem is that in some scenes, especially the flashbacks of who Alita was in the past seem to feel just like the virtual world of Ready Player One. In that movie it works because it is a video game, but in this movie it makes some scenes just feel off when out together with the rest of the film.

Outside of those issues though, this movie is quite good on delivering an exhilarating and exciting origin story to this badass cyborg. Her development from start to finish is great as she grows stronger and comes to terms with who she actually is as well as giving us a great hero to root for. However, she is the most interesting character in the whole movie, but it makes it hard sometimes to care about her as much as I’d like to since she really does feel so animated.

All of the other characters do their job well enough with the great actors portraying them, but the movie also doesn’t utilize the incredible acting talent it has. My biggest disappointment was the use of Mahershala Ali as the supposed big villain of this movie. I never once felt like he was really the main villain since he is just a puppet for someone that we don’t get in this movie. It was just a letdown to not see him given a role that he could really sink his teeth into like he did for Luke Cage.

Putting all of that aside though leaves me with the overall action and visual style of the film that is quite good. The movie never leaves wanting more in terms of awesome looking action, and great visual choreography of the fights. They do feel like they were ripped straight out of an anime show or movie which could have come off as being too much or not as believable and maybe it does for those who aren’t a fan of the visual style as I am, but I think it really worked since I like this kind of movie and style.

I think really though, the film lacks in terms of the overall story and trying to set up more for the future without putting more effort towards the story at hand. I said earlier that the origin story was good which it is and they seem to do everything right to make a solid standalone story, but throughout the whole film there’s an overarching villain that is pulling the strings. There is nothing wrong with having that to set up for future movies, but it just seemed that they were holding a lot back for the sake of wanting to wait and show us more in the future. Some movies that would be smart, but with an incredibly risky title like this film, there was more than likely less of a chance of a sequel.

I think that some of what works best for this movie is the actual world itself rather than the story that we get. Yes, I very much like Alita and I want to see future stories of her in this world and her backstory, but I also just want more of this world. There are plenty of story elements that are set up in this movie that could be expanded upon in the future, but a future where we actually get a sequel because it doesn’t seem we will. Unfortunately because of all of the story elements they were setting up, I found myself asking for more detail on the world rather than focusing as much on the story. That may be my fault, but it tends to happen with movies that are trying to world build.

Alita isn’t for everyone and I can’t find too many people that I know actually liking it, but it is an entertaining movie that will have its fans. I think anyone that is a fan of anime in any way will enjoy this movie, but I won’t say that I recommend going out and seeing it. If you have interest then go for it, but if you don’t then don’t worry. I think the story has potential in the future, but only if it’s given an opportunity to deliver on the set up that was in this film. Like you know, seeing Ed Norton as the villain in the next one.

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