Welcome to the House of Crouse. There’s something for everyone on today’s show. If you’re an indie movie fan check out my chat with Maggie’s Plan director Rebecca Miller. Find out why she had to shoot her new movie in NYC. If your taste in films runs more toward the superhero side, listen in on my talk with “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows” star Stephen Amell. Cowabunga!
After twelves years of regular “Canada AM” movie reviews, Richard and host Beverly Thomson get together one last time to talk about the weekend’s four big releases, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows,” “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping,” “Me Before You,” and “Into the Forest.”
Richard andCP24 anchor Nneka Elliot talk about the weekend’s four big releases, “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows,” “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping,” “Me Before You,” and “Into the Forest.”
In the cold-blooded world of turtles, Yertle, Gamera, Koopa Troopa and Fastback are hot names. But the most famous testudines of all time have to be the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Stars of movies, comic books, television and video games, the four anthropomorphic turtle brothers even had action figures and breakfast cereals as part of their reptilian empire.
They were 20th-century pop-culture icons, which ain’t too bad for four hard-shelled crime fighters named after Renaissance artists.
Stephen Amell, who plays hockey-mask wearing hero Casey Jones in this weekend’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows, says he grew up with Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello.
“The live-action films did it for me,” says the actor, who was just nine when the turtles hit the big screen for the first time. “I’ve always ingested superheroes, especially comic book superheroes, via feature films. Like Superman, Batman, Christopher Reeve, Michael Keaton, all that stuff. When they did the live-action turtle movie I remember my brain not being able to fully comprehend how they were going to do this. Those were seminal moments from my childhood.”
The story of four pet turtles transformed by radioactive ooze into sewer-dwelling, crime-fighting ninja warriors appealed to kids, but the original 1984 black-and-white comics were dark, gritty and violent, a subversive homage to popular books like Daredevil, Cerebus and Ronin. Sharp-eyed readers of the second issue of TMNT will notice old issues of Cerebus and Ronin discarded on the floor of the Turtles’ sewer home.
They sliced and diced bad guys and even uttered the odd PG-13 word.
Turtlemania really began in 1987 with an animated series aimed at younger viewers. They quickly became something of a sensation, but with popularity came an erosion of the rebellious aspects of the story. In short, they became the thing they once poked fun at.
The turtles went mainstream, and soon there were arcade games, action figures, clothing, movies and more.
Kids were taken with the turtle soup of gags, colourful characters and pizza obsession, but Amell says there is more than that to their appeal.
“At the baseline of this entire experience, we are talking about the relationship of four brothers — the relationship as they struggle through adolescence,” he says. “I feel like whether you have brothers, sisters, close friends, any type of family, everyone can relate to that.
“It’s this unique idea. It’s so unique it tends to be universal. I don’t know what the secret sauce is, otherwise I would create my own Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and just sit back and collect the royalties.”
For many, including the crowds that will no doubt flock to Out Of The Shadows this week, the allure of the turtles is at least partly nostalgic, a return to a simpler time.
I get the feeling that for the Toronto-born Amell, the appeal is partly sentimental, partly professional.
“It’s pretty cool,” he says. “It’s a really great franchise to be part of. It’s amazing to play a character like Casey Jones. I was just at Yonge and Dundas Square [in Toronto] and it is overrun with Turtles’ posters. It’s a dream come true.”
I never thought I would miss the first wave of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle movies. The foam rubber-suited lead characters and tongue-in-cheek humour were very much of their time, almost a time capsule of 1990s genre cheese. Just as “The Secret of the Ooze” et al are emblematic of their day, the CGI fest “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows” is symbolic of its time. Trouble is, I have no nostalgia for pixels and bytes no matter how artfully arranged on the screen.
The action begins one year after the events of the last film. The turtles—leader Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), the rebellious Raphael (Alan Ritchson), good-time turtle Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) and the brains of the outfit, Donatello (Jeremy Howard)—saved the world by bringing super duper bad guy Shredder (Brian Tee) to justice. News cameraman Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett) got all the credit, and is now a media darling. The turtles, however, are content to stay in the shadows, afraid that people won’t accept them because they are all turtlely. And ninja-esque.
Now trouble has come back to town as Shredder escapes police custody and forms an alliance with inventor Dr. Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry), two mutants named Bebop (Gary Anthony Williams) and Rocksteady (WWE Superstar Stephen “Sheamus” Farrelly) and Kraang (Fred Armisen), a slimy alien octopus with a robotic shell. “Together we can bring the people of your planet to their knees,” crows the mucus covered ET.
The heroes on the half shell, along with their old sidekicks April O’Neil (Megan Fox), Splinter (Tony Shalhoub) and hockey stick wielding newcomer Casey Jones (Stephen Amell), spring into action to prevent—what else?—the end of the world as we know it.
Ladled into this turtle soup of action, comedy and crazy science—“Inside every human there is a gene that connects us to our animal ancestors!”—are good messages of T’N’T—tolerance ‘n teamwork—but despite the explosive nature of the movie there are no real fireworks here. Maybe it’s because our eyes are so accustomed to CGI spectacle. Turtles can literally fly, but who cares? In a film where anything is possible, nothing is terribly exciting. The computer-generated images bring the turtles, rhinos and warthogs to vivid life but the artificial nature of the main characters do nothing to breathe life into this story.
I’m not saying I expect anything approaching realism in a movie about talking turtles. I’m suggesting that the quirky appeal of Leonardo, Raphael, Michelangelo and Donatello isn’t well suited by CGI that looks interchangeable with every other superhero flick. It’s as if the very things that made the turtles unique—there’s only one “Cowabunga!” in the whole film and it isn’t even Michelangelo who says it—have been downplayed in the hopes of turning them into generic, franchise building heroes. I say let their freak flags fly. We liked them because they were subversive. We liked them because, like Godzilla, they were more fun when you could see the zipper on the back of their rubber suits. Smoothing out their edges sands off the stuff that made them unique.
Kraang, the sadly underused villain, is as over-the-top as you might hope and a nice counterpart to the bland Tee as Shredder. As cool as Kraang is, though, this is really the turtle show. They are given more screen time than anyone else, and other than Bebop and Rocksteady, who morph into a rhino and warthog, dominate the proceedings. In the background are Laura Linney and Perry. Linney steps out of the art-house to do a forgettable turn as a justice department honcho and Perry adds little to the flick other than name value.
“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out Of The Shadows” is a CGI orgy that left me (half) shell shocked and nostalgic for a time when four wisecracking, world-saving turtles were something unique and not simply another entry in the superhero sweepstakes.
According to wikipedia the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were a “parody of four of the most popular comics of the early 1980s: Marvel Comics’ ‘Daredevil’ and ‘New Mutants,’ Dave Sim’s ‘Cerebus’ and Frank Miller’s ‘Ronin.’” They quickly became something of a sensation, but with popularity came an erosion of the subversive aspects of the story. In short, they became the thing they once poked fun at. That self-unaware tradition continues with the release of “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” a Michael Bay produced big screen reboot.
The plot of the new film can be summed up by one line from obnoxious cameraman Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett). “Four turtles, one’s fighting a robot samurai. Why not?”
If that doesn’t whet your appetite for this turtle soup, here’s more detail:
Megan Fox stars as April O’Neil, a television lifestyle reporter with pastel blue nail polish who wants to be taken seriously. When she follows a lead on a stolen chemical plot to a dark and rainy dock she discovers the biggest story of her life, the existence of seemingly indestructible vigilantes. Trouble is, no one believes her, least of all her colleagues at the station. “I think you found Superman,” mocks one reporter. Risking her career and her life, she follows the story only to discover the vigilantes are actually sewer dwelling super turtles fighting against the evil Shredder and his Foot Gang minions. As strange as the story is, she soon discovers she may have a personal connection to these Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
When people say they hate CGI movies “TMNT” is the kind of movie they’re referring to. A microcosm of what’s wrong with summer spectaculars, it’s a soulless exercise in generation X brand nostalgia that creates an elaborate backstory—one that throws away the original origin story—as an excuse for the TMNT to spout one liners.
But no matter how quippy Leonardo (voice of Johnny Knoxville), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), Raphael (Alan Ritchson) and Donatello (Jeremy Howard) may be, it’s near impossible to get on side with this noisy, cluttered movie because it’s simply a frantically shot—director Jonathan Liebesman never met a zoom or dolly shot he didn’t love—collection of pixels with very little organic matter on display—other than Megan Fox’s teen dream face; all pouty lips and tousled hair—and when everything is fake, nothing feels real or emotionally connected.
Perhaps I’m overthinking a movie about Ninja turtles, but the film wants you to underthink and that’s the problem. Unlike “Guardians of the Galaxy,” which mixed humor, action and self-awareness, “TMNT” feels more like an exercise in brand revitalization than a movie.