Peanuts and Popcorn

Peanuts and Popcorn

Your Little Ninjas will Love these Turtles

posted by jtotey
The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. (Paramount /Nickelodeon Movies)

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. (Paramount /Nickelodeon Movies)

If your sons are getting tired of princess stories, they are going to love the new Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie storming into town this weekend. Don’t be surprised if you end up liking it too. While purist may take issue with some of the changes to the story in the new version, most will not. Parents concerned that the film maybe too dark or inappropriate for their children do to the fact that TMNT is produced by Michael Bay and directed by Jonathan Liebesman (known for directing The Texas Chainsaw Massacre: The Beginning), can breathe a sigh of relief as well. The fact that the movie is co-produced by Nickelodeon Movies is sure to be a factor in the film’s squeaky cleanness. Still, Bay and/or Liebesman can’t help themselves from keeping a couple of brief distasteful scenes that don’t belong in a kid’s movie, (one involves a Victoria Secret billboard of all things), but they are more on the silly side and won’t make for much of an impact on the young ones. These no doubt helped the film receive its PG-13 rating as there is no profanity in the film and most of the violence is of the cartoon variety.

Eric Sacks (William Fichtner) and April (Megan Fox) make a discovery. (Paramount/Nickelodeon Movies)

Eric Sacks (William Fichtner) and April (Megan Fox) make a discovery. (Paramount/Nickelodeon Movies)

Speaking of cartoons, that is definitely the feel of this movie. The plot is super simple, the action is larger than life and even when characters fall from a large distance like Wyle E. Coyote, they get up and walk away. There is even a message about the importance of family and working together as a team, values that parents can get behind.

Though the film stars Megan Fox, Whoopie Goldberg and Will Arnett, the real stars are the turtles, of course. The green ones get all of the funny lines and they actually act like teenagers. For the most part, Fox does a great job as April O’Neil, which will surprise some. A bigger surprise is that film didn’t leave anything funny for Goldberg or Arnett to say or do, which is a shame. They are okay in their roles of course, but there isn’t much to their characters. Goldberg sounds like an angry editor, but she still has a twinkle in her eye that says that she doesn’t mean it. Arnett spends his time looking for more clever things to say.

Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett) and April (Megan Fox) in hiding. (Paramount/Nickelodeon Movies)

Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett) and April (Megan Fox) in hiding. (Paramount/Nickelodeon Movies)

The history of how the turtles got their strength and size is explained in a short opening of the film. Are they space aliens as some hinted at months before the movie got out? “Of course not,” says April in the film. “That’s stupid.” (She may actually be referring to an early version of the script that that threatened to take the turtles in a whole different direction but was thrown out early in the process). For those who dislike origin stories, this is a plus.

In the cartoon world of coinincidences, it turns out that April’s father was a scientist working on a lifesaving potion that was tested on four turtles named Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), Raphael (Alan Richardson), Leonardo (Johnny Knoxville) and Donatello (Jeremy Howard) and a rat named Splinter (Tony Shalhoub). April considered these creatures her pets. When April’s father discovered that his partner’s plans were meant for evil and not good, he set fire to the lab. April rescues the critters and hides them in a sewer grate. Then she conveniently forgets about them until she was reunited with them face to face many years later. Isn’t it ironic that out of all the people in New York, she is the one who comes in contact with the four? Yes, the film is filled with that irony, which also helps to make it a lot of fun.

The ninjas have been hiding underground with their “father” Splinter who tells them that they will one day be sent to protect the humans above when the time is right, but being teenagers, the four think that this could be sooner than later.

Meanwhile, the city of New York is facing a rampant crime wave blamed on the evil Foot Clan lead and its leader, Shredder. Then there is Eric Sacks (William Fichtner) who knew April’s father well and may be the only one who really knows what is going on.

TMNT isn’t a masterpiece by any means. It is full of plot holes and for the casual observer, seems like a train wreck of a story. But all in all, it’s a fun film. Lots of laughs and action, just what many are wanting during the dog days of summer.

For those who are interested, it appears that the turtles have a preference for not just any pizza, but one that comes from Pizza Hut and they enjoy washing it down with Orange Crush, a fact that must make the folks at Crush thrilled. (I wonder if the afformentioned Victoria Secret will have any tie-in with this movie. Turtle-shelled bras anyone? Product placement at its best.)

ABC’s Put on the Wrong Show with ‘The Quest’

posted by jtotey
The muses on ABC's "The Quest." (ABC TV)

The muses on ABC’s “The Quest.” (ABC TV)

Eyes began to roll across America when the first previews of ABC’s The Quest began to air on the network months ago. Last night, we got a chance to see firsthand what the medieval-themed reality game show was all about and honestly, it is not as bad as one would have thought, but it appears that ABC may have cashed in on the wrong show (more on that below).

A lot of work went into producing The Quest and it shows. It was filmed on location in Austria and is executive produced by Bertram van Munster, Elise Doganieri, Mark Ordesky, Jane Fleming, Rob Eric and Michael Williams. They are responsible for the award-winning The Amazing Race, and state in the prolog that they wanted to merge the fantasy world with a reality competition. They claim that it has never been done before, but that isn’t true. Just last summer, ABC’s Whodunit was a similar show based on murder mysteries, but with a little more humor. And let’s face it; just about every reality game show from The Bachelor to The Mole to Survivor is based on fantasy. They just don’t have as impressive sets as they do on The Quest.

Contestants Jim Curry, Lina Carollo and Shondo Blades. (ABC)

Contestants Jim Curry, Lina Carollo and Shondo Blades. (ABC)

The show centers on 12 strangers who have been “chosen” (i.e. they auditioned and got the part) to become a “Paladin,” a defender for a noble cause. They meet up underground where three fates explain to them that they are tasked with saving the kingdom in Everrealm from the evil Verlox. Their living quarters are found at the Castle Sanctum where they are given the appropriate clothes for the era. The next morning, they begin training under the grumpy Sir Ansgar whose goal is to turn them into warriors. After their exercises, the weakest ones are shamed in front of the others. One will “meet their fate” and be banished from the game. At the end, only one competitor will be known as the true hero.

While the sets for the show are impressive and the actors (those who are not contestants) play their parts impressively, the show itself isn’t. It is a little on the dull side.  It looks like it would be a lot of fun to play along, but as it is; it is like watching someone else play your favorite video game.

All of the contestants on The Quest are what many would consider “nerds” and this is where ABC may have missed the boat. The contestants are actually more fascinating than the show:

  • Jim Curry aspires to become a future librarian. He is a member of a Hogwarts virtual choir and is also a member of the University of Arkansas Quidditch team.
  • Patrick Higgins convinced his wife to walk through a tunnel of light sabers to the theme song of Star Wars during the couple’s wedding and has spent thousands of dollars creating Star Wars costumes.
  • Adria Kyne has participated in a live-action role-playing game in knee-deep snow for a weekend pretending to be a cyborg and fight off giant radioactive moths.
  • Bonnie Gordon once sold her belongings and traveled with a gypsy equestrian show dressing up as a medieval wench for two months.
Christian Sochor aims while the others look on. (ABC)

Christian Sochor aims while the others look on. (ABC)

These are just a few examples of their real lives outside of the show, and a documentary about them would have been a much more interesting show to watch. Instead, we get to see children on a playground wishing we could join them.

The Quest continues each Thursday at 8:00 p.m. on ABC. If you missed the first episode, you can get caught up quickly by watching it online at abc.com.

‘Guardians’: Fanboys get Their Movie

posted by jtotey
Guardians2

Gamora (Zoe Saldana), Star Lord (Chris Pratt), Rocket Raccoon (Bradley Cooper), Drax ( Dave Bautista) and Groot (Vin Diesel). Marvel Studios

Marvel Studios took a risk in 2008 with a big budget project called Ironman. At the time, the comic book character was considered a lesser-known or a second stringer unlike Spider-Man, The Fantastic Four or The Hulk. It was debatable if audiences outside of the traditional comic book fan would bother to see such a movie. Well, we know how that story ended. Since then, Marvel has been spitting out new movie versions of their comic characters left and right and most have succeeded with the general population.

. It was debatable if audiences outside of the traditional comic book fan would bother to see such a movie. Well, we know how that story ended. Since then, Marvel has been spitting out new movie versions of their comic characters left and right and most have succeeded with the general population.

This weekend, the studio is taking another risk by bringing a fairly obscure franchise to the big screen: Guardians of the Galaxy.  Many have never even heard of these characters until just recently, except for the diehard fans. It will be interesting to see how the masses will respond this time around. I too am unfamiliar with the Guardians, so I can only judge the movie based on what I saw on the big screen. I have no idea if the film is faithful to the printed material or not.

Though technically a comic book movie, Guardians has its own look and feel that is unlike any other Marvel franchise, except for maybe Thor.  The humor is ramped up a bit, though not as campy as you would find in the 1960’s version of Batman and it is not even close to the seriousness of the latest Superman flick, Man of Steel. And for being a brand new story for most people, Guardians is sort of an anti-origin story.

The movie opens with Peter Quill, a little boy who witnesses his mother’s death due to an illness at a hospital. So distraught by the incident, he runs out of the hospital and immediately gets abducted by aliens. The film then fast-forwards about 30 years and Peter is all grown up looking like Chris Pratt scavenging through rubble while listening to his Sony Walkman that he had while he was on earth. (How that device held up all these years is also a mystery.) Like the missing years of Jesus in the Bible, we don’t know what happened to Peter or how he ended up where he is.

We do know that Peter is looking for a mystery orb of some kind for a dealer willing to pay big bucks for it, but he is not the only one. Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), doesn’t seem to realize that he is indeed a raccoon, and gets offended when people refer to him as a rodent. Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) is a walking tree trunk-type being who only utters the phrase, “I am Groot.” When his tree branches get yanked off, he just grows back new ones. And then there is Gamora (Zoe Saldana in green instead of Avatar blue). She is the step-daughter of Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), a well-hated man who also wants the orb. I don’t even know what Drax (Dave Bautista) is.

Guardians looks more similar to Star Wars than it does The Avengers – and weak version to boot. Since both Marvel and Lucasfilm are not under the control of Disney, one has to wonder if this is any indication of what we can expect with the new Star Wars film being shot right now.

Guardians has been getting a lot of press and hoopla the last few months and it is bound to please the true fanboys, but it may leave other scratching their heads. It isn’t a terrible movie, but there isn’t much to it. The characters are likeable, but we don’t know anything about any of them. Pratt is actually very good in the role of Peter or “Star Lord,” as he refers to himself and insists that “everyone” knows him by that title, although only a few actually do. He is sort of the Luke Skywalker/Han Solo of the story all rolled up into one character. He is cocky and heroic. The budding romance between Peter and Gamora seems to come out of nowhere. Rocket and Groot are fun to watch, but again, we don’t know anything about the pair. (It is interesting to note that the studio choose Van Diesel to voice Groot in that it have been played just as well from a non-name actor. He only says three words, albeit over and over again, throughout the whole movie. Impressively though, Van Diesel did record the phrase in a number of different languages for foreign distribution of the film, being the only character to not have his voice dubbed by another actor.)

Don’t expect to find any heavy themes or meanings with this movie and be aware that this flick has a little more harsh language than other Marvel hits. At least good triumphs over evil once again and during the end credits, it is spilled that the Guardians will be coming back soon with a continuing story.

Film Misses the Highs and Lows of ‘Boyhood’

posted by jtotey
IFC Films

IFC Films

Some films are so impressively made that they are fascinating to watch but not great to recommend to others. Unfortunately, that is the case with Richard Linklater’s “Boyhood” film. The movie premiered at numerous film festivals across the country and won as many awards along the way and rightly so. What makes this film so special is that it took over 12 years to create using the same cast so that we seem them literally age right before our eyes.

“Boyhood” tells its tale from the point of view of Mason (Ellar Coltrane), who was six years old when the project began, and his journey from boyhood to manhood. For the most part, the story is realistic. Mason is a child of divorce. His mother (Patricia Arquette) does her best to make her house a home for Mason and his bratty older sister Samantha (Lorelei Linklater), by putting herself through school in hopes of making better living. Along this journey she meets and marries a couple of abusive husbands. Mason’s father, Mason Sr. (Ethan Hawke), has been in and out of the kids’ lives, but vows to make a more concerted effort to be there for them and does a reasonable job of it too.

“Boyhood” is an interesting experiment in filmmaking. Mason’s and Samantha’s looks change constantly. Hairstyles go from long to short to long again. (This includes Arquette’s long hair to the drastic bob she wore while filming NBC’s “Medium” and Hawke’s appearance and disappearance of a creepy mustache.) Through all of it, Coltrane proves that he can act at any age. Ironically, Arquette’s acting gets better as the film goes on. Her lines seem forced at the beginning but become more natural as the film goes on. The parents aren’t perfect, but they “are there” for their kids and that says a lot. Still, when Mason comes home drunk, it doesn’t faze his mother much and throughout the film, Mason Sr. speaks highly about the usage of condoms so that Jr. and his sister don’t make the mistakes he did. Surprisingly, there are a few scenes where church and religion is brought up and they treated with respect.

Ethan Hawke shoots a selfie with co-stars, Lorelei Linklater and Ellar Coltrane. (IFC)

Ethan Hawke shoots a selfie with co-stars, Lorelei Linklater and Ellar Coltrane. (IFC)

Linklater creatively uses pop culture references and music to help show the timing of the story. Within seconds you know what year the story is set in. The film also features some worthwhile scenes of teachers trying their best to help Mason reach his true potential as an artist.

“Boyhood” has a rather melancholy feel to it. It is never really depressing but it never really gets to be very jovial either. There are some laughs and a few tense scenes involving an alcoholic step-dad, but for the most part, the movie just glides from one scene to another. And this is where the problem lies. There is no real arc to the storyline. The film is supposed to capture all the events of a boy growing up, and the film does that but not in the way that one would hope. There are a few scenes of Mason playing with his friends, swinging on a swing, enjoying a birthday party, the holidays, but those scenes are rare. For the most part, the film is very “talky.” Near the end of the picture, Mason asks one of his friends, “Is this are there is?” and for this reviewer, he was beginning to think the same thing.

There is a lot to take in the 164 minute film, but with the absence of highs and lows and, it is not a very satisfying ride. None of the characters appear to be especially happy throughout the film and in the end, Mason’s mom is downright miserable. Perhaps this is Linklater’s view of life. That the meaning of life is just a mystery and we are to just endure it. However, for those believe in something bigger than themselves, we know that there is more to look forward to.

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