Paramount’s Ninja Turtles Reboot Proves To Be One Of 2014’s Worst New Movies

Courtesy:  Paramount Pictures

Courtesy: Paramount Pictures

Paramount Pictures’ updated take on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is one of the worst new movies of 2014. There is no way to sugarcoat it. Simply put, it is one more example of why Hollywood’s (and audiences’) seemingly insatiable appetite for prequels, sequels, and remakes can only mean a bleak future for the industry’s “Power Five” studios. The central reason for the failure of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is its writing. While the movie’s writers and the studio did back down on the original idea for the Turtles’ origin story, the story incorporated into the story proves to be just as bad. There is also the issue of the plot. While it can be said that the movie’s plot is not necessarily as cheesy as some of the plot lines from the animated series, there is still something about this movie’s plot that makes it unbearable. And dangling the proverbial carrot in front of old school audiences in the form of references to the original animated series (and movie) hurts the movie even more in terms of the movie’s writing. It’s one more example of why having multiple people working on a single script serves only to hurt said script. This has been proven time and again in a number of works before this one. TMNT is just the latest. Just as noteworthy is the acting. Credit should e given where credit is due. The actors behind the turtles are deserving of their due respect. However, the acting on the part of lead Meghan Fox and the movie’s supporting cast falls flat. Even actor Will Arnett comes up short as April’s photog Vernon Fenwick. He had the look. And he did make a valiant effort at his portrayal. But it still came up short in the end. Those issues with the cast’s acting coupled with the issues raised in the movie’s script hurt TMNT in a major way. They still are not all that hurt the movie. Last but hardly least of all that goes against the movie is its collective look and production values. Michael Bay wasn’t at the helm of TMNT. But in watching the movie, one may as well say that he was. That is because the movie’s look and its production values are quite similar to the much maligned Transformers franchise that he previously helmed. It is the final nail in the movie’s coffin, sealing the movie’s fate and proving once more why this movie is one of the worst of 2014.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was and is one of the best movies to leap from the pages of comic books. That is the original live action movie that debuted in 1990. This year’s new update on that modern classic is the polar opposite of that incarnation. It’s painfully obvious from start to finish, too beginning with the movie’s overall writing. The movie’s plot by itself does plenty to hurt the movie. And it all begins with the Turtles’ much mailgned origin story. Those that followed this movie from the days even before its pre-production started will recall that the origin story was going to have Leo, Raph, Don, and Mikey come in as aliens from another planet. Thankfully that didn’t happen. However, the origin story that took its place is just as problematic. That story won’t be revealed here for the sake of those that have yet to watch the movie. But it directly involves April O’Neil. And to a point, it takes a page from Sony’s latest incarnation of Spiderman. April’s revelation at her link to the Turtles’ origin story is cheesy enough. But the acting on the part of actress Megan Fox, who plays April, only serves to make that revelation even more unbelievable. The acting on the part of the cast will be discussed in more depth at a later point. For now, the focus will remain on the movie’s writing.

The origin story crafted for Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is but one part of the writing that hurts this big screen reboot bust. The movie’s very plot plays its own role in the movie’s failure. The movie’s plot sees Shredder and the Foot Clan–which is made more into a pseudo militia group here instead of the old school, evil ninja group from the original movie and animated series–trying to spread a virus through New York City. In turn, they and Eric Sacks (William Fitchner) can use the mutagen that created the Turtles for their own financial gain. Yes, it’s true. In defense of this plot, those that are familiar with the original animated series, there was an episode in which Shreddder sent up a satellite-like device the changed the weather around the world as a means for him and Krang to take over the world. So keeeping that in consideration it isn’t too cheesy of a plot. There’s still something about it in the script’s writing though, that makes it not entirely believable. Speaking of the comparison between this incarnation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the original animated series (and the franchise’s original movie), that is yet another issue in the writing that hurts this movie.

The issues raised through the origin story and plot incorporated into Paramount’s new take on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles both make the movie’s writing rather problematic in their own way. One can’t ignore the fact that Applebaum, Nemec and Daugherty did try to please the fans of the franchise’s original animated series and 1990 movie with constant throwback references to both. They even made sure to include the skateboards used in both properties. The issue at hand with making such references is that through the script’s previously noted problems, adding in those references essentially becomes a slap in the face to the fans that grew up with those originals. It’s the same as dangling the carrot in front of a donkey (or rabbit) only to have it pulled away for lack of better wording. Simply put, it is disrespectful to said audiences.

The writing behind the script for Paramount’s new incarnation of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a big part of what has made this movie one of the worst of this year’s new releases. While the writing proves to be quite problematic, it is only the beginning of the movie’s problems. The work of the movie’s cast is just as problematic. Actress Megan Fox plays April O’Neil in this version of TMNT. Her reaction at discovering her role in the origin of the Turtles is awful. It is so over the top and hammy that one can only shake one’s hand. While Will Arnett deserves at least some credit for trying to properly portray Vernon Fenwick, even he comes up short. He is hit and miss at best. To the cast’s credit, the men behind the mean green machine–Johnny Knoxville (Bad Grampa, Men in Black 2, Jackass), Pete Ploszek (Parks & Rec, Shameless), Jeremy Howard (Men in Black 2, Galaxy Quest, How The Grinch Stole Christmas), Noel Fisher (Final Destination 2, Red, Battle Los Angeles), and Alan Ritchson (Fired Up, Blue Mountain State, The Hunger Games: Catching Fire) are to be commended for their work. They did quite the job of establishing the attitude and comic element for which the Turtles have been known for decades in their protrayals. Sadly the same can’t be said for the duo of Tony Shahoub (Monk, Wings, Men in Black 1 – 3) and Danny Woodburn (Mirror Mirror, Employee of the Month, Death to Smoochy). The duo partnered to bring Splinter to life. Whether it is their own work (or lack thereof) or because of how Splinter was written into the story, their portrayals did little to make Splinter really stand out at any one point in the story. So simply put, the only positives that can be pointed out in terms of the acting in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is the acting of the men that brought Leo, Don, Raph and Mikey to life. other than that, not much positive can be said of the rest of the cast’s work. It’s yet another example of why Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comes up far short of its potential and proves in the end to be one of this year’s worst new releases.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comes up short in so many ways. its writing is the biggest offender when examining why the movie falls short. The acting on the part of the movie’s cast is another issue. Last but hardly least of note that damaged TMNT is the collective look and production values incorporated into the movie. Michael Bay did not helm this reboot of the classic franchise. But even as a producer, his influence is blatantly obvious throughout the movie. The fast-paced shots, the giant explosions, and of course Shredder’s Transformers-esque look show just how much influence he obviously had in this movie. The only positive to it all is April’s look. The use of a yellow jacket in place of a cheesy full body jumpsuit is the only fully acceptable update to the whole thing. Other than that one positive, one might as well just say that this was another Michael Bay film despite the fact that he was only a producer instead of director. And that considered along with all of the movie’s other negatives is the final nail in the movie’s coffin. One can only hope that whenever the already-in-the-works sequel debuts, it will make up for everything that this movie got wrong. Regardless, this reboot will remain among the worst new major motion pictures of 2014.

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Wings: Seasons 3 & 4 DVD Set Is Fun But Flawed Re-Issue Set

Courtesy: Mill Creek Entertainment

Courtesy: Mill Creek Entertainment

Television today is a virtual wasteland of programming.  If one takes the time to examine the current programming lineup for the “Big 4” and even the cable spectrum reveals that dramas and reality shows are the biggest draw for most of those networks right now.  The comedies that are there sadly lack the heart of the comedies crafted from television’s golden era up until about the mid to late 90s.  They have all become oversexed and dumbed down.  And the news magazines all seem to be dominated by stories about murders.  Taking into consideration what has happened to television today, Mill Creek Entertainment’s re-issue of Wings: Seasons 3 & 4 early this year becomes quite the welcome box set.  Seasons 3 and 4 offer plenty more laughs for viewers.  For all of the enjoyment offered in the box set’s five discs, the set isn’t without one glaring fault.  It is the same fault that has hindered each of Mill Creek’s box sets.  Luckily, that one fault isn’t enough to take away from the one other positive to this season, which is the inclusion of a young Tony Shaloub to the show’s cast as well as celebrity appearances from members of the Cheers cast and other well-known figures.  The good and the bad taken together here, Wings: Seasons 3 & 4 proves to be an easy candidate for a spot on this critic’s list of the year’s best new box sets for grown-ups.

Mill Creek Entertainment’s release of Wings: Seasons 3 & 4 is an easy candidate for a spot on this critic’s list of the year’s best new box sets for grown-ups.  The main reason for that is the show’s writing.  The series, which was co-created and produced by Cheers staffers David Angell, Peter Casey, and David Lee, proves in its third and fourth seasons to still have more heart than any of the sitcoms currently on television today.  A look at the writing in these two seasons proves that.  The series’ writers managed to do something in these two seasons that few if any writers have managed to do in recent years.  They managed to balance the series’ story lines so as to not let its serial side overpower its standalone side.  That balance is just as visible in Cheers.  So it should come as no surprise that it is just as stable here.  In terms of the show’s more serial-centered side, the relationship between Helen and Joe will keep viewers laughing through every episode.  ‘Ladies Who Lunch” is one of the best of those episodes.  Helen and Gail, Joe’s ex and his current girlfriend hang out and end up becoming friends.  Ironically, Gail ends up breaking up with Joe in the process.  On the other side of things, there is the two-part story arc that sees Antonio trying to get his green card.  That arc is made up of the episodes “Marriage, Italian Style” and “Divorce, American Style.” The two episodes together make up what is a time honored storyline used in so many sitcoms before and after. As many times as it has been used even before this case, these two episodes are just as funny as those of any of those noted series. The ability of the show’s writers to balance the series’ serial elements with its standalone elements is just one part of what audiences will appreciate in its third and fourth seasons. Audiences will appreciate the writing itself in terms of its jokes and story lines.

The jokes and story lines incorporated in the third and fourth seasons of Wings should not be omitted in examining what makes these seasons work so well. Audiences will enjoy the writers’ homage to I Love Lucy in Season 4’s episode “I Love Brian.” Brian badmouths I Love Lucy because of the show’s writing. Yet he ends up taking part in an equally bird brained scheme in order to meet country singer Clint Black (who makes a guest appearance for the episode) and impress a woman. In “Goodbye, Old Friend,” Lowell loses a dear friend. Even in his grief, he provides his own share of laughs as he goes through the five stages of grieving in a matter of a minute if that. The timing of that moment along with Brian’s (Steven Weber) statement that Lowell would go through the stages over months makes it an especially lighthearted moment. At the same time though, Lowell is still struggling with his feelings at having lost such a friend. His final gesture for his friend makes the episode whole and will warm any viewer’s heart. These are just a couple examples of how the actual writing in Seasons 3 & 4 makes these two seasons even more welcome additions to the library of anyone looking for a break from all of the over sexed and overly violent programming out there today. Together with the writers’ ability to balance the show’s serial elements with its standalone elements, it is even more a welcome respite from those shows.

So much was done right with Wings in its third and fourth season n terms of its writing. For all of those positives, this recently released box set is not without one glaring fault. That glaring fault is the box set’s packaging. All five of this set’s discs are set one on top of the other on a single spindle inside the case. This creates a certain amount of difficulty in pulling the disc of choice by viewers. It also increases greatly the likelihood of the discs scratching themselves. This is a major issue that Mill Creek has yet to address even to this day. And until it fixes the problem, that poor manner of packaging is going to continue to cause Mill Creek to trail its “big brothers.” Luckily, it isn’t enough to take away too much from the overall enjoyment taken from the series’ writing or the last factor worth noting in this set. That last factor is the celebrity guest appearances made throughout Seasons 3 and 4.

The celebrity guest appearances made throughout the third and fourth seasons of Wings round out the package in whole and make these two seasons all the more worth the watch. Seasons 3 and 4 see some of the cast members from Cheers make appearances along with other celebs. Kelsey Grammer and Bebe Neuwirth make an onscreen appearance as Dr. Frasier Crane and his wife Lilith in one episode, while fellow Cheers alumnus Kirstie Alley also makes an appearance alongside country superstar Clint Black in “I Love Brian.” Oliver North and William Hickey (Prizzi’s Honor, The Nightmare Before Christmas) also make appearances. The fact that the series could garner such star power was by itself a major statement of faith. It was a statement of faith in the series. That faith combined with the series’ solid writing to make it just as much a fan favorite then as it will be now in its latest re-issue by Mill Creek. And audiences will agree to all of that when they purchase this five-disc set themselves.

Wings: Seasons 3 & 4 is available in stores and online now. It can be ordered now direct from Mill Creek’s online store here. More information on this and other releases from Mill Creek Entertainment is available online through the official Mill Creek Entertainment website and Mill Creek Entertainment Facebook page. To keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news, go online to the Phil’s Picks Facebook page and “Like” it. Fans can always keep up with the latest sports and entertainment reviews and news in the Phil’s Picks blog.

Lincoln A Solid Biopic From Start To Finish

Courtesy:  Dreamworks Studios/20th Century Fox

Courtesy: Dreamworks Studios/20th Century Fox

Much has been written of Abraham Lincoln.  Books upon books upon books have been published that center on the man and the myths surrounding his life.  Just as much has been crafted for televised documentaries.  And even more has been penned about the era in which our nation’s sixteenth President led his country.  Now courtesy of author Doris Kearns Goodwin, director Steven Spielberg and screen writer Tony Kushner, audiences have been presented with what is one of the most gripping portrayals of President Lincoln and his time in office in the simply titled, Lincoln.

Lincoln was largely met with applause from critics and audiences alike.  Though there were those that had their qualms with the near three hour long semi-biopic.  Many of the arguments against the story were centered on the fact that the movie in fact focuses on Lincoln and the battles in the halls of the nation’s government.  In the story’s defense, audiences should remind themselves that this movie is not about the war on the battlefield.  It is about the battles in Congress over the abolition of slavery and bringing a final end to the Civil War.  It is a beautifully shot and well acted story.  However, those who have mentioned its sometimes long winded nature can be agreed upon.  Sometimes, it does get rather wordy.  And the story’s slower pacing might turn off some viewers considering that the movie comes in at nearly three hours long.  But those that are true history buffs and/or civil war buffs will easily be able to overlook these issues and enjoy it for its positives, which outweigh the negatives.

For the negatives that weigh down Lincoln, its positives outweigh those negatives.  The first of the positives in Lincoln is that it doesn’t get lost in itself throughout the course of its run time.  The story is meant to focus on President Lincoln and what was the most pivotal moment in his time in office; his waning days in office before his assassination.  The new four-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack home release of the movie includes the bonus feature, “The Journey to Lincoln” on both formats.  This feature is a welcome addition as Spielberg, author Doris Kearns Goodwin—whose book was the inspiration behind this movie—and screen writer Tony Kushner all point out in this feature that the aim was meant to be on what went on in Congress during the final days of the Civil War, rather than on the frontlines.  Having this hammered home so gently by all three individuals makes the story more watchable in comparison to the likes of Public Enemies which was also based on a historical non-fiction.  That movie was a mere shadow of the far better book.  It really was a movie that never should have happened.   This movie at least attempts to stay closer to the book on which it is based.  It presents less the mythical Lincoln and more the actual man, and what he faced in what would be his final days in office.

The story and its primary associated bonus feature make up just one of the positives to the new home release of Lincoln.  The acting on the part of the star-studded cast is another positive to Lincoln.  Even though there are some portions of the movie that are more drawn out than they perhaps should have been, veterans Daniel Day Lewis (There Will Be Blood), Tommy Lee Jones (Men In Black 1-3), and Sally Field (Mrs. Doubtfire, Smoky and the Bandit), all contribute expertly, making their parts fully believable.  Making their performances even more believable are costumes that are spot on.  While the movie may not have taken the Oscar for this category, there is no denying how impressive the end result of that work was.  Speaking of which, audiences that pick up the new four-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack of Lincoln get another bonus in the addition of a feature titled, “Crafting The Past” in the set’s bonus Blu-ray disc.  This feature examines not just the costumes, but also the production work and other more fine details of the movie.

The costumes and production of Lincoln are just as important as any other part of the movie that makes it successful.  There is at least one more factor to the movie that makes this the impressive work that it is.  That factor is the movie’s cinematography.  The shooting style us especially powerful in the movie’s closing scenes as the President surveys the result of a battle.  And the movie’s final scene (which will not be revealed here for the sake of those who have yet to see the movie), is a prime example of expert cinematography.  The transition into that scene and the final pullout are such powerful statements in themselves, and will leave any true history and civil war buff feeling completely satisfied after having made it through the rest of the movie’s emotional journey.  After having made that journey and having viewed the extensive bonus features included in the new four-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, those same individuals will agree that Lincoln is in fact one of the best biopics crafted in recent history, albeit only a semi-biopic.  It is available now in stores and online.

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Sony’s MIB Franchise Returns To Form In Its Latest Release

 

Courtesy:  Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Courtesy: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment

Sony Pictures’ Men in Black franchise has finally returned to form with the release of the third movie in its franchise.  Whereas the franchise’s second movie dropped flat with audiences, this second sequel has brought the movie’s fun and action back.  Given, the whole time travel/alternate timeline bit has been done far too many times in both movies and television.  And there are far too many sequels, prequels, and remakes out there today.  But this is one of those rare sequels that can be forgiven.  It has brought the MIB franchise back to where it should be.

MIB 3’s bonus “Making of” featurette does a good job of explaining what exactly it is that made this movie at least somewhat successful.  Director Barry Sonnenfeld explains that the movie isn’t so much about the time travel, but about the secrets of the relationship between Agents “Jay” and “Kay.”  Having an understanding of this helps to be more accepting of the time travel/alternate timeline bit that is otherwise far too overdone in the science fiction genre.  Audiences will find the relationship especially heartwarming in the story’s final moments in understanding this, too.  It’s those final moments that really bring the entire trilogy full circle and hopefully will mark the end of this movie property.

The story of the relationship between “Jay” and “Kay” makes up for the otherwise dull and done to death time travel plot.  It’s only part of what makes this movie bearable.  This movie gets everything right that the second movie in the trilogy got wrong.  Whereas the second of the MIB movies was simply not believable and focused far too much on melodrama, MIB 3 brings back all the aliens, gadgets, and action that made the first of the MIB franchise so fun.  Also, since it does everything that MIB did, it is also much easier to suspend disbelief.  That is the center of everything.  The gadgets, aliens, special effects and action were fun.  But it’s that believable storyline between “Jay” and “Kay” that makes MIB 3 what it is.  Instead of a standard romance subplot, this story evolves the partnership/relationship between “Jay” and “Kay” and this makes them as characters more believable.  By the story’s end, audiences who allow themselves to believe the relationship between “Jay” and “Kay” will see that while it may not be the most memorable of movies, it is still one that’s fun and funny for everyone.

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