Tag Archives: Will Arnett

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Too much Megan Fox, a lot of obvious jokes, but surprisingly better than expected. And no, they aren’t aliens, that would be stupid.

by Owen Hughes (@ohughes86)

tmnt 2Back in 2012 when this film was announced, it’s fair to say it was met mostly with dread and trepidation. “Why is Michael Bay stomping all over my childhood” was never far from my Twitter feed. The rumour that “he’s making them into aliens?!” caused many a nerd to spontaneously combust. “First Transformers, and now this! What’s next? Ghostbusters?!Well, as a matter of fact…

I digress. The point is, a lot of people (including myself) were disappointed with how the Transformers franchise turned out. If you were also born at any point during the mid-late 1980’s you were probably raised on a diet of LSD-inspired cartoons full of vibrant colours, moral messages and cheesier-than-hell dialogue too. Whether you ran around your garden pointing 99p plastic swords in the air shouting “I HAVE THE POWER!” at the top of your voice, or sobbed uncontrollably when your latest Transformer toy inevitably broke within a week of purchasing it, at some point you will have come across four green bandanna-wearing crime-fighting mutated turtles (that are also teenagers) and their Japanese martial-arts master and mentor, a man-sized sewer-dwelling rat. Affection was fought for and won on a weekly basis as they thwarted yet another dastardly plan from the Shredder, Krang and the Foot Clan.

But is it fair to accuse Michael Bay of ruining your precious childhood memories? Were the shows and films actually ever any good in the first place? It’s hard to ignore the argument that it is most likely nostalgia clouding your judgement as to just how good these shows were and that maybe, just maybe, Bay is attempting to improve on them; as opposed to purposefully opening his bowels all over your 7 year old self for no better reason than because he can.

When the reboot of TMNT was first confirmed, this question came before me and I had to check for myself. I revisited the original three live-action Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles films, as well as a few others (How It All Began, which I used to own on VHS, and the 2007 animated movie) and found, to my surprise, the first two films at least were surprisingly still enjoyable for what they are. The special effects were decent, particularly the costume designs, and the tone of the movie was a lot darker than I had expected it to be. The series got progressively worse as it wore on; word of warning, the cartoon series does not hold up as well as you’d hope. But then, that’s not really that surprising, is it.

As for this reboot / remake / whatever you want to call it, it’s not without its problems, but it’s unfair to disqualify it simply for being based on something that – and let’s be honest with ourselves for a moment – was never that good in the first place.

The first thing I should point out now before carrying on with this review, because a lot of people seem to be making this mistake (understandably so), is that it isn’t actually directed by Michael Bay. He only produced it. If you have a problem with the way this movie is directed, you need to lay the blame at the feet of Jonathan Liebesman, the man responsible for Darkness Falls, Battle: Loss Angeles, and the surprisingly not-as-terrible-as-the-previous-one Wrath of the Titans. Not that it actually makes a difference who directed it because for all intents and purposes, it looks almost exactly like a Michael Bay film. The only give away that it’s not is the fact that it’s only an hour and 40 minutes long rather than two hours and 40 minutes long, and it just doesn’t look as good as some of his stuff does.

The point of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when they were first devised as a comic-book was to lampoon the (then) current trend for all things ninja. In the 80’s, people like Sho Kosugi and martial arts action films were everywhere you turned. Eventually, a Playmates toy line and cartoon series later, they themselves became far more popular and famous than the pop culture references they initially parodied. Today, this doesn’t really leave the series as anything culturally relevant or necessary any more, but it’s still nice to know that generation after generation can get to experience them in one way or another, albeit in the shape of the comics getting popular again, or a new cartoon series that is supposedly quite entertaining, or as it happens, more movie adaptations.

As I said earlier, this isn’t a film without its own problems. They don’t lie with the fact that the movie exists at all, as non-relevant as it may be, but with lots of other areas. To coin a 90’s phrase, the action scenes are WHACK. Not because they’re boring or bland, but because you cannot see what one steroid-enhanced muscle-bound mask-wearing Shrek-like mutant is doing with the other steroid-enhanced muscle-bound mask-wearing Shrek-like mutant. The camera appears to constantly be at waist height pointing upwards, whilst simultaneously spinning around the action that we’re meant to be interested in, and wobbling all over the place. Making out what is happening on screen during big CGI fight sequences has been a failing of Bay’s in the past. He looked to have improved on it somewhat during Transformers: Age of Extinction, but it appears Liebesman didn’t see that particular movie. Instead, it has all the trappings of the first Transformers movie.

I’d wager that most people going to see this film are doing so to spend time watching the four heroes in a half shell get up to some pizza-related hijinks, kick some foot-clan arse and have an epic showdown with Shredder. Therefore, it seems an awfully bizarre decision to spend quite so much time on the films human characters, the yellow-jacketed news-anchor April O’Neil and her cameraman Vernon Fenwick (played by Megan Fox and Will Arnett respectively). There’s simply too much time spent waiting for April to meet the avenging vigilante turtles, and then not enough time spent in their company. They should have been the focus of the film. It’s their story that we wanted to watch. You know, the guys whose name is in the title. It’s not  called April O’Neil & The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. It detracted from what should have been a film primarily cartoony in nature.

However, what I will say in its favour is that some of the humour, not all of it, but some of it, is quite amusing. The time we do spend with the turtles does raise the odd chuckle. A lot of the gags are crude or obvious, and pop-culture references always seem to be cheap and easy to raise laughs, but it is definitely a comedy adventure film with goofy humour and slapstick in it that’s done moderately well.

Michelangelo probably steals the show in many respects, whilst Raphael comes across as cool as he ever does. Arguments could be made for the fact that his friction with the appointed leader Leonardo seems forced and underdeveloped, but allowances can be made in these circumstances. It is aimed at kids, after all. There’s no need to expand on every single suggested character trait. Donatello is mainly left to be the “get us out of this situation with your book-smarts” character, but none of the four are offensive interpretations of the gang. Whenever they are on screen, the film zips by. None of the performances here are particularly note-worthy. Will Arnett, Megan Fox, William Fitchner, they’re not here because they’re great actors, but they all play their parts well enough for me to not complain.

So, that brings me back to my original question. Has Michael Bay’s plan to improve on the most common interpretation of the TMNT, that late eighties cartoon, ultimately been successful? Well, it’s hard to beat nostalgia. For a lot of people, the quality of the original cartoon bears little consequence in how much enjoyment you can gain from reminiscing about the good old days. Context aside, approaching this as if there had never been any other TMNT interpretations before, it’s passable. It’s short, it’s occasionally fun as often as it is frustrating, and it certainly hasn’t pissed all over this blokes inner child.

You can hear Owen, Callum and Steve chat about Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the upcoming podcast due out in the next few days.

The Nut Job

No.

by Callum Petch (Twitter: @CallumPetch)

the nut job 2I have been given crap for my review of Tinker Bell & The Pirate Fairy because I dared to compare it to other, far superior animated movies on the market; your Lego Movies, your Mr. Peabody & Shermans, your Frozens, even your How To Train Your Dragons.  I got stick for commenting in detail on the animation quality.  I got stick for attempting to evaluate the film despite not being part of the target audience.  (I also got stick for not having familiarised myself with the series beforehand which is a fair complaint that I will admit is unprofessional of me.)  I have even been accused of being the kind of guy who nitpicks at supposedly perfectly good films for no other reason than I like to and that I am the kind of guy who has forgotten why I go to the cinema: to have fun.

I don’t feel shamed by any of this.  Really, I don’t.  I don’t feel any remorse whatsoever for that review and I don’t feel any remorse for my continuing love and harsh criticism of animated films.  Do you want to know why?  It is not because I am a fun-hating killjoy with a giant stick shoved right up where the sun don’t shine.  No, it is because I love animation.  I adore animation.  I always have and, goddammit, I always will.  The medium is one filled with boundless, near-limitless storytelling potential.  A chance to create and display images of astounding beauty that would be impossible or near-impossible to replicate in live-action.  The possibility to take the viewer on a trip to brand-new worlds, the likes of which one has never seen before.  A chance to make the kind of films and tell the kind of stories that would never get funded in live-action, wouldn’t have the same experience as in live-action, and to create a timelessness that telling the story in live-action might lack.  Pixar (circa 1995 – 2010, minus 2006) were kings at crafting lived-in worlds, Disney can pump out strong, memorable characters in their sleep, DreamWorks at their best know perfectly how to balance comedy and strong character work, Persepolis (although not a kids’ film) is one of the most beautiful and emotionally affecting films that I have ever seen and could only be told in the way that it was via animation.

So, no.  I will not apologise for the way I review animated films.  I will not be forced to apologise for holding animated features a higher standard.  Because I know that this medium can do better.  I know for a fact that it is better and deserves better than the crap that is constantly pumped out cynically for a quick buck.  I know that shovelware is going to crop up for all mediums and that live-action cinema, in all of its forms, has just as much, if not more, crap than the animated landscape ever will have.  And guess what?  I’ll call those out for being terrible, too.  But animation means a whole lot to me and to be accused of being a fun-killer for not giving a pass to every cheap mediocre-or-worse slop that is plopped down in cinemas for the sole purpose of sucking parents’ wallets clean because, “Hey, the cinema’s cheaper than a babysitter,” infuriates me.  I hate because I love, I hold animation to a higher standard because it can do better and I don’t just give slop aimed at the youngest and stupidest of children a pass because, guess what, they deserve better.  And they can get better; turn on the TV to quite literally any cartoon channel nowadays and they will get better for free!  There is no excuse and I will never apologise for the way I go about reviewing these films.

I bring this up because The Nut Job is literally a walking example of everything that is wrong with animated kids’ films.  This is a film designed by a committee for the sole purpose of making money.  There is no heart, there are no characters, there are fart noises and Gangam Style music cues in lieu of jokes, the animation is mediocre at best and terrible at worst, the voice acting is boring and uncommitted, the art design and layout and storyboarding is all lifeless and uninteresting.  No effort has been put in, not in conception, not in execution.  The one interesting thing it has is the fact that it kind of wants to be a heist movie, but it bungles proceedings so thoroughly, and seems so uninterested in actually being a heist movie, that all it does is leave me wishing that somebody would make an actually good animated heist movie.

Think of something that happens in a bad kids’ movie and it turns up here.  A cast of characters who have one single trait, go through pretty much no arcs, and who exist almost solely for jokes yet the film still wants you to care about anyway?  Lame puns based on a word that is supposedly inherently funny but really isn’t yet the film stops to call attention to it before moving on?  Sequences set to chart-ready pop songs, including one where the film stops dead for a good minute because it was popular when the film went into production?  Disconnected story threads where the human villains get nearly as much screen-time as the animals that we’re supposed to care about, and who keep getting shoved back into the main plot despite their overall irrelevance to it?  A section near the end where it looks like our hero has died, and the film acts like he has, but then it turns out he’s actually OK and you were crying for no reason (which is a trope/beat I am officially banning all movies of all kinds from using in the future)?  A lead female protagonist who is supposedly tough and capable on her own yet whose only function is to be constantly rescued by our lead male protagonist?  An “Obligatory Dance Party Ending Over The Credits”?  Yes, they are all present and correct and done with so little effort or interest it’s insulting.

The jokes, meanwhile… oh, lord, the jokes.  The Nut Job has all kinds of bad jokes.  We got fart jokes, jokes based on characters very noticeably and clumsily dropping the word “nut” into a sentence, jokes based around characters dancing to Gangam Style, obvious blind jokes, jokes that just involve characters shouting lines of dialogue at one another, jokes that just involve characters screaming lines of dialogue at one another, jokes designed around the fact that one of the characters has a bird who looks exactly like one of the Angry Birds birds, and jokes based around how irritatingly stupid the whole cast is (a stupid cast is fine in a comedy, obviously, but you need actual jokes because otherwise you’ve just got annoyingly stupid characters).  Each joke is pulled off with a total lack of skill, effort, construction and timing (said fart jokes genuinely just involves fart sound effects playing on a near-constant loop on the soundtrack at one point as everyone takes turns to say how disgusting farting is).  There is one, precisely one, that got a positive reaction out of me and that involved two speeding vans passing a donut shop, upon which point every cop inside collectively have their heads rise up like an old broken-down animatronic on a fairground ride.  Everything else landed with a thud at best, or a sigh of derision at worst.

Animation is all over the shop.  At the best of times, it’s half as good as Monsters Inc. from 2001.  Character models lack detail but they are passable enough, scampering is clearly hiding a limited budget but at least fits considering the fact that we’re talking about squirrels and rats and the like, and there’s a bit in the finale involving water that doesn’t look horrible.  Otherwise, this is hideous.  Lighting is dreadful, sequences set at night barely look any different from sequences set in the day except that the sky is now purple.  Everything lacks detail, something that’s especially prominent whenever the famed and desired nuts get a close-up and just end up looking plastic.  Character movements that don’t involve scampering are too restrained and unconvincing, especially whenever cartoon physics take over (there are multiple jokes that should end with one or more characters dead which, incidentally, saps any tension the later sequences should have).  Facial expressions frequently border on completely lifeless and mostly just settle for plain boredom, the lone female human genuinely looks like a Barbie doll and it is creepy as all hell.  And character designs are uninspired with some characters (namely that bird and any and all humans) looking like they don’t even belong in the same film as the rest.

Also, during the aforementioned end credits dance party, an animated version of Psy comes out to dance to Gangam Style and I am not kidding or exaggerating or anything of the sort when I tell you that it is genuinely the cheapest and lowest resolution animation that I have seen in a feature-length animated film released in cinemas in…  in…  You know, I honestly can’t recall ever seeing an uglier and lower-quality piece of a theatrically-released animated feature-film.  It is quite literally unbelievable just how horrible the end credits look.

Also of note is just how despicably unlikable the lead character is.  Surly (voiced by a Will Arnett who clearly does not care enough to keep up the Russian accent I think his character is supposed to have) is a thoroughly unpleasant lead who is mean to everybody, selfish, and isn’t even witty or entertaining to make up for that fact.  He’s just a jerk, a complete and total jerk.  And he remains that way for a good 80% of the film’s runtime despite needing to become a more selfless and heroic guy at the end.  So, at the 80% mark, around about the time the film’s big lifeless final chase scene starts, he suddenly becomes a paragon of virtue.  As expected, it didn’t take to me, and it especially didn’t take seeing as every other character in the film is a complete tool that nobody in their right mind would step up and defend or a really annoying one-joke blank slate (step right up, the groundhogs) that is impossible to care about.

Look, folks, I am tired.  I am tired of animated films that are not trying harder.  Before The Nut Job, a trailer for Jorge R Guitérrez’s upcoming debut feature-length animated film The Book Of Life was shown.  In that one two minute trailer, I saw more imagination, invention, heart, character, love, visual splendour and overall effort than the entirety of The Nut Job.  There was also a trailer for Laika’s third animated feature The Boxtrolls and that too displayed more imagination, invention, heart, character, love, visual splendour and overall effort in two minutes than all 86 of The Nut Job.  I am tired of people not aiming for those levels, I am tired of people not trying.  They don’t even have to be that good, just as long as everyone involved is clearly trying.  So I am done giving crappy animated films a pass.  In a year that has seen The Lego Movie, in a year that has seen Mr. Peabody & Sherman and in a year that has seen How To Train Your Dragon 2, there is no excuse for Escape From Planet Earth, there is no excuse for Tarzan, there is no excuse for The House Of Magic and there is no excuse for the cynical, soulless pile of complete tripe known as The Nut Job.

You want to distract your kids with cartoons for two hours?  Turn on Cartoon Network, turn on Nicktoons, turn on Disney; turn on any TV channel that shows cartoons because there are brand new kids’ shows on the air right now who are of far higher quality than this crap and which will cost you pretty much nothing.  Just do not take them to this because not only is there better, and not only do your kids deserve better, animation as a whole deserves better.  Do not reward them for churning sh*t like this out.

Callum Petch wants to run til we meet in the night.  Follow him on the Twitters (@CallumPetch)!

100 Greatest TV Episodes: Good Grief (s2, ep4)

arrested development good grief peanutsCult US sitcom Arrested Development returns to our screens this Sunday and, rather than the harsh and unforgiving world of network television, it has found a new home on Netflix. It would be unfair to blame Fox for the show’s failure to gather an audience during its original three season stint between 2003 and 2006. The network gave it a fair crack, but this idiosyncratic comedy couldn’t attract more than the proverbial handful of dedicated followers.

It wasn’t that the show was too clever or highbrow, just that it required commitment. Most popular sitcoms allow you to dip in and out casually, with the majority of the jokes being explicitly and verbally expressed; ‘there’s the uptight one getting annoyed by the lazy one, then the one with the great one-liners is about to deliver a great one-liner’. On AD, Ron Howard’s title-sequence narration spelt out the basic premise of the Enron-style downfall of a family-run construction firm (“And now the story of a wealthy family who lost everything, and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together”), but the myriad of inter-related storylines were far from simple.

Arrested Development’s greatest triumph, and ultimately its downfall, was the abundance of call backs, in-jokes, pop culture references, and visual gags that required some serious concentration and, at times, remarkable recall from the viewer. I can’t think of a greater example of this interweaving than in the second season episode ‘Good Grief’. In fact, I’m going to have to assume that you’ve already seen it, as to try and explain the set-up of this episode would take 5000 words alone.

The episode opens on G.O.B (Will Arnett) asking Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) “Did you see the new Poof?”. Michael thinks G.O.B is referring to the company’s new homosexual employee Gary, rather than the magician’s industry magazine. G.O.B didn’t even realise Gary was gay (which makes the flashback where he tells Gary he would “kill for that ass” seem like a come-on), and is instead jealous of rival magician Tony Wonder (Ben Stiller) making the cover of Poof by baking himself into a loaf of bread and then popping out of the resulting sandwich to feed the troops.

What makes this particular episode so strong though, is the way the entire Bluth family spend the majority of the episode in the same plot strand. Ice (who bounty hunts to support his real passion of party planning) arrives with news that George Snr has been killed in a Mexican jail. That this is proven by a political cartoon showing George being lowered into a ‘cornballer machine’ shows how deep the call backs go. The corn baller is a deep-fat fryer that George marketed in Mexico despite the US government banning it as hugely unsafe. To really find this funny you would need to have seen a particular episode in the first season, and that’s the point you realise why the casual viewers didn’t stay.

George Snr’s body hasn’t been recovered, but G.O.B spots an opportunity to “get in this Poof” declaring “I will be my father’s body”. His fake burial at George Snr’s wake is one of the crowning moments of the series. Standing atop a mound of earth, he dismisses the rest of his family, ”the speeches we have heard today are nothing more than words, but I will prove I loved my father more than anybody”, and proceeds to dance and pose to a gothic version of Europe’s The Final Countdown’. Again, hilarious if you’ve seen G.O.B perform magic before, but probably slightly bewildering if not.

In Good Grief we also get Michael in a less-than perfect light. In most episodes he is the grounded character, a beacon of sanity in a world populated by magicians, analrapists (Tobias Funke, the world’s first analyst-therapist), and Carl Weathers. However his son’s relationship with Ann Veal brings out the worst in him, frequently referring to her as Egg (after he once saw her eat an egg) and at one point telling George Michael that the love they share is “as Ann as the nose on plain’s face”.

I could reel off a whole list of brilliant moments from this episode. Buster telling the family that “Army had half-a-day” while trying to hide the fact that he hasn’t actually joined the army; George Michael’s eulogy to the man that he’s hiding in the attic; Maeby trying to set her mum up with Ice so that she can get divorced from her parents: “All Pop-Pop ever wanted was to see you with another man besides Daddy”.

But it isn’t just the funny lines, it also has the subtle details that are sometimes only spotted during (numerous) repeat viewings. Since this is the Peanuts episode, most of the male characters do the Charlie Brown head-down walk to ‘Christmas Time is Here’, while a Christmas Tree and a kennel with a dog lying on top can be spotted in the background of one scene. The Bluth Banana Stand has a sign saying “The Frozen Banana Maker is…OUT” in exactly the same format as Lucy’s psychiatrist stand.

Love this show with all your heart, and it will love you back.

Hopefully Arrested Development has found the perfect home on Netflix. It won’t need to worry about ratings, and people can discover it at their leisure. Then inevitably binge on an entire season over a weekend once they get obsessed with it.

Taste the happy!

Arrested Development Season 4 is available to stream on all Netflix regions from Sunday 26th May.