Last updateFri, 03 Apr 2020 5pm

Legions of Michael Bay’s detractors were jumping all over the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles reboot before it even hit screens.

Well, it’s not actually a Michael Bay film; he only served as a producer on this one. Jonathan Liebesman (Wrath of the Titans, Battle Los Angeles) is the director here, and he’s put something together that is far more coherent than the latest Bay-helmed Transformers movie. This is not to say that the movie is any good—but it is markedly better than most of Bay’s output.

Megan Fox plays April, a wannabe reporter who stumbles upon a vigilante force protecting Manhattan from an evil terrorist group. The vigilantes turn out to be the infamous turtles (also, coincidentally, the pet turtles that April had as a child). The turtles, the result of scientific experiments, were raised in the sewers by a rat, and now they are ready to rise above the surface and kick some ass.

The film has some good moments; the turtles eat some pizza and get some laughs. However, Fox is a bit of a bore in the central human role; Will Arnett is virtually wasted as her cameraman; and I’m sick and tired of William Fichtner playing bad guys. The special effects are OK, but the story offers nothing special.

A sequel is already being prepared. A director with a better sense of wonder, and a better sense of humor, would serve this franchise well.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

Writer-director Neill Blomkamp follows up District 9 with another solid sci-fi effort in Elysium, a film that delivers terrific action—along with a reasonable amount of smarts.

Unfortunately, Elysium is also a little on the stupid and illogical side, especially during its ending. Yes, I just complimented the film for being smart—so it’s possible to be both dumb and brilliant in the same movie. (Heck, Guillermo del Toro did just that with his Pacific Rim earlier this summer.)

It’s about 140 years in the future, and man has, not surprisingly, screwed up the planet. It’s one big garbage heap (shades of WALL-E and Idiocracy), and the planet’s wealthy people have abandoned Earth for a bitchin’ space station in the sky.

This space station, Elysium, has everything a rich bitch would want: It’s got mansions, pools, sweet landscaping, 10 different kinds of tacos and, most notably, healing booths. These healing booths don’t just fix a bruised knee or a paper cut: They cure cancer, and can even reconstruct one’s face after it has been blown apart by an explosive.

Matt Damon shaved his head to play Max, an ex-con factory worker who puts together droids that police the decrepit Earth. One morning, he gets sassy with one of these very droids—and gets his arm broken for the effort. Then, while working under the watchful eye of the worst boss ever (William Fichtner, who is earning some cool points back after his dreadful turn in The Lone Ranger), Max microwaves himself and suffers radiation poisoning.

With only five days to live, only one thing can save him: a trip to Elysium.

While Elysium has the healing chambers, the snoots in the sky don’t allow Earth residents to use them—so Max can’t just hop on a space shuttle and get fixed up. After a visit to Spider (Wagner Moura), his former crime boss, Max gets a weaponized skeleton welded to his body (echoes of Robocop) and must agree to download a bunch of secret stuff into his brain in order earn a trip to the space station.

Yes, it’s all a little far-fetched—far-fetched and enjoyable, thanks to a stellar performance from Damon and some of the year’s best special effects. The dirty planet, the pristine space station … it’s all spectacularly done.

Sharlto Copley plays against type as a bad guy who is hunting Max. Copley is many miles away from his affable stooge in District 9; he’s a seriously awful beast here, with a fantastic and crazy accent. Jodie Foster gets some of her best work in years as Delacourt, the defense minister for Elysium. She also has a great accent, and has no problem shooting down ships full of Earth residents who are trying to enter Elysium.

Elysium displays super-cool gadgetry and brainy sci-fi—up until its finale, when the whole thing nearly falls apart. I won’t give away the ending, but it is rather dumb and illogical for a movie that had been so smart. That’s not the only issue: Blomkamp, who had delivered terrific action scenes throughout, settles for frantic Michael Bay-type editing for the final showdown.

Still, Elysium is till well worth your time, and establishes Blomkamp as one of the modern era’s kings of cinematic sci-fi. He gets sole credit for the screenplay, so its combined brilliance and silliness rest entirely in his creative hands.

As for Damon, he looks pretty badass with a steel skeleton grafted to his body and a computer drilled into his head. With this, and his turn in Behind the Candelabra, the actor is having a banner year.

Elysium is playing in theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

At one point during its journey to the screen, Disney halted production on The Lone Ranger because it was costing too much, and the studio was not sure a Western-themed summer tent-pole movie was a good idea. Eventually, they caved in to Johnny Depp and director Gore Verbinski, producing it for a reported $225 million.

This will now go down as a huge, massive, unthinkable, crazy, job-killing blunder. The people who had the good sense to initially halt production should’ve stuck to their guns.

What a misguided, uncomfortable movie this is. Johnny Depp appearing as Tonto, with his face painted to mask the fact that he isn’t Native American, is a travesty. His movies have been mediocre at best lately, but this bad career choice goes well beyond the likes of The Tourist: This is the kind of stuff that cuts future paydays in half.

The film is an odd parody of The Lone Ranger, or at least it comes off that way, with strange comedic undertones and clichés exaggerated to the point of intolerability. Remember how Back to the Future Part III paid homage to the West by exaggerating it in a semi-funny way? The Lone Ranger makes Back to the Future Part III seem authentic in comparison.

How bad is it? The framing device is a very old Tonto telling some kid dressed as the Lone Ranger about how he met the masked man, and their travels together. Tonto, looking like anything but a human being, is making a living posing as a Native American in a museum exhibit, right next to a grizzly bear.

Depp and Verbinski (Depp’s Pirates of the Caribbean partner in crime) choose to play this depressing storytelling angle for laughs. Depp wears a dead crow on his head throughout the film, with his face covered in war paint in the flashbacks. He takes some sort of odd, Buster Keaton-like physical approach to the role that makes him look desperate, lost and straining for the laughs that don’t come. His line deliveries are stilted and unimaginative. This is a career low for a guy capable of great things. It’s reminiscent of such travesties as John Travolta in Battlefield Earth, Louis Gossett Jr. in Enemy Mine and Sylvester Stallone in Judge Dredd. It’s a choice that will haunt Depp for the rest of his career.

As for the Lone Ranger himself, Armie Hammer doesn’t seem to know what movie he is in. He sports an inconsistent accent, and plays the virtuous John Reid as a stooge to Tonto’s voice of reason. He is, in no way, prepared to handle a role of this magnitude. As the title character, he makes no impression, and is second fiddle to the top-billed, masquerading Depp.

However, Depp and Hammer aren’t even close to being the worst things about this movie. William Fichtner, an actor I usually enjoy, is unwatchable as bad-guy Butch Cavendish, a scarred, gold-toothed monster who eats the heart of the Lone Ranger’s brother as he lies wounded and watching. This was in direct contrast to the comedic, goofy nature of the rest of the film. It’s the sort of thing that leaves viewers too aghast to laugh the next time Depp makes one of this stupid funny faces. In my head, when Depp mugged shortly thereafter, I was thinking, “Yeah, well, I just saw a man die in a fashion that made that moment when the priest pulled a heart out of somebody in the Indiana Jones movie look like Mary Poppins. Laughter isn’t happening for a while, Johnny. Sorry.”

Everything in this movie is taken too far, from the dirt makeup, to the crazy beards and chops, to the caricature accents. Even the sound of a kid eating a peanut is turned up to an extent that becomes gut-churning and abrasive.

Regular readers know that I often complain about horror movies that exchange much-needed dread and gore for a PG-13 rating. Well, I get even more annoyed by PG-13 movies marketed to kids and families that contain the kind of violence on display in this crap. Heart-eating, horse-trampling, multiple gunshots, stabbings and the threat of sticking a duck foot up somebody’s ass should not be on the viewing agenda for the entire family.

Disney is going to take a major loss on this one. This is another major blockbuster disappointment after misfires like Man of Steel, World War Z, The Hangover Part III and After Earth. This is officially turning into a summer of bad movies.

I was truly embarrassed for Depp while watching The Lone Ranger. Remember before Jack Sparrow, when he was a boutique movie star who chose interesting and scintillating projects like Cry Baby and Ed Wood? He has more money than God now, so I’m hoping he has some indie films in his future.

The Lone Ranger is playing in theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews