TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES got nothing to worry about. TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES doing quite well, thank you very much. Got the big-budget, Michael Bay treatment (he’s the producer on this one; Jonathan Liebesman directed); came in #1 at the box office this past weekend; has the almost inevitable sequel already in the works. Yup, life is good for TMNT. Unless, of course, the attending audience happened to see GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY last week. In which case, there might have been quite a few people coming out of the theater thinking, Nice try, but it doesn’t quite cut it.
In two weeks, we’ve had two films that want nothing more than to entertain us with some adrenaline-packed, fantastic storytelling. How each goes about the task, and how successful each is, says a lot about the filmmakers, how they regard this genre, and what they think of their audience. I explore the issue a bit in my review of TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES for Jim Freund’s HOUR OF THE WOLF. Click on the player to hear the segment, or right-click the title to download.
Welcome to August, the month when studios, having already fired off all their high-profile (not to mention high concept) summer guns, unleash what amounts to their second tier of releases, the stuff that doesn’t automatically trigger broad media attention, things with a more… “culty,” shall we say?… appeal, and things that are, let’s just say it, no durn good. However, since even the big tent-poles can now be somewhat inconsequential in their story-telling and quality (AMAZING SPIDER-MAN 2, anyone?), it’s become less surprising that a dog-day release could have been just as welcome, if not more so, in the weeks preceding.
Such is the case with GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, a fun space adventure based on a Marvel comic book that racked up record box office in its opening week, and earns its goodwill in a number of ways. I take a look at the film in my latest review for Jim Freund’s HOUR OF THE WOLF — click on the player to hear the segment, or right-click on the title to download.
This past weekend was just chock full of magical, whimsical women breaking studious, guarded men out of their cocoons. No, not SEX TAPE — I have no idea about how that plot plays out and, besides, that’s not genre. But otherwise, for all their divergent approaches to the material, both I ORIGINS and MOOD INDIGO incorporate the same base theme. After that, of course, anything goes: I ORIGINS continues director Mike Cahill’s ongoing exploration of humanity’s interconnectedness through the tale of a dedicated, eye-obsessed scientist (Mike Cahill) having his adherence to objective reasoning challenged by the mystical outlook of an exotic model (Astrid Bergès-Frisbey) with equally exotic eyeballs; while MOOD INDIGO lets director Michel Gondry explore the artificiality of certain, idealized brands of French romance through the story of how the wacky life of an eccentric inventor (Romain Duris) is overthrown when the health of his wife (Audrey Tatou) is threatened.
Another way to distinguish these films: They aren’t equally successful in their goals. To find out how they fare, click on the player to hear my review for Jim Freund’s HOUR OF THE WOLF.
There’s nothing particularly wrong with employing the time-space continuum for the pure fun of the concept. EDGE OF TOMORROW makes good sport of it, coming up with a pretty keen action film and allowing Tom Cruise to play comedy beats better than he did in KNIGHT AND DAY. But, given the mind-bending possibilities inherent in the genre, it seems almost a crime not delve for deeper meanings than just “craven coward becomes kick-ass action hero.” GROUNDHOG DAY did it. So did TIMECRIMES. So did FUTURAMA (numerous times).
And now, so does COHERENCE. The tale of a Los Angeles dinner party that goes all kinds of wrong when a comet begins warping the dimensions, the film — directed by James Ward Byrkit, the man who helped create the freaky “family” film RANGO, and starring BUFFY’s Nicholas Brendon, Emily Baldoni and Maury Sterling, among others — manages to be as much a commentary on relationships and the fragility of the social contract as it is an sf mindfreak. I delve into the film in my review for HOUR OF THE WOLF, and, as bonus, also take a look at the latest episode of the fan-produced STAR TREK CONTINUES and IDW’s first Star Trek: New Visions photo-novella, both of which, in another example of the crossing of the timelines, deal with the aftermath of the Enterprise crew’s visit to the mirror universe in “Mirror, Mirror.” Weeeeeeeird. Click on the player to hear the segment, or right-click the title below to download.
I’m at the point where I can pretty much take or leave 3D. As a techie, I want to embrace any technology that’ll expand the cinemagoing experience, but even I have to concede that most of the time 3D is employed as little more than an add-on, just a way to charge extra for stuff that’d be the same with or without depth (visual, that is. We’ll save a discussion of dramatic depth for another day).
Which is why I’m usually jazzed to check out the latest release from DreamWorks Animation. More often than not, those folk go the extra distance with 3D, using it to enhance both the visual canvas and the dramatic impact of their films. That was definitely the case with the original HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON, the 2010 fantasy adventure where the third dimension became an active player in an already entertaining and visually stunning film.
So, yeah, there I was at my local multiplex, shelling out the extra bucks for my 3D experience with the new HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON 2. Did this new adventure — in which the young, Viking dragon-rider Hiccup (Jay Baruchel) faces down a powerful warlord (Djimon Hounsou) and has a family reunion with his long-lost mother (Cate Blanchett) — pay back my investment? In a way, yes; in a way… welllll… Check out my HOUR OF THE WOLF review for the details. Click on the player to listen.
Well, this is a ticklish situation. I went into EDGE OF TOMORROW a little nervous, knowing this much about it: that Tom Cruise played a soldier who, by some trick of the time-space continuum, was reliving over and over his death during a disastrous attack on an alien invasion force. Sounded intriguing, no question. But it also smacked, in general conception if not plot specifics, uncomfortably of last year’s OBLIVION, where Tom Cruise played a survivor of an alien invasion who was also confronted with the mystery behind his own existence. What was doubly dismaying was that I could conceive of a possible explanation for EDGE’s protagonist that would parallel a major revelation in OBLIVION. If that was the case, it’d be game over for me. I liked OBLIVION just fine, but there was no need to revisit it.
A lot of people may have been thinking the same way — not too long before EDGE’s release, the good folks over at Warner Bros. altered their ad campaign, filling in a bit more about what Cruise’s character was going through. That put me more at ease, but I was still concerned that, like Cruise’s soldier, we’d be reliving the same day over again.
Here’s the good news: EDGE OF TOMORROW is not OBLIVION redux. But here’s the conundrum: As a result, the pendulum may have swung too far in the opposite direction. I explore the problem in my latest review for Jim Freund’s HOUR OF THE WOLF. Click on the player to hear the segment.
Time is, time was, time’s X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST. There were clearly commercial reasons why the latest chapter in the X-MEN franchise had to be a time travel tale: Having previously flubbed the introduction of a new, younger Professor X and Magneto (James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender, respectively) in X-MEN: FIRST CLASS, the producers clearly wanted to recover a bit of the franchise’s mojo by bringing back the old band — namely Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen under the direction of Bryan Singer (plus Hugh Jackman) — while also trying to finesse the audience into a better appreciation for their replacements. The side benefit is that the time period decided upon for this film has interesting significance for the themes explored in the X-MEN universe. After my quick review of the surprisingly decent MALEFICENT, I turn my attention to what Singer has wrought. Click on the player to hear the review.
Turns out maintaining a presence in the social network only makes life more complex for a film critic. I had to delay my viewing of GODZILLA ’til Sunday, meantime trying to avoid the various hosannas and the occasional nay-say (not to mention Steve Biodrowski’s own in-depth analysis) being splattered all over Facebook, Twitter, etc. An impossible task, actually, and I went into the theater a little anxious over whether what little feedback had filtered through to me was somehow going to skew my reaction, for good or ill.
Happily, I was well pleased with GODZILLA. Not staggered, no, but grateful that director Gareth Edwards managed to pay homage to the history of the franchise while adding some crucial elements to the exercise, elements that I explore in my review for WBAI 99.5FM’s HOUR OF THE WOLF. Click the player to hear what I had to say.
So because of Hour of the Wolf’s pre-emption last week, my review of TRANSCENDENCE, the science fiction romantic thriller in which Johnny Depp’s consciousness is loosed on the Web and a number of people — including Rebecca Hall, Morgan Freeman and Cillian Murphy — fret about what that means for the fate of humankind (hint: How do you feel about nanobots everywhere?), was held for airing on this week’s show. Which is cool — I mean, the film, unfortunately, doesn’t live up to the promises of its premise, but the notion of what happens to humanity as it begins to intersect more and more with technology is so potent that I feel an examination of what director Wally Pfister did right and wrong in exploring the concept is still worthwhile. So, tardy though it may be, please enjoy this latest segment.
(Interestingly, HotWolf host Jim Freund so liked last week’s review of 23:59 — which was intended only to run on the Web — that he also included it in this week’s show. So we were actually ahead of the curve in that sense. BTW: If you tried to listen to that segment earlier this week and the player was broken, it’s now fixed. Give it a shot & enjoy!)
Click on the player to hear the review.
LISTEN TO HOUR OF THE WOLF
EVERY THURSDAY AT 1:30 AM
ON WBAI 99.5FM IN NEW YORK CITY
There has, sadly, been a tragic loss to the WBAI radio family. Long-time anchorman and host Robert Knight passed away over the weekend, and so HOUR OF THE WOLF is being pre-empted this week for a special tribute to the man. This kind of thing will happen — not always for unfortunate circumstances; there are always pledge drives and the like to account for — and since in this case I want to hold my TRANSCENDENCE review for when the show comes back next week, I figured this would be a good time to experiment with doing stand-alone review segments featuring films that maybe didn’t get the attention they deserved upon release, or that fall into genres that HotWolf host Jim Freund doesn’t want to feature on his show, such as horror.
Or, in this case, both, since we’ll be talking about 23:59, an unusual and evocative horror film out of, of all places, Singapore, that got a home video release in the U.S. last year, and is still available in DVD and streaming form on Amazon (so it’s a perfect time to use the CFQ link to get a look). Click on the player to hear the show.
LISTEN TO HOUR OF THE WOLF
EVERY THURSDAY (SAVE FOR THIS ONE)
AT 1:30 AM ON WBAI 99.5FM IN NEW YORK CITY