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.
165 minutes! That’s two and three-quarter hours! That makes TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION the ultimate epic of explosions, brought to you by director Michael Bay, the man for whom too much is never enough. Is this outrageously elongated toy commercial an audacious triumph of style or substance, or is it indulgent garbage? Listen to Steve Biodrowski and Lawrence French debate the pros and cons of this 3D IMAX extravaganza in the Cinefantastique Spotlight Podcast, Volume 5, Number 24.
Six minutes of trailers for TRANSFORMERS: AGE OF EXTINCTION! I thought the first two films were terrible; the third was so over-the-top that I enjoyed it. Hopefully the fourth will be fun; though I do not hold out high hopes that lightening will strike twice, there is enough outrageous action on view in the coming attractions to make me cautiously optimistic.
The film officially opens on Friday, with “preview” screenings starting on Thursday night. Michael May is back as director, again working from a script by Ehren Kruger. Mark Wahlberg stars as Cade Yeager, supported by Stanley Tucci, Kelsey Grammer, and Nicola Peltz. The rating is PG-13, and the run-time is a whopping two hours and forty-five minutes – which is so obviously excessive that it’s either going to be a complete disaster or a stroke of genius. (Wanna place your bets?)
Check out a larger version of the trailer below.
THE PURGE is a tense thriller with a novel if incredible premise that combines bits of THE STRANGERS, PANIC ROOM, STRAW DOGS, the STAR TREK episode “Return of the Archons,” and Ursula K. LeGuin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas” (or at least an echo of the short story’s underlying concept, as inspired by the William James essay “The Moral Philospher and the Moral Life”). By reconfiguring its old formula – eliminating some elements, adding others – Blumhouse Productions (working in conjunction with Michael Bay’s Platinum Dunes) has crafted its best film in years, erasing memories of the terminally declining PARANORMAL ACTIVITY sequels and spin-offs. The result may not be perfectly satisfying, but the film earns the overused praise, “thought provoking.”
The usual Blumhouse spooks are gone, but the company’s traditional running time (under 90 minutes) and low-budget setting remains the same: the majority of the action plays out inside a single-family dwelling, a homestead under attack, the family within buffeted by brutal forces that cannot be kept at bay by locked doors. The premise this time is that, nine years from now, the United States is enjoying an unprecedented era of peace and prosperity, thanks to the annual “Purge,” a twelve-hour period in which crime, even murder, is legalized, allowing the populace to release its simmering tension and hatred before returning to blissful normality for the rest of the year.
James Sandin (Ethan Hawke) is a prime beneficiary of this status quo: he sells security systems to rich clients, who want to avoid being caught up in the Purge’s violence. Business is so good that he and his wife, Mary (Lena Headey) have added an extension to their mansion, incurring the envy of their neighbors. All is not well, however: son Charlie (Max Burkholder) is too young to understand the “necessity” of the Purge, and daughter Zoe (Adelaide Kane) is moody because her father disapproves of her older boyfriend, Henry (Tony Oller). Shortly after James puts the house on lockdown, Charlie raises the defenses to allow entrance by a frightened “Bloody Stranger” (as the character played by Edwin Hodge is referenced in the credits). This draws the attention of a gang led by the Polite Stranger (Rhys Wakefield), whose preturnatural poise masks a murderous desire to Purge his soul by killing the man who has taken refuge inside the Sandin’s home. He offers James a terrible choice: either turn over the Bloody Stranger , or the Polite Stranger and his friends will find a way inside and kill not only their intended victim but the Sandin family as well.
THE PURGE promises a chaotic free-for-all of citywide wilding; what it actually delivers is smaller in scope but bigger in concept: social satire that is sharper, and laced with far more conviction, than THE HUNGER GAMES. The film presents a clearly immoral situation that has been normalized and accepted, thanks to jingoistic patriotism, mixed with a touch of religious fervor. Those who benefit rationalize the Purge’s existence because of its benefits to society – by which, they mean benefits to themselves; those who stay safely locked inside, avoiding the ill-effects of the Purge, show their “support” by placing symbolic flowers outside their houses, as if that somehow forms a bond of solidarity with the less fortunate, who cannot protect themselves.
As drama, THE PURGE is built on an unbelievable premise: do we really accept that the population would let bygones be bygones after seeing loved ones brutally murdered by strangers and even acquaintances who were allowed to go free? Fortunately, credibility is not a problem, because the film works on the level of a parable, a variation on James’ theme that a blissful utopia where millions were happy at the expense of the suffering and torture of some far-off soul would be a “hideous thing.” In the film, this suffering is inflicted on far more than a single soul, but it is embodied in the form of the Bloodied Stranger, a homeless black man (whose briefly glimpsed dog tags suggest a war veteran) whose plight moves Charlie to a human act of pity, with devastating consequences. For once, James Sandin is confronted with the reality that he has kept at bay, compartmentalized in his mind. At first, he is more than willing to sacrifice this lamb to the gang lurking outside like the zombies in NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, but his children are unwilling to accept the sacrifice their father is willing to make on their behalf, thus forcing James to rethink his assumptions.
The way this plays out is not always as clear and sharp as it should be. The geography of the Sandin house is never clearly established, which makes the action unclear (things in different rooms seems to be happening at the same time, but no one ever notices tell-tale voices or – more obviously – gunshots). Zoey’s moping catatonia is hardly endearing, and her schoolgirl outfit (skirt, white blouse, and tie) look less like a real uniform than a sexy schoolgirl costume. Last-minute reshooting may have left a few seams showing, with characters disappearing for extended periods: the Bloody Stranger (who clearly will have to have a large role in the film’s resolution) is sidelined far too long, even after James has relented his initial decision to toss him outside; meanwhile, James is given more STRAW DOGS-type action as he defends his home against the invaders. And writer-director james DeMonaco serves up approximately half a dozen variations on a scene that should never appear more than once in any film: a helpless, unarmed audience identification figure, about to be killed, is saved by a gunshot from an off-screen figure.
To its credit, THE PURGE does not lay out a moral to the story in a schematic way, leaving some room for interpretation. Although some characters are clearly bad, our “good guys” are no saints. James and Mary may not participate in the Purge, but they live with it happily – at arm’s length -and make a pretty penny off of it, even if they do not truly deserve their wealth. (One of the film’s sly jokes is that James is a bit of a con-man; his security systems are far from fool-proof, leaving even his own family at risk.) Despite the even-handedness, one suspects that the film is at least partially a jab at the concept of a religious right-wing political ascendancy. Rhys Wakefield’s artificially strained smile of politeness recalls Mitt Romney’s nickname “The Smiler,” and one briefly overheard news commentator suggests that the real purpose of the Purge is to thin society’s ranks of the poor and the unemployed – i.e., the “Takers” so reviled by the Right.
In the end, the good, upstanding folk of the restricted neighborhoods turn out to be at least as blood-thirsty as the supposed criminal underclass; they pretend that their temporarily de-criminalized behavior is a cleansing spiritual act. Clearly, class and racial lines are being crossed in a way that breaks down the “us versus them” mentality behind the Purge. Those who survive are willing to reconsider the system, or at least refuse to abide by its immoral strictures, while the embodiment of that system must finally pay the piper. It’s not a bad moral at all, and it vastly improves on the usual Blumhouse “twist,” in which everybody dies because it’s “unexpected” – regardless of whether that ends the story satisfactorily.
Teenagers expecting to vicariously enjoy a feature length riot in the streets may be disappointed by THE PURGE, but the film does what good speculative fiction should do: it asks, “What if?” THE PURGE may not be absolutely brilliant, but DeMonaco is clever enough to let his intriguing question speak for itself, provoking us to consider our own answers. THE PURGE (Universal Pictures: June 7, 2013). A Blumhouse and Platinum Dune Production. Produced by Jason Blum and Michael Bay. Written and directed by James DeMonaco. Rated R. 85 minutes. Cast: Ethan Hawke, Lena Headey, Max Burkholder, Adelaide Kane, Edwin Hodge, Rhys Wakefield, Tony Oller, Arija Bareikis, Tom Yi, Chris Mulkey, Tisha French.
Winner of this year’s Ironic Film Title ribbon (SARAH PALIN: THE UNDEFEATED was disqualified for failure to complete a term — talk about ironic) DREAM HOUSE marks director Jim Sheridan’s attempt to explore the world of the psychological thriller, with a few surprising twists thrown in along the way. The tale of man whose family life begins to crumble with the revelation that the beautiful house they’ve just moved into was the scene of an horrific crime, the film has the atmosphere, has affecting performances by stars Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz, — backed up by Naomi Watts as a sympathetic neighbor — and lays its story out in a way that casts events already witnessed in new lights as secrets are progressively revealed, but does its old-school approach still have relevance? Join Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski and Dan Persons as they root around the cellar of a beloved genre and try to sweep away the cobwebs to find what works and what doesn’t in this latest attempt to draw chills from the infinite convolutions of the human mind.
Also: a discussion of the announced short-list of directors for Leonardo DiCaprio’s upcoming TWILIGHT ZONE project; and what’s coming in theatrical and home video releases.
Big. Bigger. Biggest. Somehow those words don’t seem fitting descriptions for the new TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON. Biggeriest? Spectactimammogigantular?
In any case, it seems that Michael Bay’s plan for redeeming himself for the universally reviled TRANSFORMERS: RISE OF THE FALLEN involves ironically jettisoning as much plot as possible and focusing on the fireworks, all in glorious, James-Cameron-approved 3D. That’s maybe not a bad idea, considering that the film’s less-than-innovative narrative once again centers on the noble Autobots trying to foil the Decepticons’ plan for world conquest, with the hapless Sam Witwicky (Shia LeBeouf) serving his traditional role as the beanbag tossed around by the warring factions. He gets a new girlfriend (Rosie Huntington-Whitely), reunites with old associates (including John Turturro as the self-aggrandizing Simmons), and gains some new friends (John Malkovich) and enemies (Patrick Dempsey), plus a visit from (the voice of) Leonard Nimoy as the latest addition to the robot corps. But who cares as long as the explosions are concussive and the action nonstop? Well, Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons do, and they’re ready to discuss what’s good, what’s bad, and what’s flat-out non-existent (hint: logic) in this big-ticket extravaganza.
PLUS: Steve gives his take on BEGINNERS, a drama that skirts the borderline with some fantasy elements.
Click on the player to hear the show.
Kids love cars, and kids love CARS — that seems to be the calculation behind Pixar’s latest animated offering, CARS 2. Abandoning the original film’s theme that celebrated the romance of exploring off-the-beaten-superhighway U.S, director John Lasseter and crew have devised an espionage plotline for this sequel, with cocky racecar Lightning McQueen (Owen Wilson) and kids’-fave country-bumpkin tow-truck Mater (Larry the Cable Guy, a.k.a. Daniel Lawrence Whitney) embarking on a whirlwind world tour to compete in an international racing competition, and finding themselves dragooned into a deadly conspiracy being battled by suave superspy Finn McMissile (Michael Caine) and his sexy (check out those steel-belted radials!) partner Holley Shiftwell (Emily Mortimer). With beautifully crafted settings and numerous, exquisitely choreographed action sequences, does CARS 2 overcome the problems found in the first installment, a film that many feel is Pixar’s weakest effort? Join Cinefantastique Online’s Steve Biodrowski, Lawrence French, and Dan Persons as they examine the movie.
Also in this episode: Steve offers his thoughts on Woody Allen’s hit fantasy/comedy, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS, Dan discusses the level of human misery he’ll inflict for the sake of saving a few lousy bucks, and the gang discusses the inscrutable artistry of Michael Bay.
Who are you? Why, I am Number Four – or at least that’s what the title tells me. But I am not a number; I am a free man! No, wait – that’s THE PRISONER. This week’s topic of conversation on the newly re-christened Cinefantastique Spotlight Review Podcast is I AM NUMBER FOUR, the new teen-oriented science-fiction action flick from producer Michael Bay, distributed by DreamWorks. Why “Number Four,” you ask? Well, the film itself won’t tell you, so if you want to find out, you should listen in as guest commentator Andrea Lipinski (of the Chronic Rift) reveals all the details from the source novel that the screenplay not-so-cleverly left out. Also chiming in our CFQ podcast regulars Dan Persons (who remarks on the film’s debt to SMALLVILLE and BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, by way of screenwriters Alfred Gough & Miles Millar and Marti Noxon) and Steve Biodrowski (who reveals that even the most disappointing films can be redeemed by cute animals such as lizards and dogs).
Here’s the rather clever teaser for Paramount;s TRANSFORMERS: DARK OF THE MOON.
One hopes the actual film will be as interesting.
The third TRANSFORMERS film stars Shia LaBeouf, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, John Turturro, and Tyrese Gibson.
Directed by Michael Bay from a screenplay by Ehren Kruger (THE RING).
Coming to theaters July 1st, 2011 from Paramount Pictures.
According to Slashfilm, TRANSFORMERS 3 — now titled TRANSFORMERS: THE DARK OF THE MOON, has had it’s plot revealed.
The official “Transformers 3 Push-Pops Board Book” gives it as follows.
The Autobots Bumblebee, Ratchet, Ironhide and Sideswipe led by Optimus Prime, are back in action, taking on the evil Decepticons, who are determined to avenge their defeat in 2009’s Transformers Revenge of the Fallen.
In this new movie, the Autobots and Decepticons become involved in a perilous space race between the U.S. and Russia, and once again human Sam Witwicky has to come to the aid of his robot friends.
There’s new characters too, including a new villain in the form of Shockwave, a longtime “Transformers” character who rules Cybertron while the Autobots and Decepticons battle it out on Earth.”
Of course, this is assuming the information for the pop-up book is accurate.
TRANSFORMERS:THE DARK OF THE MOON, directed by Michael Bay from a script by Ehren Kruger (THE RING, THE BROTHERS GRIMM ) is set to open July 1st, 2011 from Dreamworks SKG and Paramount Pictures.