Movie Review: “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”

Starring
Megan Fox, Will Arnett, William Fichtner, Alan Ritchson, Noel Fisher, Jeremy Howard, Pete Ploszek, Tony Shaloub
Director
Jonathan Liebesman

Jonathan Liebesman’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” reboot has been the subject of much debate ever since it was announced, with fake script leaks and silly rumors inducing panic among the property’s fanbase (not to mention providing ammunition to a legion of snarky Internet commenters), most of which proved to be patently untrue. That’s not to say that the finished product is going to make everyone happy, but it also isn’t nearly the disaster that many feared it would be with Michael Bay involved. In fact, it’s actually quite entertaining at times provided you check your brain at the door and don’t mind that the film is basically feeding off the fumes of your childhood. “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” delivers a slightly different take on the series – something that’s occurred with every rendition – and though it gets some things wrong along the way, it gets just as much right.

The general plot is pretty much the same. New York City is being terrorized by a criminal organization called the Foot Clan under the command of a shadowy figure known only as The Shredder (Tohoru Masamune). But there’s a group of vigilantes silently serving as the city’s protectors, and ambitious news reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox) is determined to uncover their identities… only to find that the mystery men aren’t men at all, but rather oversized mutant turtles skilled in the art of ninjitsu. Raised by their sensei Splinter (voiced by Tony Shalhoub), the four turtles – Leonardo (Pete Ploszek), Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Donatello (Jeremy Howard) and Michelangelo (Noel Fisher) – were created in a test lab by a pair of scientists, Eric Sachs (William Fichtner) and April’s late father, who believed that they perished in a fire before the mutagen they were injected with transformed them. But when Sachs, now a powerful businessman secretly working alongside The Shredder, learns of their existence, the Turtles’ sewer home is attacked, forcing them to come out of hiding and take the fight to the bad guys.

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Movie Review: “Get on Up”

Starring
Chadwick Boseman, Nelsan Ellis, Viola Davis, Lennie James, Octavia Spencer, Dan Aykroyd, Craig Robinson
Director
Tate Taylor

Every movie trend has its fans. Monster movies, disaster movies, chick flicks, tearjerkers, conspiracy thrillers, they all have people who love them regardless of their financial viability at the box office. No one, however, misses the biopic, films based on the life of a famous person. In fact, after “Walk the Line” and “Ray,” people were so done with biopics that most people passed on arguably the best biopic of that era, even though it expertly lampooned the biopic structure and had a damned good soundtrack to boot (“Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story,” we still love ya, baby). To further prove this point, earlier this year, Clint Eastwood’s “Jersey Boys” sank like a stone, despite the fact that the musical of the same name sells out everywhere it goes, and last year’s Princess Diana film starring Naomi Watts fared even worse. No one misses the biopic.

Everyone misses James Brown, though, which is why “Get on Up: The James Brown Story” has something those other movies didn’t: instant swagger. It actually has a couple of things the others don’t, namely a non-linear timeline that would give Doctor Who pause, and it does the unthinkable by occasionally breaking the fourth wall, at times to hilarious effect. The story line is too slight, opting for depth of event coverage over depth of character, but thanks to a, um, showstopping performance by Chadwick Boseman, “Get on Up” is quite entertaining despite its flaws. It is also genius counterprogramming to this weekend’s box office juggernaut, “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Someone at Universal should get a bonus for that decision alone.

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Movie Review: “Guardians of the Galaxy”

Starring
Chris Pratt, Zoe Saldana, Dave Bautista, Bradley Cooper, Vin Diesel, Lee Pace, Karen Gillan, Benicio Del Toro, Djimon Hounsou, Michael Rooker
Director
James Gunn

Marvel Studios has a history of taking some big risks, from the men behind the camera to those in front of it, and “Guardians of the Galaxy” is perhaps their biggest one yet. Not only is the comic book on which it’s based an unknown quantity to most moviegoers (if Iron Man used to be considered a B-list character, then the Guardians are on the D-list), but James Gunn isn’t exactly the first person you’d think of to direct a big-budget comic book movie. Despite his lack of experience, the bigwigs at Marvel clearly saw something in his earlier work (the horror comedy “Slither” and the superhero satire “Super”) that suggested he was the right man for the job, and Gunn has definitely repaid their faith in him by producing the best possible version of a “Guardians of the Galaxy” film and one of the most purely fun Marvel movies to date.

Chris Pratt stars as Peter Quill, a member of an intergalactic group of thieves and smugglers who was kidnapped from Earth as a young boy. When he’s sent by his boss Yondu (Michael Rooker) to steal a mysterious orb, only to double-cross him in order to keep the artifact for himself, Quill becomes the target of a power-hungry alien named Ronan the Accuser (Lee Pace), who’s made a deal with the Mad Titan Thanos (the purple-skinned figure teased at the end of “The Avengers”) to give him the orb in exchange for destroying his enemy’s home planet. After he’s captured and thrown into prison, Quill teams up with a quartet of fellow misfits – deadly assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), revenge-driven bruiser Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), gun-toting raccoon Rocket (Bradley Cooper) and tree-like humanoid Groot (Vin Diesel) – to mount an escape. But when the group discovers the true power of the orb, they agree to stick together a little longer in order to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.

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Movie Review: “Lucy”

Starring
Scarlett Johansson, Morgan Freeman, Choi Min-Sik, Amr Waked
Director
Luc Besson

There’s an episode of “Phineas and Ferb” where the gang is in Tokyo, and a J-pop music video breaks out. As they’re leaving (still dancing, of course), Candace looks at Isabella and says, “I have no idea what just happened.” The final third of Luc Besson’s “Lucy” prompted a similar reaction. It is just barely connected to the events that preceded it, morphing from a story loosely in the vein of Besson’s (great) 1994 film “The Professional” into something along the lines of this year’s (not great) “Transcendence.” If anything, Besson made an outstanding case against the notion that humans should try to maximize their brain power. Sure, we might become brilliant, but we’d also become crashing bores.

Lucy (Scarlett Johannson) is scraping by in Taipei, partying too much and studying too little. Her drinking buddy Richard (Pilou Asbaek) asks her to deliver a briefcase to businessman Mr. Jang (Choi Min-sik, who looks like a Korean Russell Crowe). When Lucy refuses, Richard forces her to do it by handcuffing the case to her wrist. She delivers the suitcase, only to discover that it contains a new, powerful synthetic drug, and she will be forced to smuggle one of the packages of the drug inside her body for distribution elsewhere. She is assaulted shortly after the package has been placed inside of her, and the package breaks. As the drug flows through her body, Lucy’s ability to tap into the farthest resources of her mind expands. The now-enlightened Lucy uses her newfound intelligence, as well as her ability to manipulate the space around her (levitation, force fields, etc.), to get even with Mr. Jang, while simultaneously contacting Professor Norman (Morgan Freeman) to show him that his theories on the subject of brain usage are dead on the money.

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Movie Review: “Magic in the Moonlight”

Starring
Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Hamish Linklater, Simon McBurney, Marcia Gay Harden, Jacki Weaver, Eileen Atkins
Director
Woody Allen

Woody Allen has made some real stinkers over the course of his 50-year career, and though “Magic in the Moonlight” isn’t quite bad enough to be included among the director’s absolute worst films, it’s not very good either. Allen’s movies have always been pretty hit-and-miss, but since 2005’s career-altering “Match Point” – in which he inadvertently became a foreign film director by working almost exclusively in Europe – he’s only made three legitimately great movies. But while Allen has proven that he’s still capable of delivering a good film on occasion, he seems more concerned with maintaining his yearly output no matter what the cost, and that quantity-over-quality way of thinking only underlines the problems with his latest comedy.

Set in the late 1920s, the movie opens in a Berlin theater during a performance of world-renowned magician Wei Ling Soo. But just like the magic tricks in his show, it’s all a ruse. Wei Ling Soo isn’t Chinese at all, but rather the terribly racist stage persona of grumpy and arrogant Englishman Stanley Crawford (Colin Firth). He’s an elitist at heart who despises charlatans that give his profession a bad name, so when his longtime friend Howard Burkan (Simon McBurney) asks for his assistance in debunking a young spiritualist named Sophie Baker (Emma Stone), whom he believes is scamming the heir of the wealthy Catledge family, Stanley is all too happy to oblige. The pair heads to the Catledges’ mansion on the French Riviera in order to observe Sophie in action and catch her red-handed, but against his better judgment, Stanley begins to believe that she’s the real deal.

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