This weekend brings us two new flicks that no one really asked for, but could be pleasant surprises for the intended audiences.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows
In 2014, there was a modernized live-action take on the Ninja Turtles. Even though the movie was directed by Jonathan Liebesman, it couldn’t get away from the stink of producer Michael Bay. It wasn’t quite the shameless cash grab we all thought it would be, but it didn’t do any service to anyone that had a love for the characters in their childhood.
Now, director David Green (Earth to Echo) is taking the helm and guiding the Turtles to where they need to be quality-wise, which is equivalent to a blockbuster in 1991.
Leonardo, Donatello, Michelangelo and Raphael saved the world a few years ago, but still hide themselves from the public that possibly wouldn’t understand them. This obscurity is threatened when they seek to take down a newly-escaped Shredder.
While that basically sounds like the plot of the first movie, Out of the Shadows amps everything up to levels of radical insanity. Their crime-fighting exploits are now interrupted by dimensional portals, mutating goons and a cop/hockey player with an anger streak.
I just want you to imagine an episode of the classic animated series from the late ’80s/early ’90s, where Shredder wants to destroy the world, and Krang (the talking brain inside the robotic body) offers to destroy the world as long as he can teleport to our world. Meanwhile, the Turtles are kept busy by fighting Beebop and Rocksteady.
That is the movie you’re getting here. It takes a ridiculous plot from a 22 minute cartoon and spreads it out over a 112 minute, big-budget, live-action spectacle.
Out of the Shadows doesn’t even bother ask for your patience with the fuzzy science/logic behind the story. It just skips right along just hoping that you won’t notice how laughably bad it is. There are at least a half-dozen instances where I scratched my head thinking, “Wait a minute… How in the world did they…” and then I reminded myself I was watching a movie where giant turtles are teenage ninjas. It is absolutely essential that any type of logic be removed as soon as you take your seat.
Which brings us to the question of whether this is a kids’ movie or not. Given how gleefully unapologetic it gets, the intended audience seems to be kids, ages 9-12. However, this is a PG-13 movie with some strong language, so it also skews a bit older. All I know, if I saw this movie back in 1991, it would be wish-fulfillment on the big screen which would last until I matured and actually cared about film.
While this may be a detriment for some viewers and a perk for others, Megan Fox is back as April O’Neil. This time around, she is less a journalist and gets closer to the action. Mock her all you want, but she knows what kind of movie she’s in. The same can’t be said for Stephen Amell (from TV’s Arrow) who plays Casey Jones. He delivers lines with all his heart, it’s just a shame that none of it lands. Also, I was shocked to see Laura Linney, who typically belongs in acting masterclass, act opposite giant CG turtles. She’s either slumming it or doing the role for a funny story at Oscar parties.
Beyond the head-scratching and unintentional laughter, there is a fun movie here. I’d equate it to the later Fast and Furious movies, where physics and story mean nothing, but it’s a fun ride. It’s possible there’s an audience that has been waiting over 25 years for a actual adaptation of the cartoon. Out of the Shadows may have been late to the game, but it is that cartoon translation, for better and worse. C this movie if you’re a fan and want a guaranteed laugh.
Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping
In Popstar, we see the rise and fall of Connor 4 Real (Andy Samberg). This flick details his life as a young prodigy, ala Justin Bieber, growing up in a boy band and leaving that band to establish a life of fame for himself. Yet, as the release of his sophomore album approaches, his wanton lifestyle catches up with him and things turn for the worst.
As a genre, mockumentaries are difficult to pull off and Popstar proves it. For an example of a great rock mockumentary, look no further than This is Spinal Tap. Popstar wants to be that movie, except in the world of social media and shallow celebrity culture.
Samberg plays Connor with all the charm of Kanye West doing a benefit concert for Martin Shkreli. At no point do you want anything to turn out well for this music superstar. Yet, interviews with Usher, Mariah Carey and Nas, tell you that you should.
The humor in Popstar is based off of two things – Shock humor and celebrity cameos. Let’s tackle shock humor first. Anyone familiar with Samberg’s actual band, The Lonely Island should know what to expect in terms of vulgarity. Popstar delivers it in spades and it somehow feels less funny than any one of their viral videos. Just when you think you might be getting tired of the language, the movie keeps things fresh by adding several doses of dudity for extended amounts of time. Hilarious, right?
As for cameos, this movie is somehow guiltier than Zoolander, with its cheap attempt to get laughs simply by showing familiar stars on screen. For example, Justin Timberlake plays a chef in Connor’s entourage. He also really likes to sing. As McBain (from the Simpsons) would say, “That’s the joke.” This is the kind of movie that shows Simon Cowell or Snoop Dogg and expects you to laugh for some reason. It all comes off as tacky and pandering.
Popstar forgets what it’s trying to be throughout. Whenever it drags, it remembers it’s meant to be a mockumentary. Also, this had the potential to skewer the vapid world of pop music and stardom, but it feels like more of an opportunity to sell the newest Lonely Island album. The highlight, however, shows a parody of TMZ. That clever take on the pathetic world of paparazzi vultures broke through my impatience and made me laugh.
Samberg and his buddies had a successful run with Digital Shorts back in his SNL days, but they somehow got the financing to make an 86 minutes series of sketches. It’s 82 minutes too long. Were this only 3-4 minutes long, the two laughs I gave it would have made it a worthwhile experience. D