Friday, June 24, 2016

Worth Mentioning - Take a Bite Out of the Big Apple

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Double features of Ninja Turtles and Kindergarten Cops.


The 2014 reboot of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles franchise was not, to put it mildly, as well received as the first live action Turtles film was in 1990, but while the version of the turtles featured in the '14 film aren't exactly my turtles, I don't think the movie was all that bad.

The Turtles update came from Platinum Dunes, a company that has dedicated itself almost entirely to remaking beloved properties - Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Hitcher, The Amityville Horror. With director Jonathan Liebesman and screenwriters Evan Daugherty, Josh Appelbaum, and André Nemec, the Dunies endeavored to put their own stamp on the concept, crafting an entirely new origin story that differs from that in any previous incarnation. But this film is far from the first TMNT property to alter the origin, so I can't fault it too much. The origin told in TMNT '90 will always be my preferred version of the story, but it's fine if they tinker with it because it's been tinkered with before.

This time around, we find out that the four turtles and the rat that will become their father figure were lab animals tested on by scientists O'Neil and Sacks and exposed to an extraterrestrial mutagen "capable of stimulating self-repair on a cellular level." O'Neil's daughter April, who dreams of being a reporter, regularly visits the lab, taking video of the animals, giving the turtles and rat their names - Leonardo, Dontatello, Michaelangelo, Raphael, and Splinter - and treating them as pets. Unbeknownst to Dr. O'Neil, the research is part of a nefarious scheme being conconcted by Sacks and his surrogate father, the man who took him in when he was living on a military base in Japan as a child, his biological father having been killed in Vietnam. That man is Oroku Saki, The Shredder, leader of the criminal organization the Foot Clan, which consists of soldiers who are sort of an odd mash-up between ninjas and heavily armed militia members. When O'Neil finds out who's behind everything, he sets fire to the lab and ends up being killed. All of the research is destroyed by the flames... but April manages to rescue Splinter and the turtles, releasing them into the sewer.

Once in the sewer, the creatures discover that the mutagen is greatly enhancing their size and intelligence. They grow to be as large as humans, gain the ability to speak, and Splinter teaches them ninjitsu from a book he finds.

The personalities of Splinter and the turtles have been retained, although the interactions with Splinter aren't as heartwarming as they were in the '90 film, mostly focusing on Splinter training and disciplining his kids. Leonard is still the leader in the field, Donatello is the tech guy (and they play that up very heavily here), Michaelangelo is the zany joker, and Raphael is brooding and angry. As with the '90 film, we even have a voice actor who was assigned to the least likely turtle - matching Corey Feldman with Donatello would not have been my first choice, and here it never would have occurred to me to have Johnny Knoxville voice one of the turtles at all, let alone have him voicing Leonardo.

The major difference here is how the turtles were brought to the screen. They are CGI creations, having been perfomed on set by actors wearing motion capture suits. And they are huge. Before the turtles had always been average height or smaller, but Liebesman and the Dunes guys decided to make them towering creatures, standing at over six feet tall. Since they were able to enhance their powers with CG, they did go a bit over-the-top with their strength and agility.

They also go over-the-top with the look of The Shredder, and it's quite strange because even though this is supposed to be a whole new introduction to this world, they're playing off a presumed familiarity with the look of Shredder when Sacks informs his master that his traditional suit of armor has been given a robotic upgrade. This isn't the Shredder armor some viewers knew from previous incarnations, this is a Shredder with so many unwieldy mechanical blades on his armor that he looks utterly absurd.

The film's story is set fifteen years after the lab fire, by which time Sacks has established the research and securities company Sacks Industries, become very wealthy, and formed a strong alliance with the NYPD under the facade of being anti-crime. April (Megan Fox) has achieved her dream of becoming a TV news reporter, but the jobs she is given are so unfulfilling that she has to investigate the really interesting stuff on her own time. Those personal investigations are leading her to the Foot Clan, and making her a target for them.

April's investigations also lead to the discovery that a vigilante has been striking back against crime in the city for the last three months, and as it turns out it's not just one vigilante - it's the four turtles, going against Splinter's orders and venturing out of the sewer even though he doesn't believe they're ready. They're still in training, but they can handle themselves in a fight against the Foot, and they step up to protect April when she's in trouble.

The villainous plot in this film is ridiculous, and you'd do well to not give it any thought. Sacks and Shredder are planning to disperse a dangerous chemical over New York City from a spire on top of a skyscraper. Basically, exactly what The Lizard was trying to do at the end of The Amazing Spider-Man. The initial death toll will be huge. New York will become a quarantine zone. The next step involves the death of the turtles - Sacks plans to drain their blood so he can obtain the mutagen to use as an antidote for the effects of this chemical. From this scheme, Sacks will make a staggering amount of money. Never mind that he's already rich, he wants to be "stupid rich". And then Shredder will take over NYC. Well, okay.

That's lackluster and Shredder looks silly, but the filmmakers made things work by casting William Fichtner as Sacks. You can always count on Fichtner, and he elevates the material to make Sacks interesting to watch as the new character overshadows the turtles' classic nemesis.

Some questionable choices were made in assembling Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles '14, it's a bit overblown and the fights are just CGI madness, but it's an enjoyable watch and it is the Turtles as I knew them, even if they have a different history. They got the characters right and delivered some mindless fun. My only true complaint about the movie is the cinematography, which at times looks absolutely hideous, especially in the scenes set in the sewer. Apparently the sewer has brighter blasts of light shining through it than you would ever imagine.


Due to the number of horror remakes they've been behind, the producers are Platinum Dunes have upset various horror fans for one reason or another. I was bothered by their Texas Chainsaw Massacre remake, they dropped the ball on the remake of The Hitcher, their remake of A Nightmare on Elm Street received quite a beating, some Friday the 13th fans weren't satisfied with their 2009 reboot of that franchise (although this one certainly was), etc. Their relationship with horror fans may be shaky, but I definitely cannot fault them for the fan service they have delivered with their second Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie. Out of the Shadows feels like the work of filmmakers who took into account every bit of constructive criticism they might have received about the 2014 Turtles movie, and with this sequel they were aiming to give TMNT fans exactly what they were asking for.

Doing that essentially meant delivering a live action version of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon. Never before in live action have we seen the villainous warthog and rhino mutants Bebop and Rocksteady, although fans were clamoring for them back when the other live action Turtles movies were being made in the early '90s. Bebop and Rocksteady are in Out of the Shadows. Fans wanted to see cartoon villain Krang, a tentacled creature from another dimension that gets around in the stomach of a robotic suit. Out of the Shadows gives us Krang.

It also adds in fan favorite hockey masked vigilante Casey Jones, and rights the wrongs of the previous movie, like the military makeover that was given to the Foot Clan. The Foot are back to being ninjas!

Best of all, the cinematography in this film looks perfectly fine. It shares the same director of photography, Lula Carvalho, but director Jonathan Liebesman has been replaced by Dave Green, so obviously the hideous look of the previous movie was a stylistic choice made by Liebesman. He wanted his movie to look ugly. I could ponder why a director would make that choice for a blockbuster aimed at children, but I'll just shrug it off and be thankful that Out of the Shadows looks as good as it does.

The story, written by returning screenwriters Josh Appelbaum and André Nemec, picks up a year after the 2014 film, with the titular turtles continuing to stick to the shadows and sewers, their existence kept secret from the people of New York, the credit for their heroism going to Vernon Fenwick, a former TV news cameraman who worked with reporter April O'Neil (Megan Fox), a comic relief character played by Will Arnett, who got too much screen time in the '14 for my liking and thankfully is around less this time.

Trouble arises when the turtles' incarcerated nemesis The Shredder is scheduled for a prison transfer. Played by middle aged actor Tohoru Masamune in the previous movie, Shredder has been recast and de-aged a couple decades for this one. Born in 1977, new Shredder actor Brian Tee would not have been raising a child during the Vietnam War, as the Masamune iteration of the character was said to have done.

The Foot attack during the transfer and manage to rescue The Shredder from police custody, despite the turtles showing up on the scene in a modified garbage truck that fires manhole covers. In the turtle toy collecting days of my childhood, I had a Turtles vehicle that fired pizzas. Manhole covers seem a much more useful projectile than pizzas.

The rescue is made possible by a teleportation device wielded by scientist Baxter Stockman (Tyler Perry delivering an amusing performance), but it doesn't quite work as intended. Rather than sending The Shredder to the designated extraction point, it blasts him into Dimension X, where he meets Krang (voiced by Brad Garrett). The teleportation device belongs to this alien, who needs Shredder and his lackeys to retrieve two other parts of it - one in a museum in New York, the other in the Brazilian rainforest.

Brazil might have been added into the story as a nod to cinematographer Lula Carvalho, who is from Rio de Janeiro, and as a fan of the country and a frequent visitor I loved that Brazil was made a location in a Ninja Turtles movie. The first assistant director on the Brazil unit was Malu Miranda, the producer of the upcoming horror film The Trace We Leave Behind, which I got to visit the Rio set of back in April. (Set visit report here.)

When the three pieces are assembled, Krang and his Technodrome war machine will be able to invade Earth, so Shredder, the Foot, Stockman, and dimwitted criminals Bebop and Rocksteady (Gary Anthony Williams and professional wrestler Sheamus), who were being transferred with Shredder, set out to make it happen. And to make Bebop and Rocksteady even powerful henchmen, they are mutated into hulking, but still dimwitted, rhino and warthog beasts.

Casey Jones is played by Stephen Amell and is introduced as a hockey-loving police officer working the Shredder transfer. Blamed for the breakout and shut out of the ensuing manhunt, Casey decides to go outside the law to track down and apprehend the escaped prisoners, an endeavor that includes putting on a hockey mask and beating on criminals with sporting equipment. When the turtles first meet the hockey mask-wearing Casey they refer to him as "Friday the 13th", and hearing that franchise referenced warmed my F13-loving heart.

Casey teams up with April and the turtles as they head off on their globetrotting adventure to save the world from Krang and Shredder, and he ends up being a help when the climactic battle comes around. He doesn't wear the hockey mask enough, though.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is a really fun movie, and while I was fine with its predecessor this one is still a vast improvement over it. It's the live action version of the '87 cartoon that I dreamed of seeing on the big screen when I was a kid. I haven't watched that cartoon in twenty years, but Out of the Shadows hit me right in the nostalgia zone. Everything wrong with the 2014 movie was fixed (Johnny Knoxville didn't return to voice Leonardo, either), and everything they got right they did even better this time. I had no problems with Out of the Shadows, except it would have been nice if the turtles' rat mentor Splinter had a little more to do.

That minor quibble aside, Out of the Shadows is a Turtles movie I would rank right up there with the Turtles show and movies I enjoyed so much during my childhood.


Kindergarten Cop is a weird movie. It's not an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie that I ever got into. I saw it when it came out on video, probably saw it more than once, but it was never one I sought out for many viewings. I left it behind in 1990 / 1991 and by 2016 the only things from it that were in my mind were the lines the internet has latched onto and made sure everyone knows: "Who is your daddy and what does he do?" and "It's not a tumor!"

Watching it now, I'm baffled. Who was this movie for? How did it make mountains of cash at the box office?

It starts off pretty much like a typical cop action movie, with Schwarzenegger's L.A. detective John Kimble trailing dangerous criminal Cullen Crisp (Richard Tyson) through a mall. There's a dark tone to this sequence, a bad guy committing murder in a shadowy corridor, but all through this intensity there are lines and letters drawn in crayon appearing in the title sequence.

Crisp kills an informant who tells him that the wife and child who left him and went into hiding are now living in Astoria, Oregon. The victim is left dead on the ground with bloody wounds. Despite the crayon stuff, I'm starting to rule out the idea that this is a movie for kids...


Kimble does his best to pin that crime or any crime on Crisp, a guy he knows is a drug runner, a mission that takes him beating, threatening, and shooting his way through the L.A. underworld. The word of the informant's girlfriend (Alix Koromzay) will keep Crisp locked up for a while, but Kimble really needs to find the wife and child Crisp is hunting down.

The chosen approach is for an officer to go undercover as a kindergarten teacher at Astoria Elementary so they can deduce which child is the little Crisp. Circumstances force Kimble to be the undercover teacher, and from there, 30 minutes into this 111 minute film (kind of surprising that it takes a movie called Kindergarten Cop 30 minutes to get to kindergarten), the movie segues into being a comedy focused on the giant, hard-edged Schwarzenegger interacting with a bunch of children.

Initially the kids are wild and drive Kimble crazy, but he gradually gets control of the situation and turns into a decent teacher who starts bonding with his students and getting involved with improving their lives. Even if that means giving an abusive father a taste of his own medicine. But his time with the children also softens him, as we see when he chooses not to completely beat the hell out of the father, but to press charges after him roughing him up a bit.

Kimble also starts to develop a romantic interest in a fellow teacher at the school, Penelope Ann Miller, and so you can easily guess who is going to turn out to be Crisp's ex who Kimble will need to protect in a climactic return to the violence, intensity, and bloodshed of the beginning. Another sequence that leaves me questioning, "Who the hell was this movie for?"

It's not that Schwarzenegger doing comedy was unheard of, he had done some comedies before, even following up the likes of Conan, Terminator, Commando, Predator, and The Running Man with Twins, a movie that, unlike Kindergarten Cop, I do have a nostalgic childhood connection to. It's that Kindergarten Cop in itself is a strange mash-up of tones and styles. It has the violent action edge at times, with a heavy lean toward being family friendly the rest of the time. I guess you might expect kids to be drawn to the classroom stuff, but I doubt that they're going to be interested in the investigation stuff, and most of those 30 minutes before the classroom aren't really for the tykes in the audience. Neither is the ending.

Some viewers who watched Kindergarten Cop as a kid might have enjoyed and connected to the kindergarten class. I would have been heading into second grade when this movie hit VHS so the kids here were pretty much my age, but I don't recall being enthralled by their antics. Watching the movie now, I did find some scenes to be cute and funny.

I guess Kindergarten Cop was mainly designed to be watched by parents, teachers, and adults with children in their lives so they could enjoy and relate to the silly interactions with the kids. Then throw in some violence to make the action fans happy. This movie does have plenty of fans and it is ultimately an amusing and harmless watch, no matter how confused I get over why it was ever made. 


One of the strangest things about the existence of Kindergarten Cop is the fact that it has inspired Arnold Schwarzenegger's fellow action stars to chase kids' movie success ever since, with movies like The Pacifier, The Game Plan, and Tooth Fairy. Now we have Schwarzenegger's The Expendables franchise co-star Dolph Lundgren getting in on the family friendly action by starring in a twenty-five years later direct-to-video sequel (in title and concept only) to Kindergarten Cop.

Lundgren plays Seattle-based FBI agent Zack Reed, who's working to bust a criminal kingpin named Zogu (Aleks Paunovic), bringing about the arrest by going undercover, seducing Zogu's mistress Katja (Rebecca Olson) and pretending to be running away with her. When Zogu shows up to stop them, he ends up in handcuffs. Katja is put into the Witness Protection Program and, despite being hurt by Reed's trickery, will be testifying against Zogu.

Out on bail, Zogu seeks to eliminate Katja before the trial. A hacker who put the Witness Protection database onto a flash drive ends up in Reed's custody, and Zogu is so determined to get his hands on that flash drive he even goes so far as to send a heavily armed squad of henchmen to raid the FBI's Seattle headquarters. Reed and his fellow agent Sanders (Bill Bellamy) are able to take care of that threat, but when it's revealed that the flash drive was hidden somewhere at the Hunts Bay Academy, a prestigious, private elementary school, a plan is devised wherein Reed will go undercover as a kindergarten teacher so he can search the place for the flash drive.

Most of the comedy in the first film came from Schwarzenegger's tough guy trying to figure out how to corral a bunch of kids, and the sequel takes that route, too. Sort of a sleazy ladies man in addition to being a tough guy, Reed has definitely never had to take care of children before. The concept is also updated for our current times, allowing for another source of comedy: Reed is an old fashioned sort of guy, and Hunts Bay is a very modern school filled with very sheltered, coddled rich kids (tuition is $50,000 a year). Reed doesn't know how to deal with kids, and he also wouldn't know how to deal with anyone who eats tofu, is gluten-free, and asks about the percentage of cacau in the chocolate chip cookies you're offering them. At least these kids behave for the most part - Schwarzenegger's character had to discipline his students, but here it's the kids who make Reed stick to a meticulous daily schedule.

With the help of Sanders, who keeps in contact with him in the classroom through an earpiece just like he would if he were in action in the field, Reed gradually learns how to navigate this world of modern kindergarten, bonding with the kids and even toughening them up a bit. He also has some romantic interaction with fellow teacher Olivia... which comes off as slightly inappropriate, because actress Darla Taylor is young enough to be Lundgren's daughter.

At least he takes her out to a country bar when they go out on a date, a location I always like to see, as a fan of Urban Cowboy. There is mechanical bull riding and line dancing (flashbacks to Footloose there, too.)

Of course, this all builds up to Zugo showing up at the school for climactic action.

When you hear that Kindergarten Cop has received a direct-to-video sequel, the movie that comes to mind is probably a lot worse than Kindergarten Cop 2 actually is. It's not among the best DTV sequels we've ever gotten, but it's certainly far from some of the worst. It's not a sequel many, if anyone, was clamoring for, and if they were they probably wanted to see more Schwarzenegger, but this is probably the best DTV Schwarzenegger-less Kindergarten Cop 2 you could possibly hope for. It's a mindlessly fun 100 minutes.

There's one thing I have to ask, though. What is up with all the urine in director Don Michael Paul's movies? This was an issue in his film Tremors 5: Bloodlines, which featured way more piss than any movie should, and the urine fascination continues here. A man talking while at a urinal, Lundgren getting peed on, a character peeing into a bucket with a close-up of the stream. Paul shows pee like Quentin Tarantino shows feet.

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