Category Archives: Film

The Iron Giant (1999)

220px-The_Iron_Giant_posterDirector Brad Bird has become quite a name in the world of film. He is most commonly associated with Pixar where he directed much celebrated films like Ratatouille and both entries in The Incredibles. Prior to that, he was mostly known for his work as an animator and director on The Simpsons. His directorial debut with the long-running franchise was the Season One highlight “Krusty Gets Busted” and he also contributed to the much loved “22 Short Films About Springfield.” It was his work as an animator with Klasky Csupo that got him his gig with both The Simpsons and The Tracey Ullman Show, where The Simpsons originated. And he probably ended up there largely because of  his work with Disney where he was a promising young animator in the 80s seemingly destined for great things with the company.

That did not happen, and perhaps it’s for the better considering all of the quality television and films we received as a result. And while those works are much celebrated, there are still many who feel Brad Bird’s finest contribution to the world of cinema is the 1999 box-office flop The Iron Giant.

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The Iron Giant is the film directorial debut for Brad Bird.

The Iron Giant originated in a short story by poet Ted Hughes, who unfortunately passed away before the film was completed. It was a tale that captivated many who encountered it and even attracted the attention of famed musician Pete Townshend who crafted an entire concept album about the character. As a result, the story was ticketed for a musical release much in the style of many animated 90s projects, but when Brad Bird was hired to oversee it things changed. It was Bird who reimagined the story as one about a gun with a soul that decides it doesn’t actually want to be an instrument of death. This was partly the result of Bird’s sister Susan tragically being murdered during the film’s production. Warner Bros. also brought in Tim McCanlies to co-author the screenplay and the musical components were eventually dropped, though Townshend still received an executive producer credit.

The Iron Giant is a traditionally animated film which also features some CG elements, most notably the giant itself. The film is about a young boy named Hogarth Hughes (Eli Marienthal) who lives alone with his mother in a small coastal town in the state of Maine during the 1950s. Cold War paranoia is sweeping the country and is the framing device for the film. When a mysterious, 100-foot tall, robot crash lands nearby, it’s Hogarth who first finds him and befriends him. Through Hogarth, this massive robot (Vin Diesel) learns empathy and also receives a primer on life and death. The somewhat lonely Hogarth views the giant like an ultimate toy, but also comes to view the behemoth as a friend as well.

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It’s the tale of a boy and his big ass robot.

Now, 100-foot tall robots naturally attract attention. When the giant first arrives on Earth, it inadvertently causes a ship to crash and the captain of that ship alerts the FBI. The government dispatches agent Kent Mansley (Christopher McDonald) to investigate and he is able to follow a series of clues, as well as some coincidence, to the home of the Hughes. It’s there Kent realizes Hogarth knows something, and he rents a room from Hogarth’s mother (Jennifer Aniston) to keep an eye on the lad while also hoping to earn his trust and in turn uncover the truth about this giant being that’s eating the community’s metal. In turn, Hogarth has to try and keep the secret of the giant hidden and he turns to a local beatnik artist named Dean McCoppin (Harry Connick Jr.) for help since he happens to run the local scrap metal yard.

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Mansley is so obsessed with his job that it allows him to be more of a comedic element early on in the film, but he eventually turns quite sinister.

The film contains plenty of elements of comedy and drama as the tale unfolds. Hogarth and the giant have to learn how to communicate with each other since the giant doesn’t understand English initially. There’s also a lot of physical comedy bits between Hogarth and Kent as Hogarth tries to keep his friend hidden and finds creative ways to get Kent off his back. Probably the best piece of comedy occurs when the giant’s hand, having been separated from the robot via a collision with a train, stumbles into Hogarth’s home during dinner in search of the rest of his body. Hogarth is then forced to go to great lengths to keep the mechanical monstrosity from his mother, and eventually Kent, before rejoining it with the rest of the giant.

The latter part of the film loses the comedy in favor of more dramatic story-telling. The central theme of the film is you are what you choose to be, and it’s an important thing for the giant to learn as the robot is equipped with some serious firepower. This is discovered when Hogarth accidentally trips an automated defense mechanism in the robot, and it’s further exacerbated when the army eventually learns about the robot’s existence (because it has to). It’s a rather simple message, but one that easily resonates with an audience which is partly why the film is so beloved. The pairing of a kid with a being not of this world will naturally draw comparisons to E.T. and it’s an apt comparison. The only thing really separating the character of E.T. from the giant is that E.T. largely remains a passivist during his story while the giant most certainly does not.

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It’s a real joy to watch the film play with scale. Here, the giant has to literally squat down to fit in the same frame as Hogarth.

What the film chooses to leave out is the giant’s backstory. We don’t know why he’s here, or where he came from. Both are questions viewers are likely to ponder, but in the grand scheme they mean little just as it didn’t matter why E.T. was on Earth. We also don’t know much about Hogarth and how his life was before the events of the film, save for the fact that he appears to be a good student and a latchkey kid with few friends. And like the giant, it doesn’t matter and Bird was wise to ignore these details because it keeps the film at a quite tidy 87 minutes. Perhaps my biggest criticism of The Incredibles and its sequel is that they’re both just too damn long, so it’s nice to watch a Brad Bird feature that’s under 90 minutes.

The film is set in 1950s Maine partly to invoke images of Norman Rockwell. The choice is an excellent one as the town of Rockwell presented here is quite idyllic and cozy. The woodland scenery is especially gorgeous and lush and the human characters have a style to them that is not derivative of past Warner films or Disney. The giant is animated in CG largely because it was an easy way to keep his steel frame natural and consistent. He has a simple design to him and the texture work is kept fairly simple as well which helps to blend the giant with the hand-drawn visuals that surround it. He doesn’t stand out in an unnatural way, at least he doesn’t as much as a 100-foot tall robot can, and the choice to render the being this way appears to be a sound one as a result.

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The film’s central message is you are what you choose to be. For the giant, that’s Superman.

Michael Kamen is responsible for the film’s score and it’s scope is quite grand and appropriate. When the giant takes to the sky for the first time it’s exuberant and triumphant, and when it needs to be a bit melancholy it strikes the right tone. The film completely discarded its musical origins, save for an in-universe PSA about the duck and cover advice you’ve probably heard about that existed back in the 50s. The voice cast is tremendous and Eli Marienthal as Hogarth is especially deserving of praise given his young age at the time of recording. Aniston and Connick Jr. are perfectly capable in their roles, while McDonald toes the line of obsessive detective and parody rather adeptly in his portrayal of Kent Mansley. Diesel isn’t asked to do much as the giant, similar to his eventual role as Groot for Guardians of the Galaxy, but he does a good job when the scenes later in the film ask more of him. If your eyes don’t well up a bit when you hear him say “Superman” during the film’s climax then you have no soul.

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The film finally received a Blu Ray release in 2016 which also included two minutes of new footage. It was dubbed The Signature Edition.

The Iron Giant is a heartwarming tale about an outcast finding its purpose in life all on its own, even if that purpose strays from what others had earmarked it for. It’s also a tale of friendship and empathy, of right and wrong, and one about being mindful and trusting where appropriate. It’s easy to react to a creature such as the giant with fear, but maybe it’s best to give others a chance first and allow them to give one a reason to fear them beyond simply appearance. It’s also a gorgeously animated film and one of the last of its kind as it wasn’t long after the release of The Iron Giant that the majority of animated features switched over entirely to 3D, CG, animated stories. Most acknowledge now that the reason this film failed at the box office was due to Warner Bros. not marketing it well. Even though it seems many agree with that assessment, it didn’t stop studios like Warner from using commercial failures like The Iron Giant as justification for moving away from traditionally animated films. It’s unfortunate as I fear we as a society will soon lose the ability to create such wonders simply because Hollywood isn’t providing a reason for those to learn these skills. If that’s the case, at least we’ll always have wonders like The Iron Giant to look back on.


Onward (2020)

onward_tease2020 is probably going to be remembered for a lot of things, as most years are, but it’s hard to imagine it being more remembered for anything other than Covid-19, aka coronavirus. The global pandemic has shuttered businesses, cost people their jobs (and lives), while turning us all into hermits. Social distancing is a phrase we’ve all learned and are unlikely to forget. And as we move beyond this era which will hopefully end in a return to normalcy, there will be things forever associated with this period in time and one of those items forever linked to Covid-19 is the Pixar animated feature Onward.

Onward was wide-released on March 6, 2020. Roughly two weeks later, the film industry came to a screeching halt. Even when the film opened, some were already staying away from crowded places before many states in the US started forcing closures of non-essential businesses. As a result, Onward became Pixar’s lowest grossing movie through no fault of its own. As of this writing, it’s estimated to have earned a little over 100 million dollars. With no end in sight to the current climate, Disney saw no reason to keep it in theaters. Disney decided to make the best of the current situation and quickly pivoted Onward to digital using it as a lure to get more subscribers to its relatively new streaming service Disney+. Patrons could pay to rent the film digitally on March 20, or wait for it to arrive on Disney+ on April 4, less than a month after its theatrical release. Because it’s so new and people are forced to stay at home, it’s possible more eyeballs will be trained on this film than some other recent Pixar fare because it’s quite a novelty to have a brand new Pixar feature so readily available.

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Brothers and Ian and Barely are going on a quest to resurrect their father and maybe learn a thing or two about each other.

Onward is a buddy comedy starring two brothers, Ian (Tom Holland) and Barley (Chris Pratt), who embark on a “quest” to restore their late father to life for one day. The hook of the feature is that it’s set in a modern-day fantasy world. The premise is essentially what would a classic fantasy world have evolved into once things like electricity were discovered? The answer seems to be that magic was largely abandoned in favor of modern technology which advanced largely in step with our world. The main difference is that elves and orcs live side-by-side and some never found better housing than hollowed out giant mushrooms. The film was conceived by director Dan Scanlon who shares a similar backstory to the central characters here in that he and his brother lost their dad at a young age. Jason Headley and Keith Bunin were brought on to refine the screenplay and the story centers on the brother protagonists and explores their relationship with each other.

Ian is the more central figure of the story. He’s about to turn 16 and is a shy individual with few friends. Barley, his older brother, is more boisterous and in-love with the world’s fantastical history. He’s also a bit of an activist, as he sometimes clashes with their mother’s (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) police officer boyfriend (a centaur voiced by Mel Rodriguez) when he stands in the way of demolition crews looking to tare down old world relics. When their mother was pregnant with Ian, and Barely was quite young, their father passed away after suffering an illness. With Ian coming to age though, their mother presents them with a gift their father left for them and it turns out to be a magic staff with instructions how to bring their father back for one day. Ian sees this as a way to finally meet the man he only knows through pictures and an audio recording. When the spell goes wrong though, the boys are forced to seek out a new source of magic which takes them on a road trip. Barley, being a history buff, is excited to embark on what he considers a quest while Ian just wants to get it done and over with as quickly as possible so they have the maximum amount of time available to them to spend with their dad.

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An early, quiet, moment where Ian listens to a recording of his dad he’s probably played a thousand times.

The film is largely a comedy with some fantastic set pieces and visual moments. The humor is derived from both physical comedy and conventional gags. The film mostly puts the visual gags of introducing fantasy creatures into suburbia upfront freeing it to be more creative as the film rolls along. It’s genuinely funny, though like the best Pixar features it relies more on heart and characters. Barley, being the excitable one, is often impulsive which clashes with Ian’s cautious approach. Barley would rather follow his gut while Ian wants to stick to a map the two find early on. The two need each other though, for it turns out Ian has an aptitude for magic and is able to make use of their father’s staff and the spells in Barley’s possession normally relegated to a Dungeons & Dragons type of game. And Ian needs Barley’s help because he can do practical things like drive. There are natural moments of conflict that can arise from this situation, and it’s easy to see these moments coming as Ian largely keeps quiet and defers to Barley, but you know he’s simmering on the inside at times. The film is a bit of a disguised film about what it means to be brothers. It seems to want viewers to think of it as a father-son pic at the onset, before pivoting to this brotherhood theme.

As someone who grew up reading lots of fantasy books, I welcome this setting and premise of Onward. Ian’s magical staff starts off rather neat, but it does threaten to become a crutch in order to advance the plot. The boys often run into an obstacle with the answer to such being a new spell for Ian to try out that Barley suggests. The film does at least utilize this arrangement to force the characters to learn how to work together. Initially, Barely’s suggestions on spells will be met with doubt from Ian with the miscasts even affecting Barley in a negative fashion. Ian will have to learn to trust his brother’s knowledge of the arcane, as well as his own abilities, in order to actually wield it effectively. It still ends up functioning as a deus ex machina, for the most part, but at least there’s the added goal of bringing the two characters closer.

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Barley’s enthusiasm for history, which for this world is basically Dungeons & Dragons, is a source of embarrassment for brother Ian.

Because the film does deal with death in some way, it naturally lends itself to comparisons to Coco (and I suspect the upcoming film Soul will as well). It’s a bit unfortunate as Coco is quite possibly the best film Pixar has ever produced, it’s certainly my favorite. And it’s a wonderful film that Onward really can’t match. The plot beats here are pretty easy to see coming and it’s basically accepted at the outset that this is a film that will try to make you cry come the end. It’s at least more sincere and focused than a similar Pixar flick The Good Dinosaur. Where that film felt manipulative at times, this one does a better job of being sincere and earning its watery moments. Some viewers might feel conflicted about the ending, but it’s at least the one moment where the film does wander off the formula a touch. It’s accepted that things won’t go perfectly for Ian and Barley in their quest to be reunited with their father, but that also won’t stop viewers from yearning for that outcome.

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Corey and Laurel could have been an interesting pair for the film’s B-plot, but it doesn’t really find anything unique for them to do.

Ian and Barley’s adventure is the main focus of the film, and it’s smart to do so. There are some solid side characters, but they have a hard time taking our focus away from Ian and Barley. The main side plot involves their mother , Laurel, who pairs up with a manticore named Corey (Octavia Spencer), who happens to know where the brothers are heading and, more importantly, knows they’re about to unleash a curse upon the world. The two are in a race to stop them, but we mostly know how that will play out based on similar stories. The brothers also have a couple of brushes with the law, but that’s mostly resolved fairly quickly before the film can get all Smokey and the Bandit on us. Mostly when the film was away from the brothers I just wanted to get back to them. I understand it needs to show us what’s happening elsewhere so the eventual meet-up between all of the characters is earned, but it wasn’t as fun as it could have been. Which is a shame, because the characters of Laurel and Corey have chemistry together and I think there was room for them in the film, but they just weren’t able to find it.

Mychael and Jeff Danna handled the film’s score and it’s not afraid to lean into that fantasy setting vibe. There’s also an original song over the ending credits performed by Brandi Carlile. The score is mostly fine, though I was disappointed with it in some areas. It doesn’t take many chances to meld the fantasy with modern sounds. When it goes for a gag in which Barley selects some questing music it also falls flat. Maybe they originally intended to license something, but instead it’s just bland synth-rock when I was looking for something bombastic akin to Rhapsody of Fire.

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There’s magic to be found in this world, but the film doesn’t rely on it for visual spectacles too much.

Onward is a film rescued by its heart. It has a solid premise for a story and finds a way to arrive at a clever conclusion, even if the plot beats to get there feel very familiar. I think it could have done more with its setting. The idea is there, and some of the gags are well-played, but the whole thing feels surprisingly underplayed both visually and in the score. The actual technical abilities of the film also are not wow-inducing. Pixar is somewhat harmed by its own legacy in that respect since we’re so used to the studio raising the bar, but instead Onward is just comfortably fine. It does save its best piece of technical art for the end, which is a logical move, but it’s also not the type of visual you’ll walk away from saying “You have got to see this!” The relationship of brothers Ian and Barely though is what makes the film, and it’s not afraid to lean on the two. Pratt and Holland are both charismatic and believable in their roles and the characters are handled with grace. It’s hard for the audience to side with one over the other. They’re both right in some places, and weak in others. It’s easy to relate to both and thus hard to even pick a favorite.

It should also go without saying that the focus of the film on loss is easy to relate to. We either are that someone or know someone who has lost their father. Many can even relate to Ian as someone who never knew a parent due to tragedy. It’s a very compelling plot device to ask an audience what they would do in order to have one more day with someone they love. As a result, it’s almost impossible to separate this film from real world examples. If the film dwelled on that too much it would have felt manipulative, but instead it presents the premise and then lets it mostly simmer on the back burner. Because that sense of loss is such a personal thing, I suspect this movie will appeal more to people willing to allow themselves to “go there” and be vulnerable for 100 minutes or so. I would say Onward will be among the most polarizing for Pixar, but I think that’s too strong a word. There will be some who cite this as their new favorite from the studio, but few will number it among the worst. I think the divide will largely fall on the line of those who consider it great, and those who found it entertaining.

I lean more towards the latter, as I think the film offers a totally worthwhile and enjoyable experience, but it won’t be threatening to dethrone the likes of Coco and Finding Nemo for me. And in many ways I don’t think my opinion matters. Onward feels like a movie made by Dan Scanlon (and other talented people) for Dan Scanlon to process and deal with the tragedy in his past. He wasn’t able to wield a magical staff, but hopefully he and his brother were able to arrive at a similar place to Ian and Barley. And ultimately, I hope Onward ended up being the movie he wanted to make.


Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Secret of the Ooze

turtlesIICowabunga dudes, it’s the 30th anniversary of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie! On March 30, 1990, New Line Cinema together with Golden Harvest released a film to theaters that seemingly no one wanted to make. This isn’t that surprising considering when Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird first started soliciting offers for a toy-line based on their comic book property there were also few takers. Still, considering how successful the cartoon and toys had become, one would think studios would have learned a lesson from the likes of Mattel and Hasbro in not passing on the property, but the Turtles concept was so uniquely weird that many just weren’t able to accept it as a bonafide franchise.

The Turtles originated in the pages of Mirage comics, but it was the cartoon that really catapulted the franchise to the heights it eventually reached. Despite that, the original film was a nice olive branch to those who first fell in love with the property as a comic. That first film took very little from the cartoon, basically just the colored masks, April’s profession, and an affinity for pizza, and took far more from the comic. The basic plot was lifted almost directly from that source material with just a few changes. The end result was a tonally dark film as the Turtles dwelled in the murky sewers of New York City and did most of their fighting at night. It was also probably a practical choice to obscure the costumes and puppets (in the case of Splinter) a bit to maintain realism. Jim Henson’s Creature Shop was brought in to create those wonderful suits and the film holds up pretty well for what it is even today.

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Grab your pizza and pork rinds and celebrate – the first TMNT movie is turning 30!

The only problem I have with that first film is that I already reviewed it on this blog years ago. With no new media based on the film to talk about here, I’m forced to get a bit creative with my celebration of that film and instead turn to the 1991 sequel. Incredibly, New Line was able to fast track a sequel and have it land in theaters on March 22, 1991 –  just days before the first film turned 1! It’s basically another instance of the powers that be having misgivings about the franchise. Everyone assumed the property was a fad and would die out quickly. And while Turtle-mania did probably peak in 1990, it certainly wasn’t dead come 91 and the original cartoon series wouldn’t air its season finale until 1996. Part of the reason the sequel was fast-tracked is because of how few believed in the first film. Even Playmates, holder of the master toy license and party responsible for the creation of the cartoon, passed on creating toys for that film assuming it would bomb. There wasn’t a ton of marketing tie-ins for that film, and even TMNT branded Pork Rinds (as seen in the film) arrived well after the film premiered.

A sequel was basically a way to course-correct for those poor decisions leading up to that first film. The quick turn-around though meant some actors weren’t available for the sequel, and some didn’t return for other reasons. The Casey Jones character was not brought back, though he did return in the sequel to this one. Judith Hoag was also recast as April O’Neil with Paige Turco. It is alleged that Hoag had made a fuss on set of the first film in defense of the stunt actors and that was partly to blame. Since this film has a different director, it could just be he wanted to cast an actress that more resembled the character in the cartoon (something that will impact other areas of the film). Robbie Rist and Brian Tochi return as the voices of Michelangelo and Leonardo, respectively, while Raphael (Laurie Faso) and Donatello (Adam Carl) were recast. Ernie Reyes Jr, a stunt double for Donatello on the first film, impressed the producers enough to get a role in the sequel as a proper actor playing the pizza deliveryman Keno, who understandably crosses paths with the Turtles. Shredder was also recast, now played by Francois Chao and voiced by David McCharen. Kevin Clash is also back as the voice and puppeteer on Splinter.

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Paige Turco hopefully got a nice pay day for this thing.

Director Michael Pressman sought, either on his own or at the urging of other parties, to make this film resemble the cartoon more than the first film had. As a result, co-creators Eastman and Laird had little input on the film. They wanted to continue the story began in Mirage Comics and bring in the scientist Baxter Stockman and have the secret of the ooze match-up with the comic in being alien in origin. Pressman and others apparently disagreed and pretty much the only thing it appears Eastman and Laird got away with was keeping specific elements of the cartoon, such as Bebop and Rocksteady, out. The film downplayed the dark and grime and removed almost all of the violence in favor of slapstick. The Turtles basically never utilize their weapons outside of the opening fight scene, and even there they barely use them. Michelangelo would rather pop bad guys with a yo-yo and sausage links, swung around like nunchaku, and just generally act goofy. Most of the scenes are also brightly lit, and while there’s some conflict between brothers Leo and Raph, it’s hastily done and the stakes feel smaller as Raph no longer comes across as a troubled soul.

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Shredder is back and he’s got mutants of his own this time.

For the plot of the film, Pressman and writer Todd Langden take the picture to a pretty logical place. After being dispatched at the end of the first film, Shredder returns rising from a landfill where he was apparently dumped (the NYPD and Sanitation Commission apparently unknowingly dumped a body left in a garbage truck) and has setup shop in a junkyard. His motivation is now simply revenge, but he needs help. For that, he turns to TGRI, the company responsible for creating the ooze that turned four baby turtles and their caretaker rat into the beings we know and love today. He kidnaps TGRI scientist Professor Jordan Perry (David Warner) to enlist him in creating super mutants of his known, settling on a wolf and a snapping turtle he’ll name Rahzar and Tokka (both voiced by Frank Welker), respectively.

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Donnie had some reconstructive beak surgery between films.

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles will be forced to deal with Shredder and his new minions, as well as the remnants of the Foot Clan. Adding to the drama is their search for a new home, having been cooped up in April’s swanky new apartment since the events of the first film. It’s a straight-forward plot that does fine with its modest 88 minute running time. Fans likely expected Shredder to return, as he always does in the cartoon, and while they probably wanted to see Bebop and Rocksteady it wasn’t a surprise to see surrogates in their place. Tokka and Rahzar are surprisingly even dumber than the warthog and rhino as they’re barely intelligible, but balance that out with impressive strength. I know some fans to this day are disappointed the proper duo wasn’t realized here, it’s hard to argue with the end result though as Jim Henson’s Creature Shop did an amazing job with both characters.

Henson’s Creature Shop is actually the film’s greatest strength. The Turtles were all re-tooled between films and remain plenty convincing. Michelangelo is basically the only one of the four that looks almost identical to the costume in the first film, as he had expressive eyes in that film while the other three seemed to have their eyes obscured by their masks. Now all four have a more approachable appearance and there’s definitely less grit here. Donatello is the one that looks the most different as his head-shape is completely different. I don’t know why this is the case, but he also feels like the character changed the most in general from film-to-film, possibly to de-emphasize the performance of Corey Feldman or maybe just to nerd him up to bring him more in-line with the cartoon. Shredder’s costume also looks great, and the big surprise at the end (yeah, you probably know what that surprise is, but I’ll still retain some mystery for a 29 year-old film review) also looks pretty great.

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The Turtles would rather fight with toys than weapons this time around. In the film’s defense though, I thought Mikey’s yo-yo routine was hilarious when I was 8.

Sadly, other than the costumes there isn’t much to like about this film. The script has been punched-up to be far more jokey and all-together less serious. Unfortunately, the script seems to think little of its audience and the jokes barely please 8-year-olds. The only true laugh in this film is one line by Mikey in the junkyard when they first spot the individual they’re looking for. Again, I’m not spoiling anything here. Otherwise, everything else is stupid and predictable. The fight choreography, apparently partly owing to the fact that the new masks had even worse visibility than the originals, is abysmal. The bad guys just stand around to get punched or kicked or hit with some jokey object and the Turtles basically never get hurt. Some complained the first film was too violent, but at least it showed the consequences of that violence. This film does not.

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David Warner is one of the newcomers for the sequel.

This is also the type of film one watches and just feels bad for the actors involved. David Warner does his best with what he’s given, and he’s actually game for some of the corniness of the script. Turco unfortunately has less to work with while the April character is firmly placed in the backseat for this one. The Keno character feels like an audience surrogate. He’s a teen, but possesses enough child-like enthusiasm to potentially allow kids to relate to him. He’s given some of the worst lines in the film, but again, I can’t really fault the performance of Reyes Jr. for my dislike of Keno. To perhaps no surprise, Keno has never resurfaced in any other media based on this franchise.

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Yes, this really happened in 1991.

I liked Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II as a kid, and that’s the only audience the movie cared about. I liked seeing my favorite heroes back in a live-action setting, and seeing the new mutants was a trip. I even liked the “Ninja Rap” and I actually have some affection for that even to this day as it’s the moment the movie just says “Screw it, this is what this film is about,” as it embraces it’s corn-ball nature. And the costumes are great, but just about everything else is dumb. All of the things I liked and still enjoy in the original film aren’t here, aside from the costumes. None of the questions that film left open at its conclusion are even addressed here. We don’t know what happened between April and Casey, and we never really get a rematch between Turtles and Shredder. It’s a shame, as the costumed actors (Michelin Sisti, Mark Caso, Kenn Scott, Leif Tilden as the four turtles) are still asked to do some pretty impressive stuff considering all of the gear they’re wearing, but not in a visually interesting manner. As a result, I cannot recommend this movie unless you’ve watched the first film so many times that you’re just desperate to watch something different. Though I hope you will have sense enough to stop here and not go onto the third film.

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“You mean, you don’t like us anymore, dude?”

If you want to watch this film or its much better predecessor (and you should watch that if you’re reading this on the date of publication) you can find all of the original films on Netflix. They’re also available on DVD and Blu Ray and should be quite affordable.


Verotika (2019)

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Verotika (2019)

Say what you will about the various art Glenn Danzig has released to the public, but the man should be admired for doing what he wants with said art. At a young age, Danzig decided he wanted to be a musician and for over 40 years he’s been committed to that industry. Along the way he’s taken risks, both creatively and commercially, and some have worked out well financially and some have not. Always though, he’s stayed true to his own vision and rarely does it feel like he’s ever compromised that vision.

In the mid-90s, Danzig decided he had other pursuits he wanted to undertake. He launched his own comic book publishing company and named it Verotik. Verotik specialized in horror and hyper sexualized stories that the main publishers in the world of comics would never touch. Around the same time, he also started poking around the world of Hollywood eventually taking a small role in the film The Prophecy II in which he was almost comically dispatched of in a few seconds of screen time. It was also around this time he was boasting about being sought for the role of Wolverine in a future X-Men film, though how serious such overtures were at the time are unknown.

For who knows how long, Danzig has wanted to climb into the director’s chair and oversee the creation of his own film. In 2019, that dream came true. And true to Danzig’s musical legacy, his film is undoubtedly uncompromised and the film Glenn Danzig wanted to make. Verotika is a horror anthology film based on properties launched by Danzig’s comic line. Some of the stories are more or less taken right from the page and adapted for the big screen. In creating the film, Danzig formed a partnership with Cleopatra Entertainment in what looks to be a multi-film deal. The movie was released in June of 2019 in very limited amounts, basically just special screenings attended by Danzig himself in high profile markets like LA and New York.

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Glenn Danzig steps off the stage and into the director’s chair and appears to be pretty happy with the end result.

Verotika was never screened in a city near me so I never had to make the perhaps difficult decision of whether or not to attend. The film has been nearly universally panned by critics with the often repeated comparison being that this is The Room of horror films. That doesn’t mean all of the reviews have been necessarily negative. Some expressed that film is not good, but it’s charmingly bad in ways that some of the most awesomely bad movies are. The film is low budget and full of the sex and violence that appeals to Danzig. The cast is populated by trained actors and actresses as well as veterans of the adult film industry, so I think anyone familiar with Danzig’s work likely has a good idea of what kind of experience they’re in for.

As a longtime fan of Glenn Danzig’s music, I felt like I basically owed it to myself to watch this film. I love the music of Danzig, but my fandom has largely ended there. What little of Verotik I thumbed through rarely appealed to me. Danzig’s directorial efforts with his music videos are mostly bad, and I basically assumed that I am going to dislike this film. Maybe I’ll be able to laugh at it, but I don’t know. I’m not the type of person that enjoys watching bad movies typically. At least with Verotika I’m signing up for an anthology that totals just 90 minutes, so it’s not a huge investment of time and there is a built in mechanism to reset my attention span. And even though I have in some ways dreaded viewing this film, I know my curiosity is too much to ignore so when the film went up for pre-order on Amazon I placed my order and waited.

morella

Fans of the Verotik comics will likely get a thrill out of seeing these characters come to life on the big screen. Here we have Morella played by Kayden Kross.

Verotika arrived and alongside it came an unexpected surprise. The physical release for the film is the standard Blu Ray and DVD combo, but it also includes a CD soundtrack as well which is pretty cool. It’s not a particularly great soundtrack, and the only Danzig track is the previously released “Eyes Ripping Fire,” but it’s still a nice gesture. The soundtrack is also available separately on vinyl, for interested parties. I settled into watch this one, and since it is an anthology film, it presents nice opportunities for breaks during the feature. There are three segments and they are:  The Albino Spider of Dajette, Change of Face, and Drukija:  Contessa of Blood. There’s a framing device in-between them all hosted by Morella (Kayden Kross) in a Vampira-like role as she introduces the macabre to come while some hapless girl (Noelle Ann Mabry, with possibly the best performance of the entire film) is tortured.

Women being victimized by other women seems to be the name of the game in this film. All three stories feature that in some capacity, though in the first segment the woman, Dajette (Ashley Wisdom), is inadvertently harming women. I was prepared for a lot of things when I sat down to watch this. I knew there would be gore, I expected plenty of nude women, and I also anticipated some unintentional comedy on account of the fact that this is a relatively low budget film. What I did not anticipate was boredom. Yes, Verotika is a bad movie, but as far as awesomely bad is concerned I’m not sure I’d classify this as such. There’s a lot of bad acting, and what’s not helping the actors out is the need to utilize accents in two of the three segments. The script is poor and at times laughable, but not gratuitously so. It’s a just a lot of wooden scenes surrounded by poor lighting, hollow audio, and irrational editing. There’s even a shot where a corpse blinks and it’s confusing how something like that makes it into the final cut of any film.

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Dajette and the spider that haunts her.

The three stories ask very little of the audience. Only the first felt the least bit ambitious as it concerns a woman, who when sleeps unleashes some sort of spider-demon on the populace. The spider wants to mate and kill in that order, and our protagonist needs to come up with a way to stop it. The segment relies way too much on actress Ashley Wisdom who is not up to task. The spider (Scotch Hopkins) does better, but the script gives him little to work with. He’s also burdened by some ambitious prosthetics that really aren’t all that bad, but could have been helped out with better lighting choices.

That segment might actually be the most narratively sound as the other two leave a lot to be desired. “Change of Face” follows the not very mysterious Mystery Girl (Rachel Alig) as she goes around cutting the faces off of young women and then masquerading as a stripper during the night. A detective pursues her, but is laughably played by Sean Kanan and hard to take serious. This segment features the most padding as on three occasions it resorts to extended segments of strippers performing their routine in a rather mundane fashion. Verotika would actually disappoint in the titillation department if stumbled upon at two AM on Cinemax.

drukija

Verotika is not particularly gory, but it does bring the blood by the tub-full.

The third segment is even more droll as it casts Alice Tate (who performs quite well under the circumstances) as Drukija, an Elizabeth Bathory type who poaches young girls from a village to bathe in their blood. She one-ups the countess by also feasting on the heart of a young girl. The story has no pay-off and is more of a fetish as we watch Drukija murder several young women. It takes place in a medieval setting so the costumes are a bit interesting and her ceremonial bathing apparatus is certainly a sight to see, but it offers little else.

Verotika is neither sexy, nor particularly gory. There is a lot of blood in some scenes, but the most gratuitous probably occurs during the film’s opening minutes. The film is not thought-provoking and it isn’t interested in exploring much of anything. And at 90 minutes it overstays its welcome by a lot. It’s hard to even pick which segment is the superior one. The concept of the spider is the most complex, while the “Change of Face” segment is the most procedurally ambitious as it attempts to present a murder-mystery thriller, but it really just exposes the weakness of the talent on hand. I guess the third is the best by default since it’s at least visually interesting and presents a decent premise. It just doesn’t move beyond its premise and could easily have been half as long. Or better yet, it could have just been a music video.

Glenn Danzig not only wrote and directed this picture, but he also provided the score. If you’re familiar with his Black Aria albums then it should sound mostly familiar. There are a few moments where I liked what I was hearing, but for the most part it’s forgettable. The licensed tracks are largely reserved for the stripper scenes, and in that respect they work fine. They’re not particularly sexy, but it’s not like Danzig was going to pay Rick Rubin to utilize “She Rides.”

Obviously I did not enjoy my time with Verotika. That doesn’t change what I started off with though. This is a film made by Glenn Danzig for Glenn Danzig. He’s gone around the country and personally shown this film to audiences and he appears to be quite proud of it. I can only assume that this is the film he wanted to make. And that is great. I wish I could put myself in position to pursue my own art in such a fashion, so even though I didn’t enjoy it I still applaud the man for the film he created. There’s just no way I’m going to seek out his next film.


Dragon Quest: Your Story

dq your storyIn the 1980s, game designer Yuji Horii set out to create a role-playing experience similar to a pen and paper RPG for a video game console. The goal was to blend elements of those experiences with statistical and complex Western PC games like Wizardry and Ultima as the back bone. In order to make it appeal to a Japanese audience, he wanted to infuse it with what he had learned working with manga and add character and story to the equation. The end result of that was Dragon Quest, known for a time as Dragon Warrior in the West. In creating Dragon Quest, Horii gave birth to the genre we know and love as the Japanese Role-Playing Game, or JRPG for short.

Dragon Quest was a cultural phenomenon in Japan when it arrived for the Famicom game system in 1986. Three sequels would follow and all would be brought to the Nintendo Entertainment System in the West. The series never caught on outside of Japan, and the series skipped the Super Nintendo all-together and didn’t return to a global release until Dragon Quest VII on the PlayStation. The series was the flagship title for game developer Enix, who would eventually be acquired by Squaresoft who had found great success with its Dragon Quest clone:  Final Fantasy. Those two franchises have come to define the JRPG genre and are still to this day looked to as being the trend-setter for the genre, which has admittedly sailed past its hey-day.

No matter, for Dragon Quest still has a dedicated and loyal following. And while the somewhat recently released Dragon Quest XI has taken it in a more modern direction, it still seems that the favorite game of the series amongst the fanbase is Dragon Quest V, also known as Dragon Quest V:  Hand of the Heavenly Bride.

dqv

Dragon Quest: Your Story is based on Dragon Quest V which is easily the most beloved entry in the long-running series.

Dragon Quest V, released in 1992 and eventually in North America in 2009, was the first game in the series released on the Super Famicom and also the first to skip North America initially. Like basically every game in the series, the player controls a silent protagonist that they’re allowed to bestow a name upon. They journey with that player on a lengthy quest partaking in turn-based battles that result from random encounters on both a world map or a dungeon sequence. Where Dragon Quest V seems to really distinguish itself though is in the scope of the journey and subversion of expectations. During the course of the game, the player will be faced with a choice of whom to take as a bride and that marriage will result in the birth of twins who eventually join your party as playable characters. There’s also a monster collecting element at play that undoubtedly influenced the Pokémon series in which after defeating a monster some will randomly request to join your party becoming playable as well. The game ends up following the hero from child to adult and players seemed to really enjoy that aspect of the experience as it breads attachment. It’s actually surprising more games haven’t attempted the same.

To celebrate the franchise, Dragon Quest:  Your Story was conceived and released in Japan in 2019. It has just now become available on Netflix outside of Japan. The film adapts Dragon Quest V for the big screen with a CG adventure that takes the viewer through the events of the game basically from start to finish. The film is written and directed by Takashi Yamazaki with additional directing credits going to Ryuichi Yagi and Makoto Hanafusa. Shirogumi Inc was chosen to handle the animation with additional effects done by Robot Communications.

luca sabrecat

The film opted to go with CG in place of two-dimensional, hand-drawn, animation.

Fans of Dragon Quest V seemed elated at the thought of the game becoming a feature-length film. Animation is definitely the way to go, though I wonder if many were disappointed to find out it would be a CG animated feature and not a more traditional two-dimensional anime. By including the tagline “Your Story,” it seems the film is also aiming to replicate the RPG experience each player goes through, even if it means this time around the hero needs a name.

Like the video game it is based on, Dragon Quest:  Your Story tells the tale of a hero named Luca (Yuri Lowenthal) who at a young age loses his mother to monsters. Together with his father Pankraz (Parker Simmons), Luca embarks on a mission to retrieve the fabled Zenithian Blade in the hopes that it will help them free their beloved. The blade can only be wielded by the Heavenly Hero, whom Pankraz believes to be his son. Along the way, Pankraz will meet his end forcing Luca to go it alone. Only, he’s not alone and will soon be joined by a sabre cat cub and a curious slime. He has allies in the young prince Harry (Zeno Robinson), scrappy Bianca (Stephanie Sheh) and magical Nera (Xanthe Huynh).

dq slime

Yes, we have a slime in this one.

Adapting a roughly 25 hour game to a 103 minute film is certainly a daunting task. Much of those hours in the game are spent grinding away through dungeons and such, but even stripping those away still leaves a lot of ground to cover. As a result, the film can’t really attempt at introducing everything the game throws at the player and basically boils it all down to a few key bullet points. There’s also a liberal dose of montage at work making this film really only accessible for those who played the game. To those who did not it will feel more like an animated summary with no room to breath or to form actual attachments to the characters presented here. This format might actually make it more accessible for younger kids with short attention spans, but older viewers with no familiarity with the brand will probably tune out.

The visuals for the film hold up quite well throughout. Series artist Akira Toriyama was not on-hand for the development of this film, but it’s clear his original art was referenced for the film’s visuals. The sabre cat in particular has a very Toriyama-like appearance as do others. Where the visuals suffer is in the dubbing. Either a direct translation was insisted upon for the English dub or there just wasn’t much attention paid to it because the mouth flaps of the characters rarely sync up naturally. It’s distracting, but this is a film that isn’t exactly dialogue heavy so it’s not as killer as it could have been. There are subtitled options available, and if you’re not averse to reading them it might be the better way to go. Much of the film’s music and sounds were lifted directly from the game, but updated with an actual orchestra where appropriate. It makes the film feel incredibly authentic in its presentation.

Where the film has garnered controversy though lies in its aim. Much of the film up until the climactic battle with the monstrous Bishop Ladja feels like a love letter to Dragon Quest V, but that’s ultimately not the film’s intention. Dragon Quest:  Your Story is aiming a bit higher. It wants to be a celebration of Dragon Quest itself and not just a particular game. Dragon Quest V is merely the chosen vehicle for that delivery. The end contains a twist that is rather high concept. I don’t wish to spoil it, but even if the idea sounded great on paper the execution is a bit awkward. It definitely torpedoes the excitement of the climax adding a layer of complexity onto a story that, up until that point, was anything but.

bianca

Bianca was probably my favorite aspect of the film, though given the rapid-pace of the film she ends up not being featured all that much.

As someone who does not have any particular attachment to Dragon Quest or Dragon Quest V, I can say that the ending did not anger me, though I certainly wasn’t satisfied either. I have played Dragon Quest V, so I was familiar with the story going into this and could follow the film. The ending to the game is possibly the least interesting aspect of it, so changing things up doesn’t bother me on the surface. The execution here is just clumsy, and some of the elements of the ending might have served the film better had they been introduced from the start. This isn’t the type of story that needs or wants a big twist. It doesn’t have enough depth to pull the viewer in and then reap the reward of dumping them on their head. For those unfamiliar with the game, it just feels like a noisy, dumb, fantasy picture that commands little attention. For those who love the source material, they just want to see it to its conclusion likely enjoying the ride well enough while knowing it’s incomplete and only scratches the surface. The film basically spends 90 minutes making fans of the game happy, then the last ten angry.

dragon-quest-your-story-smoke

Dragon Quest fan groups reacting to the ending.

As a result, Dragon Quest:  Your Story is a film that doesn’t really please anybody. Newcomers will likely find it dry, while longtime fans will be angry with the ending. I suppose Dragon Quest fans that aren’t that enamored with Dragon Quest V might be able to better appreciate what the film was striving for, but I have yet to meet a fan that fits that definition. For me, a casual player of Dragon Quest, I got very little out of this one. The visuals and music are mostly nice, even if I would have preferred a more traditional anime look. The action pieces are dull and the pace of the film is far too quick for any of the emotional beats to land with much impact. I found Luca charming and Bianca especially was charismatic, though she is in maybe 10 minutes of the film as a functioning character, when all is said and done. Dragon Quest:  Your Story is a flawed and ultimately disposable piece of entertainment. It’s ending will give fans something to talk about, which unfortunately is likely to become the film’s legacy rather than as a celebration of a beloved franchise.


Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

sonic 2020It was an interesting journey for the world’s most famous hedgehog to go from the small screen to the big screen, but the journey was finally completed Valentine’s Day 2020. Originally set to debut last Thanksgiving, Sonic the Hedgehog famously was delayed when fans reacted unfavorably to the title character’s design. Like Detective Pikachu before it, Sonic the Hedgehog was attempting to bring a CG version of the titular character into a real world setting. Fans were justified in their reaction to the debut of the character as he was only vaguely a representation of a character that’s been around for 30 years. The extra time, money, and effort to redesign Sonic has apparently paid off as the film raced out to an impressive debut weekend topping the weekend box office.

From the start, Sonic was always engineered to be pleasing to the eye. He was famously designed as a mash-up of two iconic characters:  Mickey Mouse and Felix the Cat. The fact that someone tied to this film decided to deviate from such a simple and effective premise feels like an ego-driven maneuver, but it’s likely it was just a result of over-thinking. Sonic the character doesn’t fit into the “real world.” He basically has one giant eye with two pupils in it, he’s a  blue hedgehog, but he doesn’t really have visible fur. And his head is bigger than his body in his classic iteration, though he’s since been elongated and given a more sleek figure over the years. The original stab at the character included fur (or quills), which was to be expected. What was odd was the attempt at shaping the face to something more rodent-like, I suppose. The end result was more of a combination of late 90s Michael Jackson and the transformed monkey kid from the original Jumanji. He had an oddly pointed nose and more natural shaped eyes to go along with a toothy smile that seemed to make viewers quite uncomfortable. His body was lean and slightly muscular – a runner’s body. Instead of white gloves he had white fur and was just all-together unpleasant to look at. The redesign basically took things back to the character’s roots. Physically, he’s more Sonic Adventure than Sonic from the Genesis. He still has textured fur as director Jeff Fowler felt that was important for a mostly live-action film, and he has two distinct eyes. He got to put his gloves back on though and his overall facial design is much more true to what fans expected. All in all, he looks nice.

bad sonic

This is not the Sonic fans wanted…

Which is certainly a start. An unappealing lead is hardly a death-knell for a movie, but it doesn’t help when the character is supposed to be visually appealing. It’s not something that can rescue a bad movie though, and I would guess most assumed Sonic the Hedgehog would be a bad movie. It’s not like video game to film adaptations have a good track record. I liked Mortal Kombat as a kid, but I’d hesitate to call it a good film. I did take the family to Detective Pikachu last year and felt it was fine for what it was. I know there are some fans out there that enjoy some of the Resident Evil and Tomb Raider films, but I do not number myself among them. Expectations for a video game movie are low, and will remain low until a Marvel-like run of success so expecting anything out of Sonic felt foolish.

good sonic

Much better!

And perhaps it’s that mindset that contributed the most to my enjoyment of Sonic the Hedgehog. It’s certainly easier to be pleasantly surprised by a film when expectations are low, but Sonic the Hedgehog managed to mostly achieve the same level of success as Detective Pikachu. And a lot of that can be attributed to the success of the main character. Sonic (voiced by Ben Schwartz who has quickly established himself as the best Sonic, sorry Jaleel) is charismatic. He has a manic personality as a result of living life faster than anyone while possessing a sense of honor and responsibility which are traits that lend well to heroism. He’s playful, chatty, inquisitive, and also a touch sympathetic. He’s essentially an orphan who was targeted by some bad dudes (who bare a strong resemblance to another Sonic frenemy) for his speediness and forced to flee his home world with the help of his magic rings. The rings in the film are magical devices capable of opening up portals to other worlds, which is how Sonic arrives on Earth as a kid and is forced to live in hiding. He badly just wants to make friends, and he’s taken a liking to a local cop he refers to as Donut Lord (James Marsden) mainly via peeping on his daily life. One night, in a fit of sadness, Sonic goes a bit too fast and produces something akin to an EMP pulse that knocks out power in the community which gets the attention of the US Government.

jim carrey robotnik

Carrey gets to bring his own personality to Robotnik, but he’s also kept in check and turns in a very fun performance.

The film wisely doesn’t focus much on the government stuff and instead uses a very loose scene to have those in charge select one Dr. Robotnik (Jim Carrey) to investigate the cause of the phenomena. Carrey’s Robotnik bares little resemblance to the video game character (more commonly referred to as Eggman these days), but he possesses a quirky personality. Unlike a lot of iterations of Robotnik, he’s also a capable bad guy at times undone by his hubris. Carrey injects some of his usual comedic antics into the role, but nothing that becomes too over-the-top. He’s entertaining, and the only character other than Sonic capable of stealing a scene.

Robotnik quickly ends up on Sonic’s trail and from there the film turns into a road trip buddy comedy with Sonic forced to come out of hiding and seek the help of Donut Lord, aka Tom. The film does a good enough job of balancing the comedy with action. Tom and Sonic mostly get along from the start so it doesn’t play up tension too much between the leads. Not all of the comedy lands as this is a PG film primarily looking to entertain children. There’s a confrontation at a bar that’s a bit groan-inducing, as well as some jokes that amount to product placement, but the film doesn’t linger on anything long enough for it to grow boring or stale. The main plot beats are simple and easy enough to follow even for younger viewers making this one more about the ride than the final destination.

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Sonic’s rings play an integral role in the film acting as portals between worlds for Sonic to escape into.

Visually, the film’s special effects hold up just fine. No, I don’t suppose I ever really bought into the concept of Sonic actually existing in this world like I may have at times with Pikachu, but I didn’t feel that harmed my enjoyment of the movie. The film makes liberal use of the slow-motion sequences popularized by the X-Men franchise when illustrating just how fast Sonic can move. Like Quicksilver, Sonic will appear to move at normal speed while the world around him is nearly frozen in time allowing him to correct a situation or just make mischief. It’s not exactly original, but it’s also not something that needed improving on. The film’s score and sound effects also make use of sounds fans of the game have grown up with. Honestly, the film could have used more of the original music as what is adapted for this film is basically the only music that stands out.

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Sonic’s human allies, played by James Marsden and Tika Sumpter, don’t offer much, but they also don’t need to.

Beyond those sounds, there’s actually not a ton of fan-service in this one. There are some easter eggs, mainly the attackers early in the film, but the film mostly keeps everything in check. What’s here is enjoyable and most of it is easy to spot. Perhaps even too easy as I was hoping to come home and find out I missed a bunch of stuff that I could look for on another viewing, but I basically caught it all. I was a little disappointed that the film wasn’t able to make use of past voice actors, most notably Jaleel White, but maybe the studio tried and it just didn’t happen. The same can be said of past songs like the theme for the Saturday morning cartoon or the Sega CD “Sonic Boom” track. There is a post credits cameo that’s worth waiting for that all but guarantees a sequel as well, so if you like this then I guess that’s good news.

Sonic the Hedgehog is a competent take on the character that successfully adapts him for the big screen. It’s not a great film, but it is a short one coming it around 99 minutes and that’s all the time it needed. It’s a film worth seeing if you’re a big fan of the character, or if you’re like me and you’re just looking for a movie to take the kids to that won’t bore or annoy you. If you liked Detective Pikachu then I think that’s a pretty good comparison and a solid indicator on if you’ll like this one. Sonic moves at a faster pace and has fewer lulls, but it also doesn’t have as much heart. Its human characters are bland and uninteresting, but they thankfully are not tasked with carrying many scenes by themselves. This is a film that knows what its audience wants, and that’s Sonic. He’s front and center and quite enjoyable to spend time with. If you ever wanted to see a Sonic movie, it’s hard to imagine one turning out better than this.


The NECA TMNT Wish List

shredder vs raphThe early months of the calendar year are generally among my least favorite. They’re cold, dark, and dull where I reside. About the only good thing on the calendar is the annual New York Toy Fair in which vendors roll out previews of the toys to come for the next fiscal year and sometimes beyond. These last few years have been particularly exciting for fans of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles as easing of the master toy license by Nickelodeon and Playmates has allowed other companies to enter the mix. The company that has most taken advantage of this new frontier is NECA which currently has three toy lines based on the property hitting shelves. It’s a crazy fun time to be a Turtle toy collector as a result as NECA has taken a nostalgic approach to its figures which is something Playmates rarely does. And this year figures (pun intended) to be an exciting one as lots of figures are set for reveal.

If you haven’t been involved with the lines up to now, here’s a refresher. NECA is currently hard at work packing Target with two-packs based on the 1987 cartoon. Figures released so far include all four turtles in both toon accurate colors and licensing material (i.e. bright green) colors, Shredder, Krang in his bubble walker, Bebop, Rocksteady, and the always serviceable Foot Soldier. Already unveiled and set for release this spring are figures of April O’Neil, Casey Jones, Leatherhead, Slash (in his cartoon outfit), and battle damaged Foot Soldiers. In addition to them, we’ve already seen previews for a Foot Alpha, Metalhead, Triceraton, Traag, Granitor, and Krang’s android body. That’s a lot to take in with much more likely in the can.

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It’s a safe assumption we’ll soon be getting updated turtles to match their appearance in the famed sequel, as well as a few other choice figures.

At Gamestop, NECA is currently sending figures based on the 1990 film. They have thus far released the four turtles, Shredder, Foot, and Splinter. A special Loot Crate edition of Splinter is in production depicting him as a spirit from the camping sequence and with 2020 being the 30th anniversary of that film you know NECA has more on the way. We also know they intend to move onto The Secret of the Ooze so the movie line still has some legs.

At online and specialty shops, NECA is set to roll-out figures based on the popular arcade/SNES game Turtles in Time. The first of the four should be hitting retail soon and features Leonardo and Donatello complete with their weapons and surfboards from the Sewer Surfing level. There’s also a purple Foot Soldier who too packs a surfboard and Slash in his game-specific attire (which happens to match his comic look which the old Playmates toy was based on). All of the figures in this line feature a pixel-deco paintjob. Just revealed is wave two which includes Raph and Mikey as well as Shredder (the non Super version from the arcade) and Leatherhead. Considering a lot of the same players from the show were featured in that game, it stands to reason the cartoon and video game assortments will likely feature similar characters.

That’s a lot, and there’s already probably a lot more ready to be unveiled in a few weeks, but now feels like a good time to compile a wish list. I have collected all or parts of all three lines so far, but my main focus now is on the toon line. The 1990 film is my favorite anything related to TMNT, but there’s just not a lot left from that film NECA needs to touch. I have less fondness for the sequel, but wouldn’t mind some figures from it. The video game line is certainly cool, but not a huge priority right now. It may become one though if the Target two-packs continue to be extremely difficult to track down. Since the game figures are sold online and can even be pre-ordered, it makes acquiring them a lot easier. Plus they’re sold separately so there’s no danger of having to pay for a second, unwanted, figure in a two-pack (which so far hasn’t been an issue).

To sort of collect my thoughts in one place, I’ve decided to put together a little list of my most wanted from NECA. I suspect several of these will be unveiled at Toy Fair, but it would be a stretch to expect all of them. The cartoon actually featured far fewer characters than the old toyline, but many did make it into the show. NECA is thus far only doing characters that were in the cartoon, and if you’re nostalgia is just for the old Playmates line then maybe check out what Super7 is doing with its TMNT figures. Here is my list though, and I think number one is probably the same for many such lists:

  1. splinter teaSplinter (Cartoon) – We have the turtles, we have the main villains, and soon we’ll even have April and Casey, but what we don’t have yet is the beloved sensei to the turtles:  Master Splinter. Playmates never did do a proper toon version of the character, but it can be assumed that NECA will and it will be spectacular. He’ll assuredly come with his walking stick, and hopefully some fun accessories like a mug of tea or maybe some sushi. Afterall, he never was all that fond of pizza.
  2. stinky rat king

    There’s no way this guy smells pleasant. 

    The Rat King (Cartoon) – Possibly my favorite villain from the old show, speaking purely from a design standpoint. The turtles may have dwelled in the sewers, but the Rat King was really the only denizen that actually looked the part. If a cartoon character could have an odor, surely Rat King would have qualified. He would need to come with a few rats, though I’m blanking on additional accessories needed. It’s a long shot, but it would be rad if NECA could include a removable hat and duster to cover the redesign that came later in the toon’s life, but my guess is they’d rather hang onto that as a variant down the road.

  3. baxterfly

    I have an unexplainable fondness for this little guy.

    Baxter Stockman/Baxter the Fly (Cartoon, Game) – I’m cheating a little by including both at number three, but my dream is for Baxter to come in a two-pack with his mutated fly persona. Toss in some mousers, and that’s quite a set! Baxter the Fly is also a figure I’m prepared to double-dip on should he get a video game release as well (and you know he will) because it will likely come with that outrageous gun he wields. And in case you’re not familiar with the game, I speak of the gun that could shoot fists and hand slaps.

  4. killer pizzas

    Raph is probably about to make a joke about them being right behind him.

    Pizza/Sewer Monster (Cartoon) – The Xenomorph inspired Pizza Monsters seem like a solid option for NECA’s Ultimate figures based on the cartoon. The Ultimates are for deluxe figures that will be sold individually as opposed to in two-packs. We don’t know where they’ll be sold, but we do know the Foot Alpha, Metalhead, and Krang’s android body are ticketed for such a release. The Pizza Monster makes for a nice fit because it could feature a fully grown version as well as smaller ones representing the larval forms and such. It’s a classic and well-remembered episode, so much so that NECA even did a Sewer Alien based on the film franchise Alien as a convention exclusive designed to mimic the TMNT version.

  5. groundchuck and dirtbag

    Groundchuck (right) was pretty cool. Dirt Bag (left) I could take or leave.

    Groundchuck (Cartoon) – Groundchuck was one of my favorites of the Playmates toys. The bright red fur with blue attire and steel leg just looked cool to me at the time and I think it would look great as a NECA figure today. In the cartoon, he was paired with Dirt Bag whom I’m less enamored with, but it would certainly make sense to package the two together. He did not appear in Turtles in Time though so he might be a low priority figure since he doesn’t easily fit into that line (he did, however, appear in other games).

  6. tokkamomma

    I know some people are still mad we got these two instead of Bebop and Rocksteady, but it’s hard to deny they’d make awesome figures.

    Tokka and Rahzar (Film, Cartoon) – I’m not super into The Secret of the Ooze, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t think its featured dim-witted duo wouldn’t look great in plastic. Tokka especially would likely look awesome, while Rahzar would be a bit tricky given all of the fur. My guess is NECA would sculpt the fur in plastic as it did with Splinter, but who know? If they continued in their quarter-scale line maybe fur would be a feature there. Regardless, I think they would look awesome and I would also be interested in cartoon versions of the characters. It remains to be seen if NECA could create a sculpt that works for both mediums though as the cartoon versions basically looked like the Playmates figures. The two also appeared in the game so NECA could have possibly triple-dip here, though it might be safer for them to just make the film and cartoon/game versions separate.

  7. mondogecko

    Mondo Gecko was a character we were supposed to think is cool, and we all did.

    Mondo Gecko (Cartoon)- Seemingly everyone’s favorite non-turtle character was Mondo Gecko. He had a skateboard, bright colors, and was named Mondo – what’s there not to like? He’s likely a high priority figure as a result for NECA and it would surprise me a little if we don’t see him in a couple weeks. NECA will likely try to make him screen accurate which is a bit unfortunate because the figure was so much cooler. I still think he’ll turn out fine though.

  8. mightyhognrhinoman

    The heroes we truly need.

    Rhino Man and Mighty Hog (Cartoon) – Yeah, I’m cheating again with another two character entry, but what are ya gonna do? I’m mostly avoiding variants of already released figures for this list, but I do love Bebop and Rocksteady and those figures NECA did are so damn awesome that I want to see more of them from the company. While the robots Super Bebop and Mighty Rocksteady are quite tempting, I think I’d actually prefer the super hero versions of the characters:  Rhino Man and Mighty Hog. Even though this is the preferred variant for me, my guess is we actually get SNES versions of the two in pirate attire before anything else.

  9. super shredder

    It helps that NECA won’t need to make a licensing deal with Kevin Nash thanks to the giant helmet.

    Super Shredder (Film, Game) – Now you can’t have figures based on The Secret of the Ooze without including the big baddie from the end:  Super Shredder. Given how quickly he was dispatched, Super Shredder was certainly more bark than bite, but man was he intense looking. NECA would have some fun sculpting all of those spikes. This bad boy would have to be big too, unlike the puny version Playmates gave us many years ago. And unlike Tokka and Rahzar, it wouldn’t be too difficult to turn that film-based figure into a video game one as he basically looked the same. He’d just need to have cool fireball effects and maybe a little screaming turtle.

  10. darkturtle

    Cooler than Batman. There, I said it.

    Dark Turtle (Cartoon) – For my last entry, how about a deep cut? We’ll undoubtedly see figures of the Punk Frogs, Mukman, and maybe even Bug Man before we see a Dark Turtle, but he’s worth remembering. Dark Turtle, in case you forgot, was a one-episode appearance and is the alter-ego of Donatello. He basically looks like Batman, and what’s not to like about a turtle dressed as Batman? I’m not super interested in variants of the turtles, as I think I’m still fatigued by the many Playmates flooded the market with 30 years ago, but this one I’d go for.


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