I’ve probably seen the original “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” more than any other movie (granted, most of those viewings were from 1990-92). That film is a perfect blend of respect for the source material with mass appeal, and the three sequels – although they have their moments — don’t match its quality or heart. In a perfect world, Nickelodeon’s return to the saga – 2014’s “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” (referred to here as “TMNT ’14”) – would tap into what worked in 1990, while adding untapped villains in cinematic debuts.
Ilove adventures set in geographic extremes, and that’s the biggest appeal of “30 Days of Night” (2007), set in Barrow, Alaska. Odd places like this have me going to the internet, where I learned that Barrow has since been renamed Utqiagvik, and it actually experiences two straight months of night from mid-November to mid-January. Inaccessible from other cities by road, the oil-industry-driven outpost has a population of over 4,000. But the film imagines a town of mere hundreds, only a few blocks wide.
Drive” (2007, Fox) feels like a “see what sticks” entry from Tim Minear, who co-creates the series with Ben Queen. It boasts good TV actors and movie character actors and one future superstar, and it has the high-concept premise of a secret multi-million-dollar illegal cross-country road race. That phrase could’ve been the centerpiece of a “Drive” drinking game, like “Dark Angel” had with “genetically engineered killing machine.”
Iliked “Cabin in the Woods” (2011), but I’m uncomfortable with how it has risen to classic status in the horror genre. Wild genre shifting and brazen disregard for the illusion of fear you’ve created for the audience is eye-opening the first time but it would be an unappealing trend. Luckily, films like that aren’t the norm, and if “Cabin” shows how they can go right, “The Hunt” shows how they can go wrong.
Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child write what they know, which is no doubt why “Crooked River” (February, hardcover) is their second-straight book set in Florida, where Child now resides. However, Florida – or New York, or New Mexico, or Massachusetts, or Maine – probably wouldn’t hire the authors in public relations. “Crooked River” starts with the mystery of more than 100 severed feet washed ashore on the otherwise beautiful shell-laden beaches of Sanibel Island, off the coast of Fort Myers. It’s such an off-the-wall happening that it remains compelling for hundreds of pages even as answers are slow to come.
Sometimes comic-book yarns are just comic-book yarns, and can’t be molded into something bigger and better through technical mastery. We know this because of director Ang Lee’s “Hulk” (2003). Never before or since has such a basic, wide-audience screenplay been treated with such languid care in the performances, the special effects and the editing. Lee’s craftsmanship would’ve worked wonderfully on a thematically rich, complex narrative like, say, “Watchmen,” but when applied to the origin story of Bruce Banner/Hulk (Eric Bana), the result is slow and boring.
Midnight Run” (1988) is a classic not-too-serious road actioner featuring tough guys and tough talk. You can watch it without feeling queasy aftereffects, despite its plethora of swearing (Joe Pantoliano’s bond agent Eddie complains that he’s been told to go f*** himself twice in one day) and violence (Charles Grodin’s Jon gets knocked out a dangerous number of times). Everything about the movie is formulaic and obvious, but that doesn’t work against the fact that this is a touching story of an odd-couple friendship.
It’s hard to believe now, but in 1990, director Sam Raimi (the “Evil Dead” trilogy) couldn’t get any superhero property to let him make it into a movie, so he did something that’s largely foreign by today’s standards: He invented his own character. The titular hero of “Darkman” (1990) is inspired by the Invisible Man in look and attitude, but there’s a lot of originality and a do-it-yourself attitude to admire about this entry from the superhero genre’s pre-boom era.
When I saw “V for Vendetta” in theaters in 2006, having gone in mostly cold, it washed over me like a new, surprising experience. Although I’d always been suspicious of authority, this movie – which often makes top 10 lists of most libertarian films – clinched it for me. Oddly, I don’t think it’s entirely because of the messages. “V for Vendetta” is certainly a message movie about the value of freedom and the untrustworthiness of governments, but more than that, it’s such a beautifully engrossing work of art.
Nate and Hayes” (1983) was probably not a passion project for John Hughes – who co-writes the screenplay with David Odell (“Supergirl”), from a story by Lloyd Phillips. It’s probably a case of him earning a paycheck as he worked to gain Hollywood clout. However, he infuses some fun and energy into this 19th century South Pacific swashbuckler. I wouldn’t know this is a Hughes script if I had gone in blind, but considering that Odell tends to embrace magic and mysticism in his other works, I’m tempted to credit Hughes for “N&H’s” grounded nature.