Monday, December 08, 2014

Undated Homogeneous Moving Figures

Why not try, Michael Bay? Just a little, just for fun. Does the universe seem too devoid of meaning? Do you find comfort only in the vague status conferred by piles of money and the sycophants who respect it? Is that all you need? Or have you given up hope that there can be anything more? Bay only produced 2014's Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles--it's directed by Jonathan Liebesman which might explain why it's better than Bay's Transformers: Age of Extinction. More coherent, anyway. It's every bit as stupid but it has a more uniform voice, a consistency in tone to its particular form of utter vapidity. It has three credited screenwriters but it feels like one solid half-assed vision. Like the many other reboots of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it was pretty much guaranteed a certain amount of profit. But in the continuing Looking Glass World absurdity of modern American cinema, this was the most profitable reboot of the franchise and it reflects the lowest amount of creative impulse.

Well, let me say there was something I liked about it--I liked the design of the turtles themselves, which I know a lot of people hated. Film critic Peter Howell of the Toronto Star called them "grotesque as a Terry Gilliam cartoon" which I think was meant to be a disparagement. I should only hope my art would one day be compared to Terry Gilliam's and it occurs to me that Gilliam would rock the shit out of Ninja Turtles. That should happen. I mean, there are other projects I'd prefer to see Gilliam handle first if he were given the kind of budget to work with this movie had. But a Terry Gilliam Ninja Turtles--that's a marriage made in Hell and it's undeniably seductive.

But, no, we have the Michael Bay/Jonathan Liebesman one instead. With Megan Fox, who I kind of applauded when she talked shit about Bay's manners on set of the first Transformers where he reportedly saw her only as a sex object. I guess as revenge they decided to put her in the role of a complete moron.

Imagine the dumbest, most misogynist portrayal of Lois Lane you've ever seen. Now lower it by 100 IQ points and you have Fox's April O'Neil, who works for a local New York television news department and she's absolutely stunned no-one believes her story about the six foot tall talking turtles whose existence she has no tangible evidence of.

Even when she finally has a photograph, she doesn't share it with her boss (played by Whoopi Goldberg) who is enraged that April would bring in this story. Which is weird, too--if your employee starts talking to you about seeing giant talking turtles in an earnest manner, do you get angry under the suspicion that they're trying to fool you? It's like cartoon cave man psychology: "Wait minute! Me know turtles can't talk!" I say "cartoon cave man" because think this movie would be a little low brow for Australopithecus afarensis.

In the old series, April O'Neil is basically a surrogate maternal character for the turtles. Here, she's the object of Michelangelo's sexual come-ons that she replies to in the same way she replies to everything, with a dim, vaguely worried expression.

I couldn't help thinking of this:

One could say the low level intelligence of the script is because the movie's aimed solely at young children. It clearly isn't when a big part of its target audience are thirty-somethings who grew up with the original series and the sexual titillation and the flirting between Fox's and Will Arnett's character would be generally meaningless to prepubescents but I guess insofar as anyone can say anything you can say that.

Arnett gives the best performance in the movie. He seems to accept the role with a noble work ethic, putting as much belief into his lines as he does with the good material he had to work with on Arrested Development. William Fichtner as villain Eric Sacks chews scenery like it's rubber celery, evidently intent on taking this opportunity to prove he's another Christopher Walken. The turtles themselves . . . At least they sound like they're from New York this time. Once again, Raphael is the focal point, his surly exterior with a heart of gold proving again to be cheap pathos fodder while the other turtles are one dimensional types. Sometimes their dialogue drifts from dumb to completely meaningless, like someone took apart a bunch of jokes and mixed the setups and punchlines around in a hat. At one point Raphael tells Donatello his shell is cracked, apparently speaking metaphorically, and that Donatello is his bandage. Donatello says, "not for the first time" before leaping out of the speeding truck to help save Leonardo as they all tumble down cgi-friendly snowy mountainside. Is Leonardo particularly Raphael's responsibility for some reason? Or maybe Raphael's shell really is cracked and watching Donatello save Leonardo would have a healing influence?

Or maybe they just didn't care. I can imagine one of the actors saying, "You know, this line doesn't make any se . . . Oh, never mind."

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