Dog Days of August
By Johnny Pomatto
Having been on vacation the last few weeks, I returned to New York to catch up at the multiplex. Here are some of the highs and lows.
TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES
When reports came out that Michael Bay would be producing a new Ninja Turtles movie, the die-hard fans (yes, they exist) were panicked. Rumors swirled that he would mess with the mythology by making the turtles aliens and other unforgivable changes. Well, TurtleHeads, your fears were unfounded. Under the direction of Jonathan Liebsman (Battle Los Angeles), Bay’s Turtles are almost exactly as you remembered them, and that’s not a good thing. In keeping the original mythos in tact, we are subjected to the same story that anyone with even a cursory knowledge of the Ninja Turtles is familiar with. Shredder and the Foot Clan is terrorizing Manhattan. April O’Neil (Megan Fox, trying her best god bless her), is on the case. And the city’s saviors are revealed to be… (see title). Once rat-sensei Splinter started to tell the origin story about turtles encountering mysterious, green ooze, a tale I’ve heard too many times before, I decided to rest my eyes for a bit. There is one notable change made to the brand, and that’s the look of the turtles. The original 1990 movie wasn’t good (you may disagree), but at least the rubber turtle suits that Jim Henson created were detailed and expressive. Here we get CGI turtles that are as muscular as Mark Wahlberg was in Bay’s “Pain and Gain,” with dead eyes and strange nostrils that actually do make them look far more like aliens than turtles. I’m amazed and disappointed that this new incarnation has ended up being so successful at the box office. Kids, I guess. With “Guardians of the Galaxy” still on plenty of screens, there’s no reason to subject yourselves to this garbage. Michael Bay didn’t crap on your childhoods, but he will bore you to the point that you’ll never be a fan of these heroes in half shells again.
The McDonagh brothers (Martin and John Michael) are never afraid to inject laughs into the darkest of stories, and CALVARY is no exception. John Michael McDonagh’s follow up to his wonderful 2011 comedy “The Guard” is darker and stranger than his previous work, but it’s still a haunting story that I can’t get out of my head. Brendan Gleeson (awesome, per usual) plays Father James, a priest who, one morning during confession, gets a threat from a faceless member of his congregation. The confessor says that as a child he was raped by a priest who has since died, and as revenge against the rest of the church, he plans to murder a good priest, specifically Gleeson. He says he’ll give him a week to put his affairs in order, and we then watch Father James live what might be his last week on earth. Though the small Irish town where the film is set is full of a wide variety of colorful, tortured characters and the confessor could be any one of them, CALVARY doesn’t play like a whodunit. The cast, including Chris O’Dowd, Dylan Moran, Aidan Gillen, David Wilmot, and Kelly Reilly, are mostly Pinter-esque, broad caricatures who taunt and test Father James. Though his faith in the lord seems unwavering, one can imagine that considering the people surrounding him, he might already be in a sort of Hell, and death may actually be a relief as he’ll no longer be burdened with attempting to save them. The climax of the film doesn’t quite live up to the build up and the film is tonally all over the place, but that’s kind of by design. This bizarre fable sometimes has easy answers to difficult questions, but you may still enjoy trying to figure them out for yourself.
MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT
As a Woody Allen completist, each summer movie season is a new roll of the dice. This extremely prolific filmmaker keeps rolling them out, year after year. It would be easy to just give up and avoid him all together if his style had become exclusively tired and forgettable, but every few years he’ll sneak in a gem like “Midnight in Paris” or “Blue Jasmine.” But too often we get stale clunkers like “To Rome With Love” or “Whatever Works,” which might have been delightful romps at the beginning of the master’s career, but are now exercises in laziness and complacency. MAGIC IN THE MOONLIGHT falls into the latter category. Colin Firth plays a magician invited to a country house to expose a con woman claiming to be a psychic who is exploiting a wealthy family. She is played by Emma Stone, an actress so full of life and energy that she can even make the “Spider-Man” reboots seem watchable for a few moments at a time. But here she’s given nothing to do and can’t breathe life into the paper-thin material. The twist (singular) is so obvious you’ll spot it from the opening scene and the movie has nothing to offer aside from it. Even the May-December romance between Firth and Stone doesn’t work as neither is able to milk charm out of the interactions, although Firth fares a bit better than Stone. My advice is to skip this one altogether and hope that next year’s Woody offering is better.
For those of you who were wowed by the southern adolescence portrayed in “Boyhood,” I can’t recommend the documentary RICH HILL highly enough. Rich Hill is a town in Missouri with a population of about 1,400 people. Directors Andrew and Tracy Droz Tragos both spent time there in their youth. They returned to their former home to create this stunningly beautiful and poetic documentary about three young boys growing up there who are also struggling with poverty, trauma, abuse, learning disorders, depression, rage, over-medication, under-medication, and general problems that affect any teenager. The three boys in this film, Andrew, Harley, and Appachey are candid, even with their fear and uncertainty of their circumstances that they’re too young to control. Few can relate to the kinds of problems that force these boys to grow up faster than any child should, and while I wouldn’t call the documentary hopeful, it is calm and serene, due in part to the stunning photography that makes even the smallest moments seem as if they’re out of a dream. It’s the kind of effect Terrance Malik has been trying so hard to achieve in the last few years, in fictional films such as “Tree of Life.” I couldn’t begin to describe in words the emotions I felt while watching this film, so I won’t. But I do urge you to check it out for yourself, as it’s currently available on demand in most markets. You’re not likely to forget what you see.
Hear more of Johnny Pomatto’s reviews on his podcast MOVIES AND FILMS WITH JOHNNY AND FRIENDS available on iTunes
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