So, even though Michael Bay only produced this latest Turtles escapade, the cries and accusations of him ruining a major piece of a generation’s childhood still ring true.
A handful major problems stand out as the reasons why this potentially fun blockbuster is a such a promethean chore to get through: it aches to be dark and gritty, and lacks the requisite story to support such a tone. In an age where every superhero is of furrowed brow and torturous inner demons, even the Turtles are reduced to scowling, super-serious hulks of muscle and shell, with barely a decent bad pun between them. They lack the charm of the ‘80s cartoon’s character design (or any charm whatsoever) and somehow manage to look creepier than the rubber suits of the ‘90s film adaptations, like four gangrenous Sylvester Stallones.
It’s so gruff and violent and afraid of fun, as if embracing the silliness of the concept of mutated humanoid turtles would somehow cause the film to collapse in on itself. Our chelonian quartet are place in some threadbare plot surrounding the blandest of villains holding New York hostage, which barely hold together, whilst neither Will Arnett or Megan Fox as the Turtles’ human companions are given anything more to do than run about, look exasperated or shout out things amongst chaos and explosions.
Naturally, such a terrible film grossed $353m at the worldwide box office, so we’re getting a sequel in 2016. Bummer.
Dan Harmon is an asshole.
That’s both my own personal opinion and the man’s own honest assessment of himself. He may have created or helped develop two seminal comedies of the recent TV golden era - Community and Rick & Morty - and thus have semi-permanent residence in my heart, but anyone who’s followed his exploits through various online outlets can agree the dude can be a jerk. Whether it’s rape jokes, playing private voicemails in public, or misgendering trans fans (and then being a dick when called about it), away from TV, Harmon doesn’t seem to paint that great a picture of himself.w
Harmontown is named for Harmon’s touring live weekly podcast which makes up the overwhelming majority of footage here. We follow director Neil Berkeley as he embarks on a 21 week tour with Harmon & co in early 2013, mere months after his subjects firing from show runner on Community, to document, well, something? As a piece of cinema and as a documentary, Harmontown feels dashed off. An amateurish attempt at a Shut Up And Play The Hits-style exploration, Harmontown is both far too contrived and well-planned out for its own good (the opening of Harmon and fiancee Erin McGathy waking up in bed, the shots of Harmon in the bath…), and incredibly keen to be seen as a sloppy warts-and-all expose. For the most part, the more negative aspects of the man, and working with him, are played down, swept under the rug with shrugs and nervous laughter at ‘Dan being Dan’, with a peppy, kinda emotionally-manipulating score helps speed this process up and make everything seem like it’s tied up with a neat little bow. In fact, the film’s arc itself is neater than most Hollywood productions, with low points and story ebbs coming at exactly the right points, and a redemption and resurrection of its hero at the close.
There does appear to be a genuinely positive fan culture around Harmon via Community, because the show does speak to people of less conventional persuasions and courses in life, and it’s easy to see why: he’s funny, he’s quick-witted, he’s complimentary, he’s passionate, self-effacing, self-deprecating… but he’s also stubborn, narcissistic, standoffish, an alcoholic, abusive, toxic. His creations seems to be helping people but it’s centred around someone who is incredibly dysfunctional, admittedly narcissistic, and who a fawning base of fans cannot be a good thing. For a depressive drunk, being enabled by a legion of followers and fans who genuinely pay money to come hear him speak about whatever shit is on his mind that day (like Twitter hasn’t made this process easier and less costly), and an inner circle of friends who either have the patience of saints or, if you take a more cynical view, are hitching their wagon to Harmonmania, is no substitute for therapy.
The one time when these negative elements are actually put into the spotlight comes three-quarters of the way in, when a vicious-sounding argument from the night before between Harmon and McGathy is talked through and worked out on stage. It’s possibly one of the most awkward pieces of film I’ve ever sat through, it’s so uncomfortable watching a toxic relationship in the full glare of stage lights, and kinda being played for laughs?
The apologia for alcohol and abuse are rife, but admission of problems and bad behaviour don’t mean change or self-improvement, and this is doubly true for Harmon. He constantly calling out his self-destructive ways but there doesn’t seem to be any effort in doing better; he points out his issues and cruelties and actually says he “relives the same relationship cycles over and over again”, but nothing seems to happen to make him alter his ways or be a better person. His own guesses that he’s on the spectrum definitely don’t excuse such behaviour. Even his drunken tourbus bathroom confession rings hollow, when it’s over a year later and he’s still acting like an asshole.
Cameos from Harmon’s showbiz pals collaborators, from Jack Black and Ben Stiller (both of whom worked on Harmon’s infamously weird, infamously expensive 1999 pilot Heat Vision and Jack), to Sarah Silverman (who fired Harmon from her Comedy Central show), to Chris Hardwick, Jason Sudeikis, and naturally, the Communnity cast help pep up the nicely photographed tour footage which eventually gets a little boring. The glimpses we’re given of the making and aftermaths of Harmon’s actual creative exploits are often highpoints of Harmontown; as a fan, I want to see behind the scenes of Community, what went into Heat Vision and Jack, the making of The Sarah Silverman Show. Even just a simple filmed episode of the podcast, or a big budget stand-up-special-esque concert film would’ve been far more entertaining, as Harmon is a oddly charismatic stage presence, and he has an easy, friendly chemistry with on-stage compatriots Jeff B. Davis and Spencer Crittenden. The discovery, or uncovering, of Crittenden, podcast listener-turned-star and D&D dungeon master, may be the Harmon equivalent of Ricky Gervais exposing Karl Pilkington to the world. In fact, Crittenden is the figure who feels more deserving of a documentary (reportedly there exists a cut of the film focusing solely on Crittenden), and seems to be a genuinely sweet, likeable, interesting guy, if remarkably awkward, and Harmon even admits that he is the villain and Spencer is the hero of the Harmontown story.
Perhaps I’m being harsh with my reading of Harmontown, and taking it as a far more drastic view than needs of the issues raised about Harmon, casting aspersions which don’t need to be cast. It’s a scruffily-put-together documentary about an interesting subject which manages to be compelling, but in the same way that watching car crashes can be compelling. But in the end, really, all it will do is reassure Harmon fans in his “tortured genius” (as one fan puts it), and cause the rest of us to worry about the man’s health, work and life.
Superhero Movie news of the day: Phew, this is a big one. Whilst Marvel has worked for years and intricately planned the cinematic universe of their comic book properties, main rivals DC Comics have been rather more scattershot, never quite producing a cohesive single world for their caped crusaders.
That has all changed today. Warner Bros CEO Kevin Tsujihara revealed the currently planned slate of DC Comics-based property films, which includes “at least” ten films spread through 2020. And that’s not even including potential new standalone Superman and Batman movies! Deep breath because here comes an info dump:
- Zack Snyder’s upcoming Batman V Superman: Dawn Of Justice will kick things off in 2016.
- Following shortly after in the same year will be Suicide Squad, directed by David Ayer. According to Deadline, WB is “in discussions with four A-list stars” for the film.
- 2017 will see Gal Gadot reprise her Dawn Of Justice role in a solo Wonder Woman movie (beating Marvel to the punch for a major solo female supermovie).
- Also in 2017 will be Justice League: Part One, directed by Snyder, and with Henry Cavill, Ben Affleck and Amy Adams reprising their roles as Superman, Batman and Lois Lane.
- 2018 brings The Flash, with We Need To Talk About Kevin star Ezra Miller playing the fastest man alive (no word on how that effects the recently-debuted Flash TV series).
- Also coming in 2018 will be Aquaman, with the casting of Khal Drogo himself Jason Momoa as The King Of The Seven Seas finally confirmed.
- Shazam will follow in 2019, with Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson recently confirming he will play antagonist Black Adam.
- Justice League: Part Two also arrives in 2019, but no word was given on who will return from the first instalment.
- Cyborg gets his own movie in 2020 with Ray Fisher returning to his JL role, whilst DC will attempt to reboot the Green Lantern solo franchise (and probably not cast Ryan Reynolds again).
Them’s the facts folks! At least ten DC character films, two per year from 2016 onwards… it looks like Warner Bros are banking on the superhero boom continuing for quite some time.
Poster: Jurassic World: That iconic theme music popped into your head when you saw this too, right? With an official poster unveiled, the first teaser trailer for the fourth Jurassic film may not be far behind. It’s going to be a long eight months waiting for this one to come out.
Jurassic World is set to be released June 12th 2015 and will star Chris Pratt, Judy Greer, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jake Johnson, Omar Sy, Vincent D’Onofrio and BD Wong.
"Based on a true story."
Are there any phrases more likely to induce paroxysms of fear in the jaded and cynical moviegoer? They suggest a comforting over-simplification of complicated historical stories; a sanding down to bland smoothness of thorny issues. On paper, Pride seems like exactly the sort of film to indulge an all of these practices: the story of a group of gay activists who became an unlikely fundraising linchpin in the miner’s strike of the 1980s seems ripe for a calamitous backslapping ceremony of the “isn’t it great we’re so much more tolerant these days?” variety. Which only serves to make the fact that Pride is one of the best, most solidly enjoyable films of the year all the more surprising.
Admittedly, Pride uses a narrative framework and a formula you have seen in countless films before, and will see in countless films to comes. What sets it apart is the ease and the grace with which it adopts, subverts and transcends these limitations. The film’s greatest asset is its effortless tonal acrobatics: it moves from fish-out-of-water comedy to righteous political fury via heartfelt drama with staggering ease. It is a film built upon the constant confounding of expectations; when the members of LGSM (Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners) turn up at a rural Welsh village to deliver their fundraising contributions in person, it’s impossible not to prepare for drama-wringing tension. Instead, with the exception of some notably marginalised intolerance, there’s just a rather sweet mutual curiosity. Similarly, just as it seems that the offstage spectre of AIDS will remain notable only by its absence, it is brought shockingly to the fore in a single stunning, heartbreaking scene featuring an admirably uncredited cameo.
It can hardly be a hindrance that Pride also has arguably the single best ensemble cast of any film all year. Elder statesmen like Bill Nighy and Imelda Staunton haven’t been this much of a joy to watch in years, while Dominic West’s dance moves and frankly rather alarming hair are worth the price of admission alone. Elsewhere, Paddy Considine positively overflows with understated dignity and Fresh Meat's Faye Marsay pulls off a delicate balancing act between bolshiness and vulnerability that would be the downfall of many a more experienced actor. Some of these characters are based on real people, others are pure invention. The triumph of the cast and of the film is to ignore this distinction. As far as Pride is concerned, all of these people are worth spending time with.
It is this desire to tell celebrate the story and its central players without patronising either them or the audience that has turned an unashamedly lefty comedy about intersectional activism into a chart bothering hit. Pride is a wonderful movie about a wonderful story, but it is also indisputable proof that winning hearts and winning minds don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
When two horror masterminds get together - in this case, writer Stephen King and director George A. Romero - good things often happen. Creepshow is an often overlooked gem of an 80’s flick from the two legends. Anthology films are almost always impossible to get perfect (recent examples being the patchy V/H/S films), but when it comes to the horror genre, sometimes imperfect is exactly what you want. Creepshow is a collection of five short stories, each quite different from the next and yes, the consistency of the quality is up for debate, but when it’s good, it’s really, really good! And even when it’s bad, well, it’s still kinda’ really good!
Hal Holbrook, Adrienne Barbeau, Ted Danson and Stephen King himself are among the stars of these fun segments including stabs at the slasher genre (“Father’s Day” & “The Crate”), thriller (“Something To Tide You Over”) and even shock body-horror (“The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verill” & “They’re Creeping Up on You!”). The stories are just different enough from each other to keep it from getting boring and the varying tones are held together nice by a really sense of “knowing” from King and Romero. These guys certainly know their genre and they know their audience. Best of all, they know how to have a lot of fun with it.
Creepshow is up there with the most ’80s-feeling of horror flicks and the ahead-of-its-time tongue-in-cheek approach hits all the wrong chords to make it a ridiculously entertaining two hour time-waster around Halloween.
Trailer: The Babadook: If we were a betting pop-culture website, we’d put our money on this being the latest cult horror to capture the film-going public’s imagination. It may seem like a standard genre premise - single mother with a creepy child - but there’s just a certain je nais se quois about The Babadook which make it jump out. If your bum didn’t tighten at least once during this trailer, you’re made of sterner stuff than us.
At one point a character in Nobuhiko Obayashi’s House states “It’s unscientific, unexplainable, unnatural, unreasonable, and it doesn’t make sense” which is entirely appropriate when discussing or describing the film. In terms of baffling cinematic experiences, House probably sit at the top of the pile. It’s utterly batshit, and this is coming from someone who’s favourite films tend to be of a similar flavour (2001, Stalker, Eraserhead, Enter The Void, Inland Empire, etc).
A tale of a schoolgirl by the name of Gorgeous visiting her estranged aunt’s house one summer afternoon with her six equally oddly named friends Fanta, Kung Fu, Prof, Melody, Sweet and Mac, House is a distinctly Japanese and distinctly psychedelic take on the comedy horror genre; this anarchic blend no doubt an influence on the likes of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead films. Not long after the septet arrives, shit goes down. Said shit is surreal, fantastical, occasionally beautifully and rather mind-boggling; the best analogy I could possibly make is an episode of Scooby Doo on a bad acid trip. Genuine scares aren’t exactly in abundance (however the frequent animated augmentations are occasionally quite freaky), with a healthy dollop of slapstick at its core but in terms of atmosphere and sheer weirdness, House really is an essential watch.
Character Posters of the day: It’s almost over. Just a few more months and the Middle-Earth saga will finally be complete. Whether you see that as a good thing or a bad thing will come down to your love of all things Tolkein-y, but when The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies - previously titled There And Back Again - is released in December, the running time of all six films will stretch to over 20 hours long (factoring in all those mammoth extended editions and whatnot). Basically, we’re going to need a lot of snacks and toilet breaks for that marathon. The film’s marketing department have cannily handed the film’s first character posters for the the four major Middle-Earth residents who also carry over and appear in the Lord Of The Rings trilogy (although of course, Ian Holm played Bilbo in that series), just in case anyone forgot the two are connected.
The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies is set to be released on December 17th.