Gotta See That Movie

Movie Reviews

I love movies. Always have.

But when I say 'movies', I don't mean 'film'. I'm not really all that interested in either long discussions of politics, intimate personal problems, or spending fifteen minutes out of a 90-minute film looking at a field of wheat in full color. I have nothing against wheat and I'm fascinated by politics, but I can find out all I want without spending $30, including popcorn, for the privilege. Personal problems...if I don't have 'em, some one I know probably does. And them I care about. 

If, however, somebody makes a movie in which two people have to save the world while falling in love and getting away with $100 million dollars, I'm right there on the opening day. If stuff blows up, I like it.  If stuff blows up and Bruce Willis or Channing Tatum is walking away in slow motion in the foreground, so much the better. 

Many citics decry the loss of quality in the movies, that all the scripts are interchangeable and that they're written to appeal to world-wide audiences at the expense of well-written dialogue and deep characterization. Well, yeah, that's kind of the point. I see it less as a falling off in quality and more as opening the door to a greater understanding. If both I and someone on the other side of the world can have the same experience and enjoy that experience, that's a bond. 

I remember going to Spain some years ago and falling into conversation with a local man  about the movie 'How To Train Your Dragon'. His little boy adored that movie, and so did he. So did I. We had nothing much in common otherwise, but that cartoon made a little piece of ground where we could all stand and understand each other a little more. I can't see that as a bad thing.

So, instead of flacking my books (which you should definitely buy), I thought this section could be about movies. There's something big and explosive at the theater almost every we've got an IMAX 3-D here. Love it when the whole place trembles with that sweet Dolby sound!  And that's just in the bathroom next to the Big Screen. 

C.B. Pratt


Great Expectations: Hercules and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

The makers of these two films had a difficult task. It is hard enough to surprise and delight an audience when starting with a fresh idea and brand new characters. To do so with known and loved quantities is even harder. 

What's most interesting about comparing these two movies – which came out so close to each other this summer – is that the filmmakers took opposite tracks yet came to the same end. 

At first glance, Hercules starring Dwayne Johnson seems like the perfect fit. (Full disclosure: if I could get him to play Eno, my hero from Ancient Greece, I'd be one happy writer!) "Hercules" is an instantly recognizable character, both from the myths and from the countless films about his adventures, most especially the 1950's Italian 'epics' with bodybuilder Steve Reeve (monsters courtesy of Ray Harryhausen). The character had a popular resurgence with the TV series starring Kevin Sorbo. 

So the audience feels that they know what to expect when they see the name 'Hercules' in a title. Gods. Monsters. Wisecracks. Maybe a beautiful maiden or twelve clad in diaphanous clothing. The trailers seem to indicate that the 2014 Hercules would be along expected and anticipated lines. Instead, we were shown a movie that was essentially about one man's angst and the attempts of his friends to understand him, plus battles of the thousands charging at the camera variety. 

None of it was terrible. Judging on the merits, it was an enjoyable and involving film with some good lines, fine actors, and a decent script. Dwayne Johnson is growing as an actor and handles his emotional range well. The relationships were complex and intriguing. Rufus Sewell and Ian McShane were terrific as always. John Hurt and Joseph Fiennes were not given enough to do. It was a good movie – but it wasn't Hercules. Not even a self-aware, updated Hercules. 

No Gods. No monsters – though some clever explanations for why people thought they saw things. The filmmakers decided that they'd take all that out. Hercules isn't the son of a god, just an overgrown guy with a good sense of public relations. There's a damsel in distress – but she's a mom worried about her kid. The trouble is that we didn't go to the theater to watch a war drama with political intrigue. We came to watch Hercules – hydras, battle skeletons, Hera in her awesome majesty throwing roadblocks in his way. I wish the filmmakers would have forgotten their ironic detachment and given us that movie. They would have had a hit. 

Now the good people who made Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles went too far the other way. This is a paint-by-numbers, follow-the-bouncing-ball version of the story. It's exactly what it says on the wrapper. They crammed in every bit of TMNT lore they could scrape up, including some really obscure stuff. Flashbacks to their little turtle selves going down the sewer, the Foot Clan's origins, the who, the what, the why, and the 'science' that made them what they are, it's all here. But in putting all that in, they left a lot out. Like coherence, believability and emotion. There are also plot holes the likes of which I've never seen. One in particular is so enormous you could drive Optimus Prime through and not even scratch his paint. 

The story is so thin, so derivative, that at first you can't believe that's the one they are telling. Mind-bogglingly rich guy decides to destroy city to get richer – did they steal that from Marvel's trash cans? It's so overdone that you almost hope that they are parodying all the movies that have used this plot, but they're not. They're serious. They combine the very, very rich man with the crazy scientist character but I felt they did that more to save money on another salary than for any reasonable reason. He even has a castle-like house, an on-site laboratory and tons of henchmen. Small children invent more plausible motivations for their TMNT action figure playsets than all of this. 

Megan Fox does her best as April O'Neil but there's no reality here for an actress to cling to. William Fichtner as Eric Sacks deserves to be in better films. He was the best thing in the very weird version of the Lone Ranger in 2013 and you'll recognize him from a lot of other movies when you see him. Will Arnett seems to be performing in some big-city romantic comedy– he's good but what's he doing here? He is the standout, but if you took this one to please your kids, Will…oops. This isn't something you want to point to as a quality project. There are some good voice-over actors working here as well. 

I'm sure if you are a die-hard Turtles fan, you'll enjoy this. But if you are looking for a movie that works for more people than that subset, this is not it. There is one really good chase scene, with a truck and some excellent special effects. It's not enough to save the movie, though I'd watch that part again. If only they'd used some of the wit and surprise in that chase scene in the rest of the movie. 

Making a decent movie is a very difficult task. There are so many elements that have to work seamlessly. An audience will forgive mistakes and slip-ups. What they won't stand for is to be promised one thing and given another for their own good. You don't promise cotton candy and hand out broccoli. These two films did that and suffered because of it. 

by C.B. Pratt


How does a writer survive
the publishing life?
What does it take
to be a writer?
The Lifeboat: Surviving
the writer;'s life

was born in a round
table discussion about
how we six write.
The Lifeboat: A writer's survival guide


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