I think it’s time to proclaim William Fichtner as this generation’s James Cromwell. That is, whenever he is in an action/thriller movie, no matter how much of a good guy he seems on the surface, we all know he is going to turn out to be a villain. Such is the case with his character in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” Eric Sacks. Back in 1999, he and April O’Neil’s (Megan Fox) father worked on a mutagen they thought could heal people. April’s father was killed in a fire that destroyed the mutagen, but not before the four turtles and one lab rat that young April looked after could be saved by being set free in the sewer. Of course, what Sacks was actually planning was to release a virus and the mutagen was going to be the cure. He gave up his plans after the fire, but with the discovery of four fully grown mutated turtles in the sewer, he can use their blood to create the cure and proceed with releasing the toxin so he can make money off of healing the infected. Add to this his partnership with Shredder (Tohoru Masamune), whose foot clan is allowed to run rampant in the city, and there is a pretty steep mound of evil to fight.
Good thing the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles are here to save the day. For the uninitiated (i.e., 45 and over), they are: Leader Leonardo (voice of Johnny Knoxville), nerdy Donatello (voice of Jeremy Howard), rebellious Raphael (voice of Alan Ritchson) and jokester Michelangelo (voice of Noel Fisher). Their father figure is Master Splinter (Tony Shalhoub), who also mutated due to the same mutagen. The movie is filled with some really fun action set pieces, culminating in a chase down a very long, very snowy hill that brims with dramatic tension and excitement. James Bond wishes his various ski chases were this good. The turtles look great too. Not only is the digital rendering of their skin texture and motions flawlessly executed, but they also look different enough to truly separate them. The turtles always had different personalities, different weapons, and different colored masks, but in this version of “TMNT,” they’re given more props. Donatello wears glasses and has a sciency-looking contraption his head. Raphael has a full bandana rather than just a mask. Anyone—young or old—watching this for the first time will easily be able to distinguish each turtle from the other.
Judging by the variety of Blu-Ray packaging for this release, the studio wants you to Buy It, and I won’t argue with that. Even after watching this movie once and after you know the plot, the turtles are so likeable and the action is so exciting that it is worth it for repeat views. Here are your choices for purchase: In 3D; in a 3D collector’s edition that includes a miniature figurine; a regular edition that includes four different colored ninja masks; a Best Buy exclusive cover with all four turtles on it; and finally, a Target exclusive with a choice of four different covers with either Leonardo, Donatello, Raphael, or Michaelangelo on it. I always was a Donatello fan myself. I admire the intellect, and his bo staff is pretty cool.
The high concept pitch for “The Maze Runner” is pretty easy to see. It’s “Lord of the Flies” meets “Cube.” In other words, a group of boys are all thrown together and form a society with different jobs and rules to follow, and they are trapped in a sinister and deadly puzzle from which they are searching for a way out. The boys with the most deadly task are the “Runners.” Their job is to go out every day after the doors to the maze open and search for a way out. The doors close at night, and if they’re not back to safety in time they are trapped in the maze with the Grievers—giant spider creatures with a deadly sting.
The premise is intriguing and it raises some interesting questions about the boys and their situation, some of which are answered by the end. It also provides the framework for the character arc of protagonist Thomas (Dylan O’ Brien), who has a rough start but through brave and heroic action becomes a runner and makes new discoveries. Where “The Maze Runner” ends up is the usual didactic lesson inherent in YA works of fiction, but to its credit, the movie is not heavy handed about it. The sequel is set up nicely by the time all is said and done, and this first installment has me curious enough about the questions it raised to see more movies and get some answers. Rent It.
Remember how hilarious Kristen Wiig and Bill Hader were on “Saturday Night Live”? Well, forget all that—the drama is played pretty straight and pretty heavy in “The Skeleton Twins.” In the movie, they star as brother and sister Milo and Maggie Dean. Milo is a struggling actor in Los Angeles, who after a recent break up with his boyfriend gets drunk and attempts suicide. In New York, Maggie is about to go through with her own suicide, but before she can swallow her handful of pills she gets a call that Milo is in the hospital.
For his recovery, Maggie invites Milo to live with her and her husband Lance (Luke Wilson). Lance is the man every woman says she wants. He is sweet, caring, funny, good-natured, hard-working, and charming. He is a fantastic husband, and he would make a terrific father. As a matter of fact, he probably would be a father already if Maggie wasn’t hiding a very important secret from him. Lance is one of the best husbands ever portrayed on film and an awe inspiring representation of what a great man can be. His downfall is that he loves the wrong woman who, frankly, is beneath him. So is her brother. Both of them have given up on life, and as a result are arrogant and selfish. This could be a huge turn off, but it is not. The success of “The Skeleton Twins,” is that we do care about Milo and Maggie. We see their pain and understand the reasons why they are who they are and do what they do, no matter how bad. Credit for this can be spread between writer Mark Heyman, co-writer/director Craig Johnson, and the two stars. It’s rare to see writing this deep and thoughtful. It’s also rare to see acting this heartfelt and endearing. Much like Robin Williams and Jim Carrey before them, Wiig and Hader have very successfully crossed over from comedy into drama. While I hope they do still keep bringing the funny, I will gladly see either one in a drama again, and wouldn’t totally object if that’s all they concentrated on from here on. They’re that good. Rent It.
Also out this week: “Magic in the Moonlight,” bubbly Woody Allen film about a man (Colin Firth) who falls in love with the fortune teller (Emma Stone) he was hired to expose as a charlatan; “This Is Where I Leave You,” a Jewish family confronts their problems while sitting Shivah for their patriarch; “Lord of Illusions,” Clive Barker thriller about an illusionist killed performing one of his tricks, starring Scott Bakula; “Tootsie,” the Sydney Pollack classic starring Dustin Hoffman as a struggling actor who dresses like a woman to get a part, finally gets its Criterion edition; and “Stonehearst Asylum,” spooky happenings at a mental institution, starring Kate Beckinsdale, Ben Kingsley, and Michael Caine.