Jonah Show in Print! – ‘Furious 7’ Review

The Rock. Diesel. Jonah Anderson. ‘Furious 7’

Jonah Anderson has the only review of “Furious 7” that matters. Let the Oscar talk begin….

Holy shit, that was awesome!

Furious-7

That’s pretty much my review of “Furious 7” in a nut shell, but I know I should expand a bit. The real challenge will be not expanding too much. I mean I wrote multiple pages on a two minute trailer, now I’ve seen the full two hour and twenty minute movie. So I’m going to try and keep it light and not go into a super amount of detail so that this doesn’t become the novelization of “Furious 7.”

The movie opens with an introduction to the villain Deckard Shaw (Jason Statham). He has beaten up an entire hospital’s worth of police officers, and he is talking to his now paralyzed brother from “Fast 6.” He swears revenge on the crew. Good luck, pal.

The Jonah Show – Dissecting ‘Fast & Furious 7’ trailer

The Jonah Show in Print!

While you wait for new episodes of the The Jonah Show, check out the print column, all about the “single greatest movie ever made.”

 fast-bus-cliff

Best Article Ever

By JONAH ANDERSON

So I don’t think I’m overstating the fact that the most important event in human history just happened. “The Fast And Furious 7” trailer dropped. I’m going to break down the trailer with as much detail and thought that a super fan like myself can.

The trailer starts out with Dom (Vin Diesel) talking on the CB radio to his crew. The shot goes from him, to Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), to Roman (Tyrese) and we hear from Tej (Ludacris) who is asking Roman if he’s freaking out which he clearly is. Now why is Roman freaking out so much? I mean they’re all in cars, it’s basically where they live.

It’s no stretch to call them the greatest team of drivers ever. Roman says he’s not freaking out but Tej calls him out and he and Brian O’ Connor (Paul Walker) have a good laugh. Roman wants someone to walk him through what they’re supposed to be doing. Come on, Roman, know the plan. I mean you’re probably just driving and pulling off a heist or something, get those butterflies out of your stomach.

The red light goes off, some sort of rear door opens and we get to see everyone in some sweet rides.

Cut to an exterior shot of an airplane!? What the hell? They’re in an airplane? In cars? Now this I’ve got to see. I mean they have a lot of experience in airplaning from the last movie, but I didn’t see any doomsday devices handed out.

O’ Connor says “Just when you thought it couldn’t get any better” to his boy Dom. Dom says “Here we go” while Roman provides some comic relief by blessing himself. What is going on here?

Holy shit they throw the cars in reverse and skydive out of a fucking plane, IN CARS!

Everything wrong with the new ‘Ninja Turtles’ movie

Paramount’s ‘Ninja Turtles’ removes everything that’s good about the 30-year-old franchise

New-Ninja-Turtles-movie-Raphael

I am a diehard fan of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Such a claim can mean a lot of things. For many it means they were fans as kids – collecting the toys and religiously watching the original cartoon.

I was that Turtle fan, but I’m now something much more. I still love the characters, albeit for completely different reasons. Yes, I’m a grown adult, have kids of my own, and a wife willing to be associated me. That’s a whole other kind of Turtle fan.

Because the Turtles franchise is often dismissed as dumb, toy fodder, I want to clarify what it means to be me – a diehard adult fan of Ninja Turtles. In the right iterations, the Turtles are well-drawn characters engaging in thoughtful and entertaining storylines. I’m drawn to those stories in part because of my nostalgia for the franchise. I’m able to get that jolt of excitement I had as a kid without having to sit through overly simplistic or outdated content I liked as a kid.

Of course I point to the original black and white comics, notably the earliest issues by creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird, as well as their sprawling “City at War” storyline.

Ninja Turtles-2k3-seriesI also cite the 2003 animated series, which drew stories from those original comics and steered away from the silliness and assembly line cheapness of the original series.

Now we have the current Nickelodeon series, which draws from the goofy mutant mayhem of the first cartoon but does so without sacrificing the character work and comic-inspired storytelling that made the second series so strong. The Nick series is a nice balance between the two – giving hardcore fans some of the classic comic stories alongside an assortment of bizarre mutants (you get Ice Cream Kitty and Pigeon Pete to go with your classic Rat King and Slash).

Finally, the current IDW comics do a terrific job with remixing all aspects of the franchise. It takes a serious, character-based approach, infuses even more Japanese influence than all previous incarnations and still has time for menacing versions of Bebop and Rocksteady.

I cite all this as to justify the Turtles’ existence in popular culture. Yes, they are silly characters, but plenty of talented people have told interesting stories about them.

Nickelodeon-Ninja-Turtles

Unfortunately, most remember the Turtles as the dumb cartoon from their childhood, or as the wildly uneven film franchise known for extending Vanilla Ice’s 15 minutes of fame.

Now we have Paramount’s big screen, CGI-nostriled Ninja Turtles courtesy of producer Michael Bay and a director who had no qualms about following the same “Bayhem” aesthetic that propelled the “Transformers” franchise to billions at the box office.

Despite a predictably harsh critical drubbing, the new “Ninja Turtles” opened huge this past weekend, and a sequel has already been announced for 2016.

The diehard Turtle fan in me will enjoy any big screen iteration to some degree, but this isn’t the Turtle movie for me. The things I love about the franchise are nowhere to be found in the new movie. It exists for the casually nostalgic fans and the kids who don’t yet understand the fundamentals of basic storytelling. These kids are lucky to have the Nickelodeon show to teach them how talented writers can handle the franchise.

Old-Movie-Ninja-Turtles

I’m not a fan of simplistic Buzzfeed-like list articles that list a bunch of picky criticisms. But I can’t keep the frustration for this movie inside of me. I’ll try to avoid what I consider personal preference issues, and no doubt I’ve scared away most readers with my previous 12 paragraphs of explanation.

For you three remaining readers, here are all the things wrong with the new “Ninja Turtles.”

The Turtles are supporting players in a movie titled “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”

After a Splinter-narrated prologue that explains the Turtles’ origins, the heroes don’t appear onscreen for more than 20 minutes. The film instead focuses on April O’Neill (Megan Fox) and her discovery of the Turtles. When they are finally revealed, they don’t really have a story arc of their own – just an extension of April’s adventuress.

The Turtles have personalities, but they aren’t fleshed-out characters

The movie makes no effort to develop the Turtles outside the “Leonardo leads, Donatello does machines…” logline. The movie assumes you know the Turtles individual quirks and therefore doesn’t bother with building character or conflict between the brothers.

Raphael has a long speech near the end of the film where he talks about being angry and giving his brothers a hard time – things that aren’t actually shown in the film. It’s a likely remnant of a previous script draft that tried to incorporate genuine conflict, but the final version plays the moment as a throwaway goof.

The leader of the group, Leonardo (curiously voiced by a drawling Johnny Knoxville, is the most underserved character – he gives the other Turtles a few orders and gets electrocuted a bunch of times.

The movie completely abandons the Turtles’ Japanese roots

Ninja-Turtles-movie-MikeyWe get a tweaked origin story where Splinter and the Turtles have no connection to Hamato Yoshi or Oroku Saki – the central figures of every previous incarnation of the franchise. Here the origin story is simplified – April’s dad mutates the Turtles in a lab, and Splinter learns Ninjutsu from a book in a sewer.

I’m not against changes if it serves a clear purpose for a given narrative. The movie has no reason for these changes. Shredder is just a generic Asian guy (more on this later) who only speaks from the shadows. He has no real motivation for any of his world-ending schemes.

The Yoshi-Saki connection is of central importance to what makes the best incarnations of Ninja Turtles great. My guess is the filmmakers thought the backstory was unnecessary for a 90-minute kiddie film. That’s especially frustrating given how the Nickelodeon series (for kids) made the Yoshi-Saki rivalry the central conflict of the entire show.

Everything about Splinter is AWFUL

I can nitpick the noisy, needlessly hulky designs of the Turtles, but to the movie’s credit, the CGI work on the Turtles is passable. Splinter, on the other hand, might be the most disgusting CGI creation in a live-action movie ever. There isn’t a convincing shot of the rat in the entire movie – he looks half-rendered in some scenes, and his tail whips around like 2D animation.Ninja-Turtles-movie-Splinter

Even worse, Tony Shalhoub reads every line of insipid dialogue like his “Monk” character has been waterboarded for several days. It almost sounds like he’s trying (and failing) to do an elderly Asian accent. Come to think of it, the movie might have cut out all the Japanese origins just so the filmmakers wouldn’t have to explain the racist vocal performance.

Apart from his horrific voice and appearance, Splinter thankfully disappears in the second half of the film. He’s mortally wounded in a battle with Shredder, only to be saved by the magic mutagen blood of his pupils – the very same magic mutagen blood pumping through his own veins. Because magic blood.

The Eric Sacks character is superfluous to the final version of the movie

Fans can take partial credit for this one. Sacks, the villainous businessman played by William Fichtner, was the Shredder in an earlier version of this movie. Fichtner said as much when asked in interviews about his role, and the Nintendo 3DS video game tie-in makes multiple references to Sacks being Shredder.

After fans went crazy about Shredder being a middle-aged white guy instead of Asian badass Oroku Saki, the filmmakers slapped on a few extra scenes with Fichtner chatting with a shadowy Asian guy. Redub the Shredder’s voice in action scenes and voila. Eric Sacks is just a jerk who worked with April’s dad and wants lots of Shredder’s blood money.

The better fix would have been to stick with Sacks as Shredder, then simply add a tease at the end about the real Shredder, Oroku Saki, going ape-shit about some white guy wearing his armor.

The Turtles are bulletproof, so why bother fighting?

In addition to looking like hulking Shrek-monsters, the Turtles are bulletproof. And I’m not just talking about their shells. Their size and durability all but eliminates the need for actual ninja skills. The Turtles have brief encounters with the gun-wielding Foot Clan, and the Foot are almost always dispatched by being thrown or smashed aside by the beastly reptiles.

The only real fighting the Turtles encounter is against Shredder, who mostly just beats the snot out of them. Call me crazy, but the fun of the franchise is seeing mutant ninjas fight other skilled ninjas and/or mutants. That doesn’t happen in this movie.

In the interest of fairness, I will say the mountain escape sequence was entertaining as a standalone action scene.

“Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” is a poorly made movie

The story is simultaneously muddled and overly simplistic, the action hyper-stylized to the point of exhaustion, the comic relief hits at a less-than-50% rate, and the pacing of the film is all over the place.

Ninja-Turtles-movie-DonnieApril has the central story arc until the mystery of the Turtles is solved halfway through the movie. The Turtles have no arc other than “Stop Shredder.” For 30 glorious seconds, the Turtles show a spark of genuine personality in an elevator. Then it’s back to “Stop Shredder” because something, something magic mutagen blood.

Really, all my other nitpicks don’t matter because the film itself is so poorly constructed. I’ve spent a lot of time defending the Turtles against those who only see it as an obnoxious excuse to sell toys. Since this movie is the most visible iteration of the franchise, I will continue to lose the argument.

There is always a silver lining. The popularity of the film, undeserved as it may be, will allow the good iterations of the franchise to continue. More people will see the Nickelodeon show and some might check out the IDW comics. And there’s always hope for the sequel. As hopeless as the movie turned out, the filmmakers did attempt to assuage fan demands about White Shredder. They could listen again and hire filmmakers with a genuine passion for the franchise.

My hope is that other, more prominent fans of the franchise speak out and often about the crimes committed in the new “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” movie. The franchise has so much more to offer, and the diehard fans, nostalgia junkies and kids who don’t know better all deserve something better.

Binge on ‘House of Cards’ Season 2 or Don’t Watch at All

Binge on ‘House of Cards’ Season 2 or Don’t Watch at All

Count Kevin Spacey as one of those actors who makes everything around him better.

The double Oscar winner reigns over “House of Cards,” the Netflix-produced political series that launched its second season last month. Fans of the first season likely finished all 13 new episodes weeks ago, and binging on it multiple hours at a time plays to the show’s strengths.

Taken at a slower pace, however, and “House of Cards” tends to fall apart like a… please don’t make me use the obvious pun.

The (Hopefully) Final Word on Cinema 2013 *Updated Top 20 List*

The (Hopefully) Final Word on Cinema 2013 *Updated Top 20 List*

The Oscars waited until March 2014 to crown the best movies and performances of 2013. With “12 Years a Slave” taking home Best Picture, we can all move on to discuss the cinematic landscape of the new year.

Almost.

Sunday’s Academy Awards proved to be a respectful, if predictable, selection of the year’s best films. In my Predictions column for the Coeur d’Alene Press I correctly predicted 22 of the 24 winners, a personal best that matters little when you consider how many categories were perceived “locks” weeks before the actual ceremony. Blast those pesky short film categories for ruining my perfection!

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: “12 Years a Slave” is a worthy Best Picture winner, more so than recent Hollywood heartwarmers like “The King’s Speech,” “Argo” and “The Artist.” It’s an important film that will literally be taught in classrooms, but it’s also an impeccably made piece of filmmaking.

Most Xtreme Primates – Better than Winter Sports

Most Xtreme Primates – Better than Winter Sports

It’s Sunday afternoon, the kids are napping, and I’m primed for some exciting Olympic coverage courtesy of NBC. I’m ready to see dangerous aerial stunts, bone-crushing rink action and crumbling Russian hotel rooms.

I turn on the TV, and I get cross-country skiing. Really? It looks like a great aerobic exercise, but I want to see some real action.

Luckily, Netflix Streaming always has my back. Looking for something to fill my disappointment, I found a little-seen masterpiece that delivers genuine winter mountain thrills.

I’m talking about “MXP: Most Xtreme Primate.”

Yes, the third installment of the epic, ape-on-snow sports series that began with 2000’s “MVP: Most Valuable Primate.”

You Don’t Know ‘Mitt’ – Documentary review

You Don’t Know ‘Mitt’ – Documentary review

Not too long ago, a guy named Mitt Romney was the second most talked about guy in America (after Justin Bieber, of course).  Then he lost a Presidential election, and everybody forgot about him

The new Netflix documentary, “Mitt,” will not only remind you of the man who almost led the most powerful country in the world, it will make you question whether you ever really knew him in the first place.

No love for comedy (ever) at the Oscars

No love for comedy (ever) at the Oscars

There are plenty of absurd trends associated with the Academy Awards, and even casual moviegoers know that, historically, Oscar rarely “gets it right.”

Great movies often lose out to industry crowd pleasers, with “Argo” and “The Artist” as the most recent examples of Best Picture winners that won for reasons outside their technical and storytelling merits.

I’ve exhausted myself talking about those movies in the past, but a greater problem within the Academy and with the awards-season in general is how comedies and comedic performers are routinely disregarded as inferior to the dramatic counterparts.

Even with an expanded Best Picture category (this year’s lineup includes nine films), good comedies rarely earn accolades.

Some will skirt the argument by saying movies like “American Hustle,” “Nebraska” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” have comedic elements. They do, but those movies come with weightier issues boiling under the laughs.

I’m talking about straight comedy – movies that deliver consistent laughs throughout its running time. Award-contending comedies tend to drop the comedy at some point and jump into issues of love, loss and blah, blah, blah.

Sustained comedy is a tough task, and you certainly can’t rely on popular box office success as a guide for which movies succeed in this regard. “The Hangover Part III” and “Grown Ups 2” both made more than $100 million at the domestic box office, and those are just terrible.

That being said, there is critical consensus on the year’s most successful comedies, and in the case of “The Heat” and “This is the End,” there are box office numbers to back that consensus. And if you count humor-centric animated films like “Frozen,” “Monsters University” and “Despicable Me 2,” there are plenty of popular and critic-approved movies to go along with more under-the-radar or forgotten entries, like “The World’s End,” “In a World…” and “Enough Said.”

Widely regarded as a second-rate awards show, the Golden Globes at least include a “Best Musical or Comedy” category in their slate. This year’s nominees demonstrate the Globes’ faulty logic in selecting films though, counting “Her,” “American Hustle” and “The Wolf of Wall Street” in the comedy category when all (especially “Her”) could contend in the drama category.

And better to leave “The Tourist” debacle of 2010 for another conversation.

In the case of Best Picture, you can often argue the year’s dramas outweigh the successful comedies when whittling a top contenders list down to just nine or 10 movies. It would be an embarrassment if, say, “The Heat” took the place of “12 Years a Slave” in the category.

But what about all the beloved comedic performances ignored throughout the years?  Peter Sellers, Gene Wilder and Bill Murray, just to name a few, were nominated a few times (often for dramatic roles), but their iconic comedic performances have come up Oscar-short. You could point to pages of examples, but I’ll rest my argument on the fact that “Groundhog Day,” one of the best movies of the 1990s, received zero Oscar nominations, not even a bone thrown in the classic “throw-them-a-bone” category of Best Original Screenplay.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle for comedies trying to break into the Academy Awards, and the reason dramatic films with elements of comedy have more success, is the very subjectivity of the genre. I’ve been derided more than a few times for recommending the R-rated “This is the End,” and some people think I’m crazy to suggest that sequences in “The Wolf of Wall Street” are supposed to be funny.

Comedy is subjective, and people laugh at different things. That probably explains the box office love for “Grown Ups 2,” but I refuse to accept that sorry conclusion.

I’m not asking for a total overhaul. Just a little more consideration for the movies that offer escape and provide much-needed levity to casual moviegoers. Perhaps the Academy can add a Best Comedy or Best Comedic Performance category. They added Animated Feature because of audience and industry demand, so it’s not out of the question.

As long as they don’t give Adam Sandler the first award.

Shocking ‘Act of Killing’ unlike any other documentary

Shocking ‘Act of Killing’ unlike any other documentary

This year’s Academy Award nominations produced the typical assortment of surprises and omissions, with “American Hustle,” “Gravity” and “12 Years a Slave” leading the list of major contenders.

While many of the year’s most celebrated films are still screening at local theaters, the lineup of nominated films available for home consumption is pretty slim… except for the lineup of Documentary Feature nominees.

Four of the five Documentary nominees are available for streaming on Netflix Instant, including:

–       “Cutie and the Boxer” – A Sundance Film Festival winner about the marriage between artists Ushio and Noriko Shinohara.

–       “Dirty Wars” – An expansion of journalist Jeremy Scahill’s investigation of covert military operations in recent U.S. conflicts.

–       “The Square” – Netflix-acquired documentary following six protesters against the backdrop of the Egyptian revolution.

–       “The Act of Killing” – Former “gangsters” in an Indonesian death squad recount the ways they tortured and killed dissenters in the 1960s.

“The Act of Killing” is widely regarded as the Oscar frontrunner and for good reason. In addition to the disturbing recollections of admitted murderers, the film also invites these men to reenact their mass killing methods onscreen. Most shockingly, the men embrace the opportunity as they recreate death and torture sequences in the style of their favorite movie genres (old gangster films, music and dance routines).

Some within the regime eventually admit to their group’s wrongdoing, telling stories of the murders that have haunted them. Others worry that by depicting their victims as innocents, they are undermining the glory of their still-in-power regime.

The film’s most fascinating subject, Anwar Congo, shows little remorse for his actions, until he struggles to portray one of his victims being tortured and killed. It is his eventual reaction to the footage that leads “The Act of Killing” into uncharted territory.

Directed by Joshua Oppenheimer, “The Act of Killing” is horrific-but-essential viewing. In its structure and subject matter, there isn’t any documentary quite like it, making it all the more deserving of Oscar gold.

The fifth documentary nominee, “20 Feet from Stardom,” is a more lighthearted affair about backup singers to the world’s most popular musical acts. While not available on Netflix Instant, you can rent the film on disc or digitally.