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Friday, 1 April 2016

Review Round-Up: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles; The Mist; Stung

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014): One of the main things that put me off the Michael Bay-produced Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when it was first released was the hideous, CGI redesign of the iconic turtles themselves.

But finally sitting down to watch the movie, I was surprised how quickly I acclimatised to their new monstrous appearance, and was able to concentrate on the rest of the film.

It's a blissfully simple and straight-forward story, which sees the evil Shredder (Tohoru Masamune) and his obviously villainous apprentice, businessman Eric Sacks (the ever-excellent William Fichtner) preparing to unleash a killer virus on New York City - aided the members of The Foot Clan (a sadly un-ninja-like mob of nameless thugs).

Standing up to the one-dimensional, moustache-twirling, black hats are the four Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, their 'father' (the giant rat known as Splinter), spunky news reporter April O'Neil (Megan Fox) and her hapless cameraman Vernon Fenwick (Will Arnett).

The dialogue lurches from spot-on (pretty much everything the turtles and Will Arnett say) to the painfully cheesy (everyone else) and most of the supporting characters are woefully undeveloped, and quite often forgotten before they have a chance to shine, but the action set-pieces, particularly in the extended final act (from the lorry chase onwards), are spectacularly mind-boggling and over the top.

As you'd expect from a film that Michael Bay was involved with, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is a triumph of in-your-face visuals over anything more high-brow. But it is what it is. And it's a lot of fun.

The Mist (by Stephen King): I haven't read nearly enough Stephen King and so, given that The Mist is one of my favourite King movie adaptations and there's supposedly a TV series also in the works, I thought I'd give the novella a go.

In the wake of a violent storm, artist David Drayton and his young son head to the nearby town to pick up supplies from the supermarket, only to find themselves trapped there - along with scores of other people - went a mysterious fog envelops the community.

In the mist, largely unseen, are hordes of tentacled, alien, monsters, who end up laying siege to the supermarket.

An added attraction for The Mist was the obvious Lovecraftian vibes, with the partially-observed, possibly trans-dimensional, creatures plaguing the town... and maybe the world.

The sense of isolation and limited information is handled really well, and my only gripe about the book - and this is because I enjoy the film so much - is that David isn't as likeable as Thomas Jane's version in the Frank Darabont movie. He's away from his beloved wife for less than 48 hours and he ends up having sex with a stranger.

One of the main differences from the film is that the ending of the 230-page novella is more open and - to a degree- optimistic, whereas the film is quite notorious for its bleak, nihilistic, turn of events.

Otherwise, I was quite surprised by how close the film stuck to its source material. Even the dark ending that the film took is discussed, in passing, as a possibility of what might happen.

Stung (2015): Foul-mouthed, klutzy-but-caring, barman Paul (Matt O'Leary) and his hot, but distant, young boss Julia (Jessica Cook) are hired to cater a garden party at the isolated Perch estate.

Unfortunately, soon after the party starts it is overrun by a swarm of mutant, killer, wasps and our heroes find themselves - and Mayor Caruthers (Lance Henricksen) and the estate's heir Sydney Perch (Clifton Collins Jr) - besieged in the basement of the stately home.

Emulating films as diverse as Starship Troopers and The Fly, Stung very quickly shreds its supporting cast in a variety of gruesome ways, as the wasps grow in size, eventually culminating in a showdown with strong echoes of the climax of Aliens (perhaps, unsurprising, given the presence of Lance Henricksen in the cast).

An over-the-top, splatterfest, Stung is a light-hearted monster movie that doesn't waste time on unnecessary set-up. Even the raison d'etre for the mutant wasps is dealt with in a quick slice of weird/comic book science that isn't allowed to slow down the slaughter.

There's a nice running gag that every time it looks as though Paul and Julia might be about to get romantic something icky and violent interrupts them.

Given how quickly the action erupts, the pace does falter slightly later on, but the charismatic cast and generally impressive special effects carry the film heroically towards its apocalyptic conclusion.

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