In true straightforward comic-book style TMNT starts with a brief backstory (without the laborious explanation on why four turtles and a rat become human-like in the first place) and then launches into the heart of the movie. After the defeat of their old arch nemesis The Shredder the Turtles—fun-lovin’ Michelangelo (Mikey Kelly) tech guru Donatello (Mitchell Whitfield) hotheaded Raphael (Nolan North) and pragmatic leader Leonardo (James Arnold Taylor)--have grown apart as a family. While Leo is off honing his craft the turtles no longer fight crime--except Raphael who still fights crime under the pseudonym Nightwatcher. Struggling to keep them together is their rat sensei Master Splinter (the late Mako). But strange things are brewing. Tech-industrialist Max Winters (Patrick Stewart) is amassing an army of ancient monsters to apparently take over the world. With the help of old allies April O'Neil (Sarah Michelle Gellar) and Casey Jones (Chris Evans) the Turtles finally come together as brothers to fight the good fight and once again face the mysterious Foot Clan who have put their own ninja skills behind Winters' endeavors. As opposed to hiring just A-list actors TMNT is a nice eclectic mix of veteran voice-over artists who give the Turtles their voices and regular actors such as Gellar Stewart and Evans. Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon’s Ziyi Zhang also gets in on the action providing the voice of the Foot Clan leader Karai who was once an enemy of the Turtles but now sees the value in what they do. Of course there isn’t a Robin Williams or Ben Stiller to laugh with but Kelly is pretty funny as Michelangelo who has had to resort to entertaining kids at birthday parties as “Cowabunga Carl ” a clown-for-hire in a “fake” turtle suit. It will all depend on whether those ninja-fightin’ pizza-eatin’ giant turtles still have a monetary appeal but methinks a new TMNT movie franchise has been born. The comic book was created in 1984 by Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman as a spoof to the superhero stories and quickly took off into merchandising heaven with a toy license and then a television series. The original 1990 live-action movie used state-of-the-art animatronics but somehow felt static and fake. Since the last TMNT movie in 1993 the whole Turtle phenomenon has sort of fallen off the radar at least in the U.S. so the time was ripe for a renovation. Using the innovative CGI we know and love this new TMNT--created by a team of animators from California and Hong Kong under the watchful direction of Kevin Munroe--gives the Turtles not to mention all the otherworldly monsters they have to fight a realistic look and feel. With this kind of freedom the film can focus on the action which is the best part of the TMNT lore. Though the demographics may skew male ages 8-11 (as well as those 8-to-11-year-old boys who loved it back in the day and are now grown men) TMNT is just your basic supercharged animated fun.
Tommy Lee Jones, Samuel L. Jackson and the guy who did "The French Connection" (that's William Friedkin, by the way). With that lineup, what could possibly go wrong with "Rules of Engagement" (opening Friday, wide)? Besides having all the trappings of a trite military courtroom drama, probably not much. Based on a short story by James Webb (a former U.S. secretary of the Navy), the film follows the lives of two Vietnam vets (Jackson and Jones) whose paths cross many years later when one asks the other to defend him in court. Expect a lot of high-decibel screaming back and forth.
In other new movie releases this week:
Is there life after "The X-Files"? David Duchovny finds out this week by venturing into romantic-comedy territory with "Return to Me" (opening Friday, wide). The flick pairs Duchovny with a seemingly incongruous Minnie Driver in a improbably sappy plotline wherein a man falls in love with a woman whose life is saved by a heart transplant from his late wife. (Got that?) Expect to see Duchovny smile, wear a T-shirt and do lots of other things that Agent Mulder would never do -- albeit with a level of lingering austerity.
For those looking for something less dramatic and mushy, might we suggest the wrestling-themed flick "Ready to Rumble" (opening Friday, wide) with David Arquette, Scott Caan and Oliver Platt. Expect nothing.
In what seems another searching and ambitious but ultimately doomed attempt to make sense of the zeitgeist of our time comes "Black and White" (opening Wednesday, limited). Written and directed by James Toback ("Two Girls and a Guy"), the film seeks to explore the relationship between race and identity in today's youth culture. The ensemble cast includes Brooke Shields, Robert Downey Jr. and rappers Power, Raekwon and Method Man. Expect a befitting appearance by a verbose and articulate Mike Tyson. (Really.)
On the documentary front this week are: "This is Not an Exit" (opening Friday, New York only). The self-absorbed portrait of bad-boy author Bret Easton Ellis, who has made a career by upsetting the delicate sensibility of hidebound critics with novels of modern debauchery such as "Less Than Zero" and "American Psycho"; and, "Southpaw" (opening Friday, limited), about the against-all-odds life of Irish boxer Francis Barrett.
Other films opening in limited release Friday include: "East-West," (New York only)" Joe Gould's Secret," (New York only) "Me Myself I," (New York and Los Angeles only) and "Winter Sleepers" (Los Angeles only), the first feature of "Run Lola Run" stylemeister Tom Tykwer.
The Oscar is not the only film award out there.
The European Film Awards unveiled its slate of winners Saturday, with director Lars von Trier's weepy musical "Dancer in the Dark" picking up a field-best two nods for best European film and best actress for the debut performance by pop singer Bjork, Reuters reports.
The best actor award went to Sergi Lopez in the French dark comedy "Harry, He's Here to Help."
Other winners include: Laurent Cantet's first film "Human Resources" about French labor politics for the European Discovery Fassbinder award; Hong Kong director Wong Kar Wai's period infidelity drama "In the Mood for Love" for the Screen International Award; Spain's "Goya in Bordeaux" for the best cinematographer award; and France's "It Takes All Kinds" for best screenwriting.
On the same day but in a continent thousands of miles away, Taiwan also announced the winner of the country's annual Golden Horse Awards, Reuters reports.
Taiwan's native son Ang Lee swept the awards with six wins for his martial-arts flick "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" -- including best picture, best film editing and best sound effects.
Best actress kudos went to Hong Kong actress Maggie Cheung for "In the Mood for Love" and the best actor award was nabbed by Francis Ng in the Hong Kong action flick "The Mission," which also won the best director award for helmer To Kei-fung.
The Golden Horses, long hailed as Taiwan's equivalent to Hollywood's Oscars, is an annual showcase of Chinese-language films mainly out of Taiwan and Hong Kong.
Not getting enough of Jennifer Lopez?
Well, lucky for you, "The Cell" actress is currently in talks to star in "Enough," Daily Variety reports.
The project, which follows a newlywed woman (Lopez) who becomes a victim of domestic violence, is also courting helmer Michael Apted ("The World Is Not Enough") for the director's chair.
Meanwhile, Lopez has snatched up the opportunity to play Mexican artist Frida Kahlo in a biopic produced by Francis Ford Coppola.
PHONING IN: The Hollywood Reporter says that Aussie export Radha Mitchell ("High Art") will play opposite countryman Colin Farrell ("Tigerland") in the drama "Phone Booth." The film is about a man (Farrell) who's forced to stay in a Manhattan phone booth after being threatened by an assassin. Mitchell will play the man's wife.
What does an A-list surname like Coppola get you in Hollywood? Memo to Sofia Coppola, whose directorial debut, "The Virgin Suicides," opens today: It won't necessarily get you famous.
While nepotism is alive and well in the acting trade, your dad's coattails won't give you much of a free ride in the cutthroat world of directing. Case in point: There are lots of famous actors who have passed their occupational torch to their equally famous offspring (Blythe Danner to Gwyneth Paltrow, Jon Voight to Angelina Jolie, the Fonda clan), but few big-name directors have given rise to big-name directors.
Instead, great filmmakers tend to spawn auteur-minded kids, whose work never quite measures up to dad's (Witness Nick Cassavetes, Jennifer Lynch and Anjelica Huston).
These second-generation directors tend to have two things in common: They bear the distinguished surnames of some of the most influential American directors of our time, but their behind-the-camera careers are dotted with obscure pictures that fail to leave an imprint.
Sofia Coppola -- famous for being Francis Ford Coppola's daughter and infamous for her awful acting in "The Godfather, Part III" -- tries to defy the odds. "The Virgin Suicides," her first feature film, is an adaptation of the 1991 Jeffrey Eugenides novel about the real-life, self-inflicted deaths of five suburban sisters in the 1970s.
And get this: young Sofia might be just the person to finally achieve the yet unachievable. Already, "Suicides" has received good reviews (the Los Angeles Times marveled at the director's "impressive maturity" and "assured skill" and called it a "highly affecting film") and great advance buzz for the film (except for a tepid reception at the Sundance Film Festival). Not only that, but cast member James Woods unequivocally called Sofia Coppola one of the best five directors he's worked with.
Of course, it doesn't hurt that "The Virgin Suicides" was produced by Francis Ford Coppola.
But, like we said, having an iconic director for a father doesn't make you an iconic director yourself. Just take a look at the scorecards of some other aspiring filmmakers who have followed in daddy's footsteps.
Who: Nick Cassavetes Famous lineage: Son of emotionally high-pitched auteur John Cassavetes and diva actress Gena Rowlands. Directorial offerings : 1996's "Unhook the Stars" and 1997's "She's So Lovely." Neither his mother's performance in the former nor his father's screenplay in the latter film solidified Cassavetes junior's directorial career. However, he continues unabated as a successful character actor in films such as "Face/Off" and "The Astronaut's Wife."
Who: Jennifer Chambers Lynch Famous lineage: Daughter of cult weirdo David Lynch. Directorial offerings: 1993's "Boxing Helena" -- a surreal, freakish little film known more for its surrounding controversies (Kim Basinger backs out and gets sued by movie studio, Sherilyn Fenn replaces Basinger, film goes nowhere) than the product itself.
Who: Anjelica Huston Famous lineage: Spawn of legendary actor-director John Huston. Directorial offerings: A Showtime movie called "Bastard Out of Carolina" in 1996 and 1999's "Agnes Browne," which disappeared from the radar before you could say, "huh?"