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.
OK so we've met the Parents: Uptight ex-CIA operative Jack Byrnes (Robert De Niro) his preppy wife Dina (Blythe Danner) and their sweet daughter Pam (Teri Polo) who's marrying the adorable if slightly anxious male nurse Greg aka Gaylord Focker (Ben Stiller). Now it's time to Meet the Fockers Greg's kooky but lovable parents who soon threaten Greg's standing in Jack's coveted "circle of trust." In the inevitable meeting of the in-laws Jack is lead to believe Greg's dad the effervescent Bernie (Dustin Hoffman) is a lawyer but finds out he became a stay-at-home dad to raise little Gaylord. Greg's mom the outspoken Roz (Barbra Streisand) a "doctor " is really a sex therapist for the elderly. Big big problem. There's also incidents involving the Fockers' dog and the Byrneses' cat and Jack's toddler grandson some glue and a bottle of rum. Don't ask. At some point Greg and Pam have just got to cut the umbilical cord and move on.
One thing you can say about the Fockers' cast--they sure do look like they're having fun. Stiller is back doing the whole neurotic accident-prone thing he does so well. There's one meltdown scene in which he bears his soul while under the influence of Sodium Pentathol (courtesy of Jack of course). De Niro is once again playing the "heavy " as the suspicious elder Byrnes--and is still pretty good at making you laugh. On the other hand the wasted Danner and Polo stand around in the background looking appropriately appalled or sympathetic depending on the moment. Hoffman and Streisand however are the true standouts. They liven up the proceedings just by the sheer nature of their spirited characters. For the first time in awhile Hoffman's tendency to overact works as the bubbly Bernie while the delightful Streisand who's taken a break from acting for the past eight years gets to tap into her zany yet grounded What's Up Doc? persona we remember so well. Good times.
Meet the Parents director Jay Roach has a tough act to follow with Meet the Fockers. The original did surprisingly well at the box office probably because audiences got a kick out of seeing funny guy Ben Stiller go head to head with the Goodfella himself De Niro. But somehow the mishaps and miscommunications that made Parents so wacky seems to have been replaced with feel-good-about-your-family mush in Fockers. Jack for example is mostly up to his "let's catch Greg in the act" high jinks--until he sees the errors of his ways and gets in touch with his feelings. Huh? Granted the moments of inspired hilarity are still entertaining but the extra sentimentality doesn't really work as well given what the younger fans of Parents have come to expect.
An all-star lineup of top recording artists made an early morning trek to the Beverly Hilton Hotel's Grand Ballroom to help announce this year's crop of nominees for the 44th Annual Grammy Awards, a trek most found worthwhile.
The most bleary-eyed of all was Motown's soul songstress India.Arie, who was suddenly wide-awake after hearing her named nominee in some of the top categories. All in all, Arie snared seven nominations for her debut album Acoustic Soul, including the prestigious Album of the Year, Record of the Year, Song of the Year and Best New Artist categories, Best R&B Song, Best Female R&B Vocal Performance and Best R&B Album.
Equally excited was the pint-sized, ponytailed pop phenom in pink standing next to Arie, singer/songwriter Nelly Furtado, who squealed excitedly after she earned four Grammy nominations (Best New Artist, Song of the Year, Best Pop Vocal Album and Best Pop Female Vocal Performance).
Joining the two songbirds onstage for the announcements were an eclectic assortment of recording industry standouts who also earned their own nominations: girl group Destiny's Child (Best R&B Album, Best R&B Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal), Train lead singer Pat Monahan (Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Rock Song, Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal), rapper Ja Rule (Best Rap Album, Best Rap performance by a Duo or Group, Best Rap/Sung Collaboration), rock goddess Stevie Nicks (Best Female Rock Vocal Performance), country chanteuse Jamie O'Neil (Best Female Country Vocal Performance, Best Country Song), fabled R&B producer Jimmy Jam (Producer of the Year), actor/writer/director Carl Reiner (Best Spoken Word Album) and R&B sensation Usher (Best Male R&B Performance).
"That's good news, isn't it?" asked Usher, grinning ear-to-ear as he took the podium.
Though not present, U2 and Alicia Keys dominated the nominations as powerfully as they dominated the sales charts over the last year.
The Irish supergroup's acclaimed album All That You Can't Leave Behind provided fodder for eight nominations in several coveted categories, including Record of the Year ("Walk On"), Album of the Year, Song of the Year ("Stuck In a Moment You Can't Get Out Of"), Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal ("Stuck In a Moment..."), Best Rock Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocal ("Elevation") and Best Rock Album. The group also faces stiff competition from itself, as two of its songs, "Elevation" and "Walk On" will be vying for the Best Rock Song honor. Since 1987 U2 has walked off with 10 Grammys out of 20 nominations.
Meanwhile, singer/songwriter Keys--easily the most heralded new talent of the past year--was singled out in six categories for music from her debut album Songs In A-Minor and her smash hit "Fallin'," including Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Best New Artist, Best Female R&B Performance, Best R&B Song and Best R&B Album.
The late singer/actress Aaliyah may be gone but was not forgotten, garnering two posthumous nominations, for Best R&B Album and Best Female R&B Vocal Performance.
Several Hollywood stars and projects earned intriguing nods. Comedian Steve Martin was nominated for his banjo work on the jam "Foggy Mountain Breakdown" from Earl Scruggs and Friends. His fellow comics Ray Romano, Margaret Cho and George Carlin received nods in the more logical Best Spoken Comedy Album slot. And it's good to be the king: Mel Brooks was tapped for Best Long Form Music Video with "Recording the Producers: A Musical Romp With Mel Brooks."
Ann-Margret was honored for Best Southern Country or Bluegrass Gospel Album, while Vanessa Redgrave and Tim Curry were each nominated for dramatic performances on albums in the Best Spoken Word Album for Children category. Rob Lowe, Noah Wyle, Joan Allen and Tom Brokaw were singled out in the Best Spoken Word Album for their voice work on War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars.
Nominees for Best Score Soundtrack Album For A Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media include A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, Chocolat, Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, Men of Honor, Planet of the Apes and Traffic.
Competing for Best Compilation Soundtrack Album For A Motion Picture, Television Or Other Visual Media are Bridget Jones's Diary, Moulin Rouge, O Brother, Where Art Thou?, Shrek and The Sopranos: Peppers & Eggs.
The 44th Annual Grammy Awards will be held Feb. 27 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles and broadcast at 8 p.m. PT/ET on CBS.