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Daily Reads: The Strange Resonance of 'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,' Quit Whining About Reboots and More

Criticwire By Max O'Connell | Criticwire August 8, 2014 at 10:01AM

Plus: Why Marvel's reasoning for no female superhero movies rings false, and the case against "Nebraska" in color.
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'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles'
'Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles'

Criticwire's Daily Reads brings today's essential news stories and critical pieces to you.

1. Why We Need to Quit Whining About Reboots. This week brings the new "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" reboot, plus the news that Dan Aykroyd's long-dreaded third "Ghostbusters" is now a reboot with an all-female cast. But even if these things turn out to be lousy, we'll still have the originals, and what if they're not lousy? Adam Sternbergh of Vulture suggests that reboots can be ground for fertile reimaginings of strong material.

If we really believe movies like "Ghostbusters" are classics, then hell, let’s treat them like classics and reboot them in every single way we can possibly imagine. Shakespeare — the very definition of a classic! — can serve here as the model. Every Shakespearean play has been remounted so many times that, by now, it’s essentially impossible to do one of them straight-up. As a result, the most interesting new productions — whether it's "Richard III" set in pre-Fascist Europe or Macbeth as a pulpy horror-noir or "Much Ado About Nothing" as a spry contemporary rom-com — are all reimaginings. They’re Shakespeare reboots. Not all of them work, but all are interesting, some are fantastic, and a few even enhance our understanding of the original material in complex and worthwhile ways. Read more.


2. Marvel's Bad Reasoning for No Female Superhero Movies. We've seen Captain America, Thor, Iron Man and Hulk get their own superhero movies, but so far no female superhero has a solo film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Marvel Studios' Kevin Feige says it's about timing. Vanity Fair's Joanna Robinson says that's a load of bunk.

But isn’t “timing” also just another way of saying “this isn’t our priority?” As for Feige’s question of whether they should put an existing franchise on hold to make room for a female-led one, why not? Do we really need the confirmed "Captain America 3" and "Thor 3" before we even get "Black Widow 1?" Is the logic there that both Cap and Thor have established box-office clout? If having a known quantity in the leading role is the concern, then why not "Black Widow 1" before the comparatively esoteric new kids on the block "Doctor Strange" and "Ant-Man?" There’s no way to logic around the fact that Marvel is dragging its feet on this matter. Read more.


3. The Strange Resonance of the Original "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles." 
The original 1990 film "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" has its charms, but it's not much more than modest fun, right? Well, Adam Hofbauer of The Atlantic found that the film is weirdly prescient about crime in New York in the 90s, particularly in how young men were lured into gangs. The film has a cartoonish "lost boys" way of suggesting it, but there's something striking nonetheless.

The greatest crime here seems to be a general lack of supervision. When the villainous Shredder arrives to address the youth, he advertises ninja-based promotion. “You are here because the outside world rejects you,” he tells them, promising community and family. He doesn’t seem to have a scheme beyond that. Contrasted with the apocalyptic arms race of today's action movies, the low stakes seem almost quaint. This was blockbuster filmmaking in 1990, a bunch of guys in rubber turtle suits fighting a gang of teenage thieves. But in revealing an adolescent source of for its chop-socky menace, the film also stumbled into an accidental manifestation of a fear that was still years away from being defined. Read more.


4. Hey Hollywood, Give the Orbs a Rest. 
There's nothing wrong with using a MacGuffin in a blockbuster, but can we please get some more varied MacGuffins? Bilge Ebiri gave "Guardians of the Galaxy" credit for not taking its magical orb that seriously, but it's just one of many all-powerful planet-destroying objects in blockbusters, and it's starting to get tiresome. Plus, these MacGuffins are actually taking up more runtime when the whole point is that they're supposed to simplify the plot.

If we’re not really supposed to care about them, then why are characters constantly talking about them? And why are entire sequences being designed around their powers (as in the finale of "Guardians of the Galaxy")? And why are we getting heavy rumors that future movies are going to feature more and more of these? Is it really all leading up to some guy using them as magic stones for his space glove? (Imagine if Alfred Hitchcock had tried to make a movie in which the microfilm from "North by Northwest," the uranium ore from "Notorious," and the formula resin from "Torn Curtain" were all going to come together in some way. That’s right: You can’t imagine it, because it would be profoundly stupid.)

Read more.

5. The Case Against "Nebraska" in Color. Alexander Payne's "Nebraska" is showing on Epix in color, against the wishes of the director. While it doesn't serve the film – where the draining of color underlines the humdrum, colorless lives of its characters – it doesn't totally cancel out "Nebraska's" virtues. It does, however, get into more troubling territory, as NPR's Linda Holmes explains.

If we are at a point where we cannot allow directorial choices to stand, even in films not intended to be four-quadrant blockbusters, even with things that take up no more of our time, don't require us to read subtitles, don't make our lives harder, but simply feel different — like black and white — then we are, in a word, hosed. And goosing people to consider a more familiar-feeling alternative instead of trusting them to deal with the piece as it was composed seems a bit cynical and sad. Read more.


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This article is related to: Daily Reads, Guardians of the Galaxy, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Nebraska, Alexander Payne


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