03 June 2016

Never Stop Turtle Popping

We are set upon another Summer Friday and so comes the time to again ramble upon the critical, cultural, and commercial prospects of the films to be released. This summer already feels very crowded, although there is a diversity to the projects so far that feels more mellow. Maybe it's just that Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice (2016), then The Jungle Book (2016), then Captain America: CIVIL WAR (2016) burned up our hype train. Now we're just chugging along the rest of the stops. This week we have two pretty different films, The Lonely Island's POPSTAR: Never Stop Never Stopping (2016) and the Michael Bay produced sequel, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016).

Before we dig into that, though, we ought to make some kind of comment on how every single non-Captain America sequel (wait, is CIVIL WAR a Cap sequel? Or an Iron Man sequel? Or an Avengers sequel? If it's the latter two it's down, if it's the former, then up!) is down this summer. Through the Looking Glass (2016) made just over a fifth of what its predecessor did its opening weekend, Neighbors 2: Sorority Rising (2016) under half, X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) down $15 mill from Days of Future Past (2014) and sitting at nearly half of what Deadpool (2016) did a few months ago.

Some of this is probably cannibalization. There was surely some of the crowd who had to pick between Alice and X-Men who will hit the other one up this week, but does that really account for these missing tickets? Neither release has been what the studios are looking for, and although its foreign haul out to be pleasing (it's anyone's default for when a film doesn't do great domestically these days), that's still a bit of a miff.
They really had to keep the purple mohawk, huh?

This brings us to Out of the Shadows which is a follow-up to the first of this current series of Ninja Turtles films, after thirty years of comic books, television shows, 1990s live action films, early 2000s television shows, that mid-2000s animated movie, and another television show. There really isn't a bigger children's franchise that has lasted since the 80s with this much investment. Maybe Transformers comes close, but I don't remember no Transformers musical pizza concert.

Now, this is insane, but I'm actually kind of jazzed about this sequel. This is a complete opposite reversal from my preview two years ago, which also featured a look at Into the Storm (2014). Remember Into the Storm? With that Fire Tornado? Here are some choice quotes, from myself:

"Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is going to be awful in every sense of the word."

"In general, though, these have just never seemed like the right dudes to take on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."

"No one will remember or care about Turtles by Labour Day."

I was wrong in just about every way. Maybe not the first one. It's a pretty awful movie with a plot that makes no sense and an arrogant, in-your-face aesthetic that is repulsive to anyone who likes movies. But the more I think about it, these Platinum Dunes morons ARE the right dudes to take on the Turtles - their whole bro-heavy, pizza-chomping, go for the sack, extreme way of life is part of what has made the Turtles special since they made that leap off gritty black and white comic books to goofy Rhinoceros-monster animation.

Speaking of goofy Rhinoceros monsters, it's actually amazing that over all these years we've never actually had Bebop and Rocksteady on the big screen. Or Krang. KRANG! This is the Turtles at their finest and stupidest, the kind of insane campy shit that is something straight out of God Hates Astronauts but totally unconcerned about its existence as a pure joke. It's a fantastic bit of really fun and dumb filmmaking.

That's the issue with a lot of properties out there. They get the dumb right but not the fun. Michael Bay makes dumb and fun films. The funness tends to cover its dumbness and you leave the theater with a good feeling in the pit of your genitals. Zack Snyder makes dumb yet sour films. So you watch this really dumb action piece, but it's totally maudlin, so you feel personally insulted. Snyder's certainly not the only one. I'd consider R.I.P.D. (2013), Hercules (2014), and even Apocalpyse all films that don't understand how to balance camp and art, who succumb to trying to elevate their material to something more than they are without embracing what they are. Shameful filmmaking reeks like a wet glove. There may have even been a bit of this in the 2014 version of the Turtles, but there seems like there's such ludicrous joy on display here, something that really fits into the spirit of who these goofballs were, which at least wasn't communicated in the marketing last time.

So, the last bit I said was that no one would care about the Turtles and that it'd be a huge bomb. Unbelievably it eked out some solid coin while running with Guardians of the Galaxy for a few weeks in August 2014. That apparently may not have been that impressive of a feat. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles did surprisingly well, ergo this hopefully much improved-upon sequel. I am already more culturally on board, although I'm sure it'll be savaged by critics as usual (even though you ought to just get little kid critics, because it's the kind of dumb schlock meant for them. And those of us who still have developmentally child-like brains), but the real question comes down to money.

Through the Looking Glass failed because no matter how well its predecessor did, it was both more a result of its timing rather than its content and the simple fact that no one gave a shit about it anymore. Apocalypse ought to match the typical X-Men ceiling of about $150-200 mill (maybe), and that's not wholly unexpected. Neighbors 2 is kind of a wild card. I'm not sure why it failed. Maybe it's the comedy sequel thing that didn't totally hit like 22 Jump Street (2014) but not much else did. On a case by case basis there's no real blanket reason, except for the true possibility that audiences are just sick of sequels, which is always looming. With a better release window and free plowing until Independence Day: Resurgence (2016) (no, I don't think Warcraft [2016] will stand in anyone's way), this could make some bank again.

Alright. I just talked for a really long time about Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows, but it's time to turn our attention to The Lonely Island. The group has had plenty of success for sure, although it's been difficult to translate to the big screen. They made their name trading in digital shorts on SNL, and although they've had some great post-SNL projects, it doesn't feel like they've had the platform to disseminate their idiosyncratic brand of parody songs. Their sense of humour is also relatively obscure, with previous cinematic projects from its members ranging from MacGruber (2010) to The Watch (2012). Of course, their distinctive work is still probably Hot Rod (2007), which as largely a platform for Andy Samberg, never quite took off beyond a semi-cult hit.

Samberg's movie career has been decently wretched. I'm of course on board. That's My Boy (2012) was brilliantly cathartic in its own way, but totally never took off in any meaningful way. Still, against all odds he managed to pull together one of the best comedies on television right now, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, although he's somewhat distanced himself from SNL and the other Lonely Island members in doing so.

All of this may be resolved with POPSTAR, which looks funny as hell. It might work out that they're more in their natural wheelhouse crafting a film filled with their bread and butter - parody songs. Of course, these aren't exactly parodies. I don't know what "Jizz in My Pants" is spoofing. Weird dramatic R&B? It's more obscure and goofy, with the joke being what the characters are singing about more than the genre it's sending up. These aren't Weird Al - type tracks.
All by bitches be wearin' gold plated jimmies

The Lonely Island has sometimes established some characters - the "Dick in a Box" guys stand out, but mostly the public persona is just Samberg or Jorma spinning the rhymes. What Never Stop Never Stopping does, though, is introduce Connor4real, which gives Samberg a platform to sing terrible things like "The Mona Lisa is a piece of shit" or "She wanted me to fuck her like the U.S. Government fucked Bin Laden" under the disguise of this doofus character. It shifts the culpability a little bit, which the group seems to be pushing to the extreme to hilarious effect. It's as if all the kid gloves are off. Yes, what kid gloves we had for things like "Motherlover."

To sample the few tracks the group has released and performed in anticipation, they all hit really well. The group seems to sense that everyone gets sick of their songs after two or three minutes, which has also fueled the ease of their digital shareability. It's also a possible reason why they've never been able to sustain their brand of humour for a feature length film. Or even a TV Show. While they certainly have an understanding of gags and hitting the zeitgeist strong their knowledge of character and narrative is decidedly lacking. If POPSTAR manages to mesh the two and exist more as a mockumentary-style series of goofy set-ups it can be pretty successful. Samberg's work on Brooklyn Nine-Nine might actually behoove this concept and make their work a bit stronger.

It's important to note as well that even though this is clearly a surface-parody of Justin Bieber, the group has worked with Bieber before. It's a fine excuse to explore a silly exaggeration of pop stardom, and it seems like a perfect marriage of interests, abilities, and audience reception. The few jams released have already been spectacular - if they can rise to "On a Boat" or "Dick in a Box" levels, we'd really be in for something special. It's an arduous task to not repeat themselves and stay fresh, but largely the Lonely Island has pulled that off for the past ten years.

As for the cash, with Neighbors 2 underperforming I think this has a lot of potential to claim a title as the funniest film of 2016 and make huge bank. Or it could be like every other Lonely Island movie and bomb terribly. That's the issue when your fanbase is primarily Internet nerds - they'll download your movie instead of risking the light of day to make it to the theater. The more mainstream they can get, and I think they actually appeal to a lot of women, especially who are in on the Bieber joke, the better off this will be.

Oh, and also Me Before You (2016), some romantic drama bout Emilia Clarke falling in love with a cripple dude. TIGHT.

Well, that was exhaustive. What do you think this weekend? Turtles or Popstars? Leave it below!

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