Review Round-up

Over the last ten-and-a-bit years I’ve prided myself on reviewing every new film I see. Well, at the start it was less pride and more just how I did things (and most of those early ‘reviews’ were only a couple of sentences long), but as I’ve maintained it for so long I’ve come to pride myself on it. However, of late my backlog has reached ridiculous proportions, and is only expanding.

But I’m not giving up just yet, dear reader — hence this round-up. There are some films I just don’t have a great deal to say about, where all I’ve really got are a few notes rather than a fully worked-up review. So as in days of old (i.e. 2007), I’ll quickly dash off my brief thoughts and a score. Hopefully this will become an irregular series that churns through some of my backlog.

In today’s round-up:

  • The Spy Who Came in from the Cold (1965)
  • Under the Shadow (2016)
  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows (2016)
  • Dazed and Confused (1993)


    The Spy Who Came in from the Cold
    (1965)

    2016 #167
    Martin Ritt | 112 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | UK / English | PG

    The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

    John le Carré’s famed story of crosses, double crosses, triple crosses… probably quadruple crosses… heck, maybe even quintuple crosses — why not?

    The storytelling is very slow and measured, which I would guess is not to all tastes — obviously not for those who only like their spies with the action and flair of Bond, but even by Le Carré standards it’s somewhat slight. That’s not to say it’s not captivating, but it lacks the sheer volume of plot that can, say, fuel a seven-episode adaptation of Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. Quite how the forthcoming miniseries from the makers of The Night Manager intends to be more than a TV movie… well, we’ll see.

    There’s also some gorgeous black and white photography, with the opening sequence at Check Point Charlie looking particularly glorious.

    5 out of 5

    Under the Shadow
    (2016)

    2017 #12
    Babak Anvari | 84 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | UK / Persian | 15 / PG-13

    Under the Shadow

    Be afraid if your doll is took — it could be the Iranian Babadook.

    Honestly, for all the creepy quality on display in this UK-funded Iran-set psychological horror, I don’t think labelling it as something of a mirror to The Babadook is unfair. It’s about a lone mother (Narges Rashidi) struggling with an awkward child (Avin Manshadi) while a malevolent supernatural entity that may be real or may just be in her head attempts to invade their home. Where the Australian horror movie invented the mythology for its creature afresh, Under the Shadow draws from Persian folklore — so, same difference to us Western viewers. The devil is in the details, then, which are fine enough to keep the film ticking over and regularly scaring you, be it with jumps or general unease.

    The Babadook may have done it better, and certainly did it first, but Under the Shadow remains an effective chiller.

    4 out of 5

    Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles:
    Out of the Shadows

    (2016)

    2017 #29
    Dave Green | 108 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA, Hong Kong, China & Canada / English | 12 / PG-13

    Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows

    This first (and last? We’ll see) sequel to 2014’s Teenage Mutant Michael Bay Turtles ends with a cover of the theme from the original animated series, just in case you weren’t clear by then that it’s aspiring to be a live-action version of that particular cartoon.

    For one thing, there are appearances by a lot of popular characters who are primarily associated with that iteration of the franchise. For another, parts of the film have a very “rules of Saturday morning cartoons” feel — people thrown from a plane are immediately shown to be opening parachutes; all of the villains survive to fight another day; that kind of thing. They’ve clearly made an effort to make it lighter and funnier than its big-screen predecessor. The downside: they’ve gone a bit too far. The tone of the screenplay is “kids’ movie”, which isn’t a problem in itself, but Out of the Shadows retains the dark and realistic visual aesthetic of the first movie, plus enough violence and swears to get the PG-13 all blockbusters require, which means the overall effect is a little muddled.

    While it’s not a wholly consistent film, it does work to entertain, with funny-ish lines and kinetic CGI-fuelled action scenes. I must confess to ultimately enjoying it a fair bit… but bear in mind I was a big fan of the cartoon when I was five or six, so it did gently tickle my nostalgia soft spot.

    3 out of 5

    Dazed and Confused
    (1993)

    2017 #53
    Richard Linklater | 102 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | USA / English | 15 / R

    Dazed and Confused

    Writer-director Richard Linklater has said that with Dazed and Confused he wanted to make an anti John Hughes movie; one that showed teenage life was mundane and uneventful. So here’s a movie about what it’s like to hang out, driving around aimlessly doing nothing. Turns out it’s pretty mundane and uneventful. And most of the characters behave like dicks half the time, which isn’t exactly conducive to a good time.

    Despite that, some people love this movie; it’s often cited as being nostalgic. Well, I can’t say it worked that way for me. Indeed, I’m kinda glad I didn’t know those people in school…

    3 out of 5

  • Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

    2016 #48
    Jonathan Liebesman | 97 mins | streaming (HD) | 2.35:1 | USA / English & Japanese | 12 / PG-13

    While I was killing time waiting for my coffee to brew before I sat down to watch Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, 2014 edition, I drafted the introductory paragraphs to this review. Yes, before I’d even started the movie, so sure was I that I would dislike it. Naturally they took an appropriately condemnatory tone, talking about how it was a product and not a movie, designed primarily to sell tie-in plastic to grown men who wish they were still children, etc etc. Unfortunately writing those paragraphs was a waste of my time, because I can’t use them, because — shock of shocks — I actually quite liked this movie.

    Now, let’s immediately throw some caveats on that, because it’s clearly riddled with flaws. The story is slight and so filled with over-familiar tropes that it barely bothers to play them out in full. On the bright side, that does mean it rattles along. However, the grand plan/climax is lifted straight from The Amazing Spider-Man. The action is often poorly directed, a too-close whirlwind of pixels. That said, there’s one sequence so OTT crazy that — if you ignore that the film is supposed to be live action and embrace the wild camerawork, physically impossible antics, and mind-boggling speed — it’s almost impressive. The CGI is variable: the Turtles themselves actually look alright, maybe even good, but Splinter is piss poor.

    Megan Fox is miscast, not that she can act anyway. She’s clearly only there because producer Michael Bay thinks she’s hot (bit too plastic for my taste). Shredder is Bay-ed to the max, essentially becoming a Transformer made of knives. The Turtles’ personalities are pretty one-note, but not unfaithful to the original — the franchise started life as a spoof of things like Daredevil, after all, not a realistic character drama. That said, turning Mike into basically a turtle version of Michael Bay — i.e. he’s focused on lusting after Megan Fox and occasionally causing explosions — is a little cringe-y. Quite a few bits are a little cringe-y, actually; but they’re tempered by a few comedic bits that hit home, and a general veneer of “well, it could’ve been worse”.

    “Well, it could’ve been worse” is pretty much the definition of “damning with faint praise”, but for all those many problems, I actually enjoyed myself while watching the film. It was funny enough, it was exciting enough, it was almost well-made enough. It’s not a good movie, but I did think it was an “entertaining enough for a couple of hours on a particularly lazy evening” kind of movie. And, despite the weak reviews it’s been receiving, the trailers for the second movie make it look better. I’m not going to fork out cinema prices to see it anytime soon, but on the strength of this first one, I will eventually. Which may not please the plastic-pedlars, exactly, but is a better result than I’d expected.

    3 out of 5

    Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows is in cinemas worldwide now.

    Turtle Power: The Definitive History of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (2014)

    2015 #159
    Randall Lobb | 99 mins | streaming (HD) | 16:9 | USA / English | PG / PG

    This informative documentary uses interviews with all the key players to tell the story of how a small indie comic, created incidentally and published almost on a whim, became a true cultural phenomenon.

    And, despite how daft it all seemed (well, to adults — kids lapped it up), it really was huge. At first, co-creators Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird managed to scrape together enough money for a limited run of the first issue of the comic; three years later, it was outselling The Avengers, and they had deals for a toy line and animated TV series. Both of those were massive hits too… but it nearly ended after just five episodes and the first few action figures: toy manufacturer Playmates were so happy with the sales figures that they didn’t care about doing more. Seriously. Can you imagine that happening today? “We’ve made tonnes of money on this! Right, let’s stop it and think of something else.” It was the series’ producer who fought for more episodes, which must have made Playmates giddy with glee in the end: at its height, the toys shipped 100 million units a year, cited in the film as being probably the largest amount for a single toy line ever. I confess, I had a fair number of the toys; mainly early ones too, so there’s plenty of nostalgia-inducing focus on them here.

    The film traces the story beyond that to the first live action film, which broke records for an independent production. There are some nice bits of behind-the-scenes trivia in this section, like how they shot dialogue scenes with the Turtles at 23fps, and action scenes at 22fps, so as to make the movements of the slightly-clunky suits crisper when played back at the regular 24fps. It’s around this point that the Turtles phenomenon began to wane, however, so it’s somewhere between a shame and unsurprising that the documentary stops shortly after — the sequel films were not very good and didn’t do very well, and it wasn’t long before the rights were sold on anyway, at which point the story of the creators’ relation to their creation essentially comes to a close. Is it right to gloss over this, or would it have been better to explore it in more detail? Both points of view have their merits, probably depending on how much nostalgia you hold for the property.

    As for this documentary, it nonetheless finds an almost emotional conclusion with Eastman and Laird today talking about the chain of chance and coincidence that brought them together three decades ago to accidentally create something that transformed their lives, and which continues to endure in all kinds of media (no one liked that Michael Bay film, but it’s still getting a sequel; while the current animated series is apparently very good, for people who like that kind of thing). It makes for a surprisingly engrossing behind-the-scenes story, too.

    4 out of 5

    TMNT (2007)

    2015 #99
    Kevin Munroe | 87 mins | streaming | 2.35:1 | USA & Hong Kong / English | PG / PG

    The kids’ phenomenon of the ’80s/’90s has never quite gone away, and this film is one thing that kept it ticking over in the ’00s. I watched out of nostalgia, which may’ve been a mistake.

    Eschewing an origin story, it dives in as a sequel rather than reboot; consequently, you constantly feel you’ve missed something, particularly given the focus on the heroes’ fractured relationships. The plot’s alright, though it’s an odd choice to not use any of the franchise’s major villains. Some action sequences are moderately entertaining, but other animations have provided better.

    I expected little and was still disappointed.

    2 out of 5

    Liebster Award

    Michele at Timeless Hollywood has kindly nominated me for a Liebster Award (or, as spellcheck insists on rendering it, “Leicester Award”).

    For those not in the know, a Liebster Award is bestowed from blogger to blogger as a kind of peer appreciation. There are actually a bunch of variations — this person took it upon themselves to write some official rules. Not entirely sure what makes them qualified to do such a thing, but they did it anyway, and now that post sits right at the top of the Google search results, so I guess it worked for them.

    Anyway, The Rules:

    1. Answer my nominator’s 11 questions;
    2. Nominate 11 additional bloggers;
    3. Ask 11 questions to my nominees;
    4. Share 11 additional facts about myself.

    I’m not sure why it has so much to do with the number 11. Having seen various other bloggers complete the award, #2 seems to be particularly flexible in this regard. I suspect I shall be too.

    But first! 11 questions must be answered, in my usual longwinded style:

    1) What onscreen couple has the best chemistry?
    A relatively recent discovery for me, but I’m going to go with William Powell and Myrna Loy in the Thin Man films.

    2) If one lost film could be found, what would it be?
    Would it be a cheat to pick some Doctor Who episodes? It would, wouldn’t it? Especially as Who is in a better state than silent cinema, where up 75-90% of films are estimated to be lost. Of course, there’s Hitchcock’s second feature, The Mountain Eagle, and the first British Sherlock Holmes film, an adaptation of A Study in Scarlet (which always seems to be given short shrift when it’s filmed, Catch My Soulso I wouldn’t hold much hope of that being any better), but the film that most intrigued me when looking into this was from the ’70s: #10 on this list, Patrick McGoohan’s first (and only) film as director, Catch My Soul. Turns out it’s since been found, though the chances of anyone else seeing it look shaky. Still, it does exist, so I go back to the first two.

    3) If you could choose one silent comedian between Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, Harold Lloyd or Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, who is your favorite and why?
    I confess, I haven’t seen enough of any for this to be a fair contest. From what I have seen, however, The Great Dictator was my favourite work, so I’ll go for Chaplin. (Also for compatriotism.)

    4) Who is your favorite swashbuckler?
    Does someone who usually (always?) played the villain in such movies count? Basil Rathbone, arguably best known for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, was a skilled fencer in real life, shown to great effect in The Adventures of Robin Hood, The Mark of Zorro, The Court Jester (even if that mostly isn’t him), and a few other films that I really must see.

    5) What is your favorite biography or autobiography?
    The Writer's Tale - The Final ChapterIt’s not an autobiography per se, but Doctor Who: The Writer’s Tale by Russell T Davies and Benjamin Cook kind of is, as it chronicles Davies’ experience running Doctor Who (and its spin-offs) in 2008 to 2010. You may think “I’m not a Doctor Who fan, this has no relevance to me,” but you’d be wrong. Anyone who’s had a desire to write in a professional capacity, especially for the screen, must read this book — it’s the experience of writing for TV and running a TV show, just with Doctor Who as a case study. And it’s immensely readable, making its surprising length (particularly in the extended The Final Chapter paperback version — length-wise, it’s literally a whole extra book bundled in) fly by.

    6) Have you ever participated in a blogathon and if so what did you enjoy most about it?
    I’ve participated in a few now (three, to be precise). Each time, I found the knowledge that I was likely exposing my writing to a much wider readership than normal led me to up my game in terms of the research and thought I put into my posts (and consequently their length, too). Which is not to say I don’t just do that anyway (sometimes), but there was a kind of pressure to do well. Good pressure.

    7) If you could buy any memorabilia, what would it be?
    Let’s be properly extravagant and say a James Bond Aston Martin DB5. I’m not even a ‘car person’, but c’mon, the DB5!

    The car's Martin. Aston Martin.

    8) In your opinion, who is the biggest pioneer in the film industry (past or present)?
    I mean, where do you begin? But here’s a slightly more obscure one: Garrett Brown. Who? The inventor of the Steadicam, that’s who. It looks like the Steadicam might be about to be replaced by the even greater flexibility afford by drones, but still, it was (is) awesome while it lasted.

    9) What decade had the best films?
    I’m quite fond of all eras of film, so I decided to be empirical about this: I looked at my list of favourite movies and totted up the decades. Turns out the 2000s have it, just pipping the 1990s. Probably says more about when I grew up than anything else, mind.

    10) Is there any actor/actress you feel hasn’t gotten the recognition they deserve?
    Maybe it’s just because I’m more immersed in modern film, but no one ever seems to talk about Ray Milland. I discovered him for myself through films like Ministry of Fear, The Thief and The Lost Weekend, and I really ought to seek out more of his work because he’s great in all of those.

    11) What actor/actress should receive an Oscar that hasn’t?
    Michael “The Queen / Frost/Nixon / The Damned United / etc” Sheen.

    The many faces of Michael Sheen

    Next! 11 5 bloggers shall be nominated. (I’m not stingy, I’d do more, but a bunch of blogs I thought of just had one.) Anyway, in alphabetical order:

    (You’ll notice a fair degree of crossover with blogs I highlighted in my June update. Not a coincidence.)

    Next! The 11 questions they must answer:

    1) Have you ever walked out of a cinema part way through a film?
    2) Favourite current TV series?
    3) Favourite silent film?
    4) Favourite David Fincher film?
    5) Favourite film soundtrack?
    6) Who’s the best James Bond?
    7) Which is the longest-running film series that you’ve seen every movie in?
    8) Which film have you watched the most?
    9) Which film do you love that everybody else hates?
    10) Is there a line from a film that you use a lot in everyday life?
    11) How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if woodchuck would chuck wood?

    A woodchuck, yesterday

    And finally! 11 random facts about my good self:

    1) I am currently mostly listening to Muse’s Drones and Nightwish’s Endless Forms Most Beautiful.

    2) I have two dogs, Rory and Poppy, both rescues.

    3) Part of the reason for adopting Poppy was to help with the transition when Rory… you know… because he’d been on his last legs for years. 18 months later, he’s still going, bless ‘im.

    4) I kind of work on the principle that my personal life has little to do with my film-related blogging (which, in many ways, is an invalid stance, but that’s a whole other debate), so this is proving tricky…

    5) I get kind of ‘attached’ to sayings — not deliberately, but I think I use certain phrases a lot, even if just for a while. Maybe we all do? I’m sure there are plenty of examples in my reviewing (there are certainly words I revert to often); in real life, “there’s a first time for everything” is regularly applicable and “better safe than sorry” is virtually my motto. Whether I listen to it or not is another matter.

    List of lists of lists

    6) I make lots of lists, about all sorts — mainly films, DVDs and Blu-rays, especially ones to be watched. Each time I watch a film for this blog, it has to be added to, removed from, or rated on up to 21 separate lists and websites.

    7) To make sure I don’t miss any, I have a list of those lists.

    8) I am inordinately chuffed with the top menu on this blog, which I rebuilt t’other week to include most of my categories and streamline the review lists. Check out Film Noir (under Categories > Genres) in particular. Sub-submenus!

    9) I love pizza. I don’t know if this is attributable to a childhood love of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or just because it’s awesome. Anyway, I’ve been trying to eat more healthily and haven’t had a pizza for five months. Five months. You’re driving me back towards pizza, Liebster Facts.

    Pizza is totally more addictive

    10) Most people my age and nationality call it Teenage Mutant Hero Turtles, because that’s how they rebranded it over here (I really don’t know what the British / the BBFC had against ninjas and their weaponry). It’s always been Ninja to me because, at the time I was into Turtles, I spent nearly two years living in Saudi Arabia. (Who knew that fact was going somewhere broadly interesting, right?) (Obviously, they used the correct title in Saudi.)

    11) I have no idea what a woodchuck is.*

    So there you go. Thanks again to Michele of Timeless Hollywood, and I look forward to reading my nominees’ answers.

    * I wrote that before I looked up the picture above, so this fact is now a lie.