Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles : Out of the Shadows (2016)
I caught this with a friend last week knowing full well that it wasn’t doing too well at the box office and hadn’t been able to garner many favorable critical reviews. So I walked into the cinema with my expectations set pretty low and already expecting to be disappointed. I guess it comes as no surprise that I found that there were some things that I did like about the film and I thought I’d just devote some blog-space to that.
I was surprisingly pleased with the characterisation of Casey Jones. From what I remember of the cartoon I grew up watching, this dude is crazy. Or if not full-fledged crazy, definitely a little off-kilter. So while some reviews that I’ve read talk about how Casey’s mood swings could give a member of the audience emotional whiplash, I thought the unpredictability of his character was kinda apt. I particularly appreciated his discomfiting level of comfort with the use of violence to get what he wanted despite being a member of the police force because as far as I can remember, Casey Jones has always been a good guy with a strong sense of justice but a very bad temper.
I also thought the consistency in the characterization of the turtles was also very well managed. From Leonardo’s struggle to make the right decision in order to keep his team of brothers with their varied temperaments together, Mikey’s and Raphael’s outgoing personalities and their desire for recognition, and Donatello just being the science dude.
I thought some of the plot points were surprisingly deep too. In particular the way in which the film handled the fissure in the group between those who want recognition and those who don’t mind staying in the shadows. For example, when Ralph and Mikey go off on their own to retrieve the purple goo from the Evidence Room at the police headquarters (that could potentially make them more human-looking) and make a complete mess of things, April and Casey, have to take the fall for them. The fact that their desire for recognition, which is not an unreasonable desire, met in a headlong collision with the dire consequences of their actions genuinely gives the audience pause and a moment of lovely ambiguity over whose side to take.
However, the film as a WHOLE, really could stand to benefit from more of this ambiguity. Instead, heroes that were actually pretty decently characterised spent most of their time facing off against such ineffectual and idiotic villains it just felt so disrespectful both to the audiences and to the franchise.
There was nothing grey or sympathetic about the two-dimensional cardboard villains the turtles had to go up against.
Baxter Stockman was a completely useless scientist who didn’t do anything of real value in the film at all yet expected to become a legend in the field of science. His greatest claim to fame is that he found Krang’s alien technology and had to assemble it to create a wormhole large enough to bring Krang’s Technodrome through. C’mon! Anyone who’s assembled an IKEA product could’ve done that…
Shredder “evilly” betrays Baxter Stockman only to be more “eviler-ly” betrayed by Krang… Like we didn’t see that coming a mile away… This move just served to demote Shredder from iconic villain of the franchise to little more than pawn and errand boy.
And Krang like some two-bit alien invader from the 80s with a one-track-minded, world-domination complex which the scriptwriters didn’t bother updating at all, couldn’t even get his Technodrome assembled in time to do anything before he was sent back through the wormhole.
There was definitely some potential with Laura Linney’s Chief Vincent who could’ve been a credible commentary on the hindrance of bureaucratic red-tape and discrimination based on looks, if only she was actually a credible character herself. Instead from the get-go she was dismissive, close-minded, unnecessarily angry all the time, and completely incompetent. So when she did have her moment of emotional growth and reversal of opinion about the turtles not being monsters despite their “monstrous” appearance, it counted for absolutely zip.
Bebop and Rocksteady I thought was another wasted opportunity to function as counterpoint to the turtles’ own desire to come “out of the shadows.”
They could also have been effective doubles for the turtles during the portion where they were struggling with team unity but instead the audience got treated to a highly forgettable fight scene down some rapids that ended in a sharp drop over the edge of a waterfall, not unlike the long sequence in the first film where they tried to outrun an avalanche.
We Need to Talk About Kevin (2011)
So I actually wrote like a 4000 word final paper on this film for my Psychopaths class so I’m sorta up to my ears in it already and don’t have much else to say about it unless I decide to cut and paste the essay here. But I do want to recommend this film to anyone who might be reading this blogpost because the film, while slow, is so formally aware it really plays with your expectations and makes you think you’ve seen things you really haven’t.
It’s well-acted, well-scripted, well-edited, it’s based on a great novel (I actually finished it… all 470 pages of it… I can’t believe it myself because I was so short on time during this summer class O_O) and just such a great little film I wish more people watched it because it totally deserves an audience.
I suppose one thing I wished I could have done in my essay but couldn’t because of the restrictiveness of the thesis I was working with, was to sit down and catalogue all the ways in which the film and the novel used literary and filmic doubling strategies to capture and portray the way in which trauma can simultaneously create a split in the self and a collapse of one’s self-identity.
Maybe that description will give you some idea of what it’s about? It’s a slow film but it doesn’t get boring. Really, do give it a shot.
The Chaser (2008)
Another film I celebrated the end of my first session of summer classes with was The Chaser – a dark film noir piece based on a real Korean serial killer. I was quite won over by how formalistically aware the film was for the most part until the last third of the film where the director seemed to have caved in to this need for melodrama with his use of manipulative musical crescendos and excessive slow-motion.
However, for most of the film, there is a seething, understated sense of horror bubbling just below the surface of an already seedy noir setting. While the film’s color palette serves to make everywhere appear dirty and grungy, coated with a layer of aged filth that no amount of scrubbing can get out, the lighting decisions sometimes bathes a scene in such stark lighting that one cannot look away from the horror.
I’ve included here in this short, blitz review the scene of a murder which received a very thoughtful treatment at the hands of director Hong-jin Na with its clever sound editing and intercuts to illustrates what I mean when I say this film is pretty subtle and formally aware: