TEENAGE MUTANT NINJA TURTLES 3D / IMAX (12A)

Verdict: +++

YOU’LL need an acute sense of ‘turtle recall’ to remember the big screen debut of four of the most unlikely villain-chasing dudes in cinema history. But, 25 years after the first Ninja Turtles’ movie, the return of the reptilicious half-shell heroes is surprisingly enjoyable.

We learn how the Turtles were created and trained to fight by a bewhiskered rat, Master Splinter. There are plenty of distracting plugs for Pizza Hut, too. That’s the wrong kind of cheesy.

Meanwhile, New York City is under threat from the Foot Clan run by evil boss Shredder.

After four years in journalism school, TV reporter April O’Neil (Megan Fox) is thirsting to land a scoop to make her cameraman Vern (Will Arnett) and equally dismissive boss Bernadette (Whoopi Goldbert) eat their own words.

Unexpectedly tracking down the turtle-necked crimefighters Raphael (Alan Ritchson), Michelangelo (Noel Fisher), Donatello (Jeremy Howard) and Leonardo (Pete Ploszek) puts her own life in peril. And it also makes April realise why her fight for justice is personal...

Hollywood is recycling its staple characters quicker than the average plastic bottle these days.

Recent retreads include Batman (rebooted in 1989, 1995, 1997, 2005 and again for 2016), Godzilla (1998 then 2014), Superman (2006 then 2013) and Spider-Man (2007 then 2012) et al.

Credit to producer Michael Bay for reimagining the Turtles’ capacity for cartoon-like, child-friendly mayhem based on the 1984 Mirage Studios’ comic book series by Peter A. Laird and Kevin B. Eastman.

Here, Wrath of the Titans’ director Jonathan Liebesman takes a while to set up the story after beginning with some dodgy hand-held camerawork (memo to Hollywood: see Belfast based thriller ‘71 to learn how to do it properly).

But this is still a big, fun, ultra-dumb picture which put a smile on my face, excited my son and youngest daughter and made the mixed-age audience around me laugh out loud. Who'd have thought?

The set up is pure James Bond, Shredder is now Darth Vader meets Robocop and Wolverine and the underlying sense of humour makes up for some Marvel movies.

A downhill chase spectacularly reinvents the ski sequence in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and you’ll know what to do next time you’re stuck in a lift – dance!

With a thunderous score by Marvel genre king Brian Tyler continuing relentlessly to the end of the credits, there is, of course, only one new phrase to describe this money-making feast: cowa-wonga!

The Judge. Pictured: (L-r) ROBERT DOWNEY JR. as Hank Palmer, ROBERT DUVALL as Joseph Palmer and DAX SHEPARD as C.P. Kennedy. Picture credit: PA Photo/Warner Bros.
The Judge. Pictured: (L-r) ROBERT DOWNEY JR. as Hank Palmer, ROBERT DUVALL as Joseph Palmer and DAX SHEPARD as C.P. Kennedy. Picture credit: PA Photo/Warner Bros.
 

THE JUDGE (15)

Verdict: ++++

BOGGED down in Sherlock Holmes, Iron Man and other Marvel franchise movies, you can see in Robert Downey Jr’s eyes that he clearly had a ball making such a rounded, heartfelt family drama at this.

Coutroom movies were big business in the John Grisham 1990s’ era, but this film is cleverer than most.

It dips in and out of legalities to explore topics from sibling rivalry, memory loss and career ambition to the nature of criminal intent and estranged children having to care for the elderly.

Now 83, the great Robert Duvall (The Godfather) would not be embarrassed to receive a seventh Oscar nomination as Judge Joseph Palmer, charged with murder after the death of a previously-jailed killer.

Hot shot big city lawyer Hank Palmer (Downer Jr) returns home proclaiming “My father is a lot of unpleasant things, but a murderer is not one of them.”

After a slow start, the film’s twists and turns make The Judge increasingly engrossing both inside and outside of the courtroom, where  prosecutor Dwight Dickham (Billy Bob Thornton) looks more like Downey Jr than either of his supposed real siblings, older brother Glen (Vincent D’Onofrio) and younger Dale (Jeremy Strong).

And is Hank wise to consider reconnecting with old flame Samantha Powell (Up in the Air star Vera Farmiga)?

It’s all beautifully shot by Oscar-winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski (Schindler’s List / Saving Private Ryan) and the now 49-year-old Downey Jr is right at the top of his game and worthy, perhaps, of a third Oscar nomination himself after Chaplin (1993) and Tropic Thunder (2009).

Director and co-writer David Dobkin doesn’t end the 141-minute film neatly, but after the froth of The Change-Up, Wedding Crashers and Shanghai Knights, you’ll appreciate a story that stirs your emotions.

NORTHERN SOUL (15)

Verdict: +++

IT’S Lancashire, 1974 – after the height of glam rock era and before punk’s new wave.

Surprisingly opening with Melanie’s folksy hit, Brand New Key from 1971, welcome to the cobbled, back street world of Northern Soul, where young people forget the gloomy climate by dancing all night to the sounds of imports from the United States.

Loner John Clark (Elliot James Langridge) has little connection with his parents (Christian McKay, Lisa Stansfield) and peers.

But when he meets Matt (John Whitehouse), their shared love of black soul music radically alters the prism of his working class outlook.

The cars, clothes, decor and green window frames make this feel the most authentic northern period drama since East Is East (1999), which was so good it even included the chip shop range from my childhood.

Here, the awful haircuts, greasy pallors, big collars and half-mast, wide-bottomed trousers ring shockingly true considering they young cast weren’t even born in ‘74.

There’s also a splendid cameo from Steve Coogan (worth the admission alone) as a volcanic, long-haired teacher whose turns of phrase include: “Do your top button up, we don’t want to see your whispy bum-fluff.”

With crotchety veteran star Ricky Tomlinson (The Royle Family) also chipping in, Northern Soul is brilliant for 20 minutes until debut writer-director Elaine Constantine’s carefully constructed family set-up is swept away by the music.

Northern Soul has lots of strong language, frequent drug taking and too many punch-ups at the expense of developing a dramatic plot or the kind of dour, domestic intensity that Mike Leigh mastered in Vera Drake (2004).

But there are dance moves galore – thankfully of a kind I never was able to master.

For aficionados, Northern Soul will be a memory-stirring treat, even if, like its Stoke-on-Trent predecessor SoulBoy (2010), it doesn’t have the legs to go the full distance.

BEST OF THE REST +++++++++++++++++++++

‘71 (15)

Verdict: ++++

THIS nightmarish thriller has been given a shockingly-limited number of cinemas nationwide.

But you'll be on the edge of your seat throughout its impressively-economical 99-minute running time.

Debut directed by Yann Demange (from Channel 4’s Top Boy series), it’s a heart-pounding, pulsating insight into what happens when one man ends up out of his depth.

Expecting to go to safe haven Germany, new soldier Gary Hook (Jack O’Connell) is sent on to the crazy streets of 1971 Belfast where he’s given a five-minute lesson in what’s what and who’s where.

If only Belfast was that simple.

Out on a mission to help the RUC, the situation turns into a riot, and Hook is separated from his colleagues and left behind.

With shadowy characters of all persuasions roaming the streets, can he even survive the night?

Building tension admirably and perfectly showcasing how and when to use hand held cameras (take note, Paranormal-style filmmakers), Demange has delivered the best British film of the year which, very cleverly, doesn’t take sides.

It simply illustrates how complex and fear-inducing life in early 70s’ Belfast must have been in reality.

As a film, think of Behind Enemy Lines (2001) crossed with James Mason’s Odd Man Out (1947) and agitated with the most exciting alleyway chases since Point Break (1991).

After impressing so much earlier this year in Starred Up and set to return on Boxing Day in Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken, Derby-born actor O’Connell may or may not end up one day deserving the tag of ‘the British Brando’.

But at only 24 years of age he’s a colossally-promising star with the world suddenly at his feet.