Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

Quick Synopsis: Martial-arts master Shang-Chi confronts the past he thought he left behind when he’s drawn into the web of the mysterious Ten Rings organization.

It’s been a while since I’ve seen a Marvel film that had so many people WANTING it to fail. The internet seemed full of people who were desperate for any bad news so that they could say “see! Go woke, go broke!”. They NEEDED it to be bad. Sucks for them then that is incredible. Comic book movies need a compelling villain. Loki was the only bearable part of the first two films, and the villain problem is why some Marvel films haven’t quite hit as they needed to. Wenwu is one of the most compelling villains in the MCU so far. Usually a lot of their villains are “same powers as the hero, but evil”. Sadly, this does do that, but the fact that the villain is the heroes father adds an emotional level to it. Especially since he’s not inherently evil, he’s misguided and being controlled by forces beyond his control. He was a villain before the events of the film, a figure of pure fear for people across the globe. But by the time the film starts all he wants is to get his wife back. That’s what inspires everything he does, and it’s weirdly beautiful. The downside of him is there is so much time spent on him, that the bigger bad that he’s doing it for only really matters in the third act, and doesn’t last for long. It’s his desire and love which leads to the third act CGI battle.

That’s the biggest issue, how underwhelming that final third is. It seems too big that it becomes impersonal, which considering the main core of the film is personal relationships is a bit weird. Instead of being a controlled dynamic set piece, it’s just CGI against CGI, and lets be honest, CGI hasn’t exactly been the MCU’s strong point so far (just look at some of the flying scenes in Captain Marvel for example).

It’s weird as there are some great fights in this. There’s a great rhythm to the way the fights operate. The way they use the surroundings brings to mind the best of Jackie Chan, where the layout of the room effects the way the action operate and it becomes almost a puzzle coming together, and means every fight is different. They also do a great job of demonstrating character through the action. You could show somebody the bus fight and they would get not only the main character, but also Awkwafina’s character.

Time for me to mention it. Awkwafina steals the show here (much like she did in Raya). She’s absolutely hilarious and serves as the audience in terms of introduction to the world, with Shang-Chi explaining everything for her. An incredibly unsubtle way of doing it, but it’s effective. She gives the best lines of the film, which considering the return of the fake Mandarin also happens (spoilers btw) is really something. One downside of her character? Her character arc doesn’t really work. She starts off as the standard “uncertain what to do in life and constantly changes plans” character, then picks up firing a bow and arrow, and is unnaturally good at it. She becomes good at it so far, and becomes so important in the final fight that it feels like Marvel knew she’d be a popular character and wanted to make her powerful. Does the MCU not have any normal characters? It’s okay to have characters who can’t fight, the way they’re treating it seems to be that if you can’t kill people, you’re worthless.

The mid-credits do a good job of setting up the future, with Captain Marvel and Bruce Banner working together (with Banner in full human form). If this is picked up in the future it could be exciting, but I doubt they’re going to deal with it in the new Spider-man movie (how fucking stoked are you guys for that, btw?) so might have to wait a while for that storyline to be moved forward. Eternals is released this year but that will have to be introducing so many characters that I’m not sure they’ll have time to deal with the ones we already know. The Doctor Strange, Thor, and Black Panther films will probably have their own things going on. So the best bet will be in The Marvels, and that’s not out until November next year. The MCU is juggling a lot of balls right now (lol, I said balls) and it’s going to take some skill for them to make the whole thing a coherent narrative again. Fingers crossed.

That’s why I think this is a great film. It works brilliantly on its own, you’re not there thinking you have an unfinished story like you do with something like Brightburn (or even Guardians Of The Galaxy 2 to an extent), but it also sets up the future plans. I’m excited to see what happens, and I like being excited for cinema. When I do the round-ups at the end of the year I can sometimes struggle to not repeat myself, but there is so much I didn’t mention in this review. The lead performance, his sister, the brutal nature of some of the fights, hotel california, Abomination, Wong, the sonic connections. There is so much to talk about with this, and that’s really what you need, to feel excited, to become a fan again, to the point where you become like a little kid describing something he loves “oh, and another cool thing, and then this happened” etc.

Dark Night: Episode 1 (update 1)

For those uncertain as to what this is, read this first.

Essentially, here’s the next 12 pages. Was very hard for me to decide where to end this preview section. Since it’s all in one room it can be hard to find a definitive “break” in the action. Was originally only going to post two or three pages, ending when the joker leaves. I had to go really dark with this iteration of him, I had to make him impossible to like. So after showing him being a sociopath, I then focus on a fan of his. This section is probably the most overt I get in terms of referencing the wider universe. It’s a locked room so there’s not exactly many opportunities to showcase characters you know.

Anyway, here it is.

The next update will lead up to the final section. Then I’ll be posting the two endings I have so far so I can ascertain which one people prefer. This section is mainly character building. There’s not too much horror here. I’m just establishing who these characters are, and setting up some dominos for later (and a few red herrings). To make up from that I’ve had to up the horror, and trust me, I’ve got some truly disgusting bits in the next section. It’s a specific moment in the next section which led to me receiving these messages:

Those reactions are pretty much what I’m aiming for in this. It has fucked up my search history though *waves to government agents*.

Should have review of Shang-Chi ready by Wednesday, then another one on Friday. Been a slowdown in new releases at local cinema so it’s slowed how many I’m watching. Until then, enjoy this, and leave comments as to where you think it’s going etc and if you can think of any issues/mistakes I’ve made. I’m aware the dialogue is a little ropey at times, but that’s the point of a first draft.

Here Today (2021)

Quick Synopsis: Comedy writer Charlie Burns (Billy Crystal) forms a friendship with local singer Emma Payge (Tiffany Haddish) and starts depending on her more and more as he begins to suffer from the effects of dementia.

What is it with 2021? Normally you get a film about dementia every few years. This year there’s been three. Annoyingly, all three have been really good but in different ways. The Father dealt with the frustration of being deep into it, the confusion and panic that causes and the absolute hell that is daily life for not just the person suffering, but also the close family members. Supernova was based on the fear of knowing what’s coming, and wanting to exit it before it happens. Also the fear of loved ones watching it happening. This? This was different. This was more about coming to terms with it yourself and trying to hide it from others out of some misguided sense of pride.

All three have had one really important similarity: the performers are all a certain type, they all play people who are normally in control of the room. Anthony Hopkins normally plays people who are in control of situations. Stanley Tucci normally plays people who are smarter than everybody. And Billy Crystal normally plays characters who’s minds are quicker than everybody else, so they always have a quip ready for any situation. I’m not sure if the casting implications were intentional or not but it’s brilliant either way as it means we see them out of their comfort zone.

As an audience member I have a strange view of Billy Crystal, I never really seek out things he does. But I will always be glad to watch something he’s in. He’s clearly got a great comedic mind that never feels like bullying. His voice runs through this film, not just because he’s in it (obviously), but he also co-wrote and directed it. It’s not just about him. He’s confident enough as a writer and a performer that he allows others to take the spotlight. In this that shared spotlight goes to Tiffany Haddish, who I’ve seen before in Keanu, Lego Movie 2, and The Kitchen. She does a great job here, her character could be annoying and unlikeable if played by someone else. She provides her with enough humanity and warmth that even when she is doing incredibly cliche things, it works and you love her.

That is a downside of this film. It occasionally feels like you’ve seen a lot of it before. You will know what’s happening before it happens most of the time. But that doesn’t make it any less enjoyable because the way they do it is still great. It’s like a rollercoaster, just because you can see the track coming up doesn’t make it any less enjoyable.

There are a few moments where it feels like the film is slightly going off the rails and it has a chaotic energy that really wakes you up. There’s one scene in particular which stands out, when Crystal’s character interrupts a live recording of a TV show he works for to chastise the performers delivery. It’s genuinely hilarious and the reaction from it gives you a very warm feeling. It’s a scene that’s really needed as it closes off one of the running jokes, and it’s also the last big laugh scene of the movie. After that it gets very serious. You need that comedic high before you go to the depressing lows, it accentuates both beautifully. When this film hits, it hits hard. Part of that is because of how funny it is, the mood whiplash the film provides is perfect.

This is not a perfect film though, the plot is a little bit too predictable at times, and the moment where he has a “moment” at work in front of colleagues is never really followed up on enough. It felt like they couldn’t think of a good way to carry on that story, but ignoring it means that a huge part of his life and character is ignored, and it would have been nice to see how the cast react to the news. Either they’re told, and we get to see their concern or worry. Or they just get told he’s gone away, and we see how they react to that. As it is it’s just dropped and forgotten.

There are also moments where it seems to be veering into rom-com territory, which is just strange to watch and doesn’t really work. It works better when they focus on the friendship and don’t bother with the romantic side (which they don’t up dealing with anyway).

Is still a really good watch though. The writing is brilliant, as are the performers. I now want to see Louisa Krause in more things, there’s something of the Helen Hunt about her and she is just incredibly loveable in her role as his deceased ex-wife. Her scenes are a good example of the best and worst of the film. The flashbacks are all from his POV. It’s a brave move that takes some getting used to but it makes sense, it’s his memory so that’s how he’ll remember it. It really puts you in his shoes. Sadly she has an appearance at the end which doesn’t really work for me. Crystals character goes to a cabin they shared, he’s there with his family being all cosy and facing the future, and gets a vision of her sitting nearby. I get what they were going for but it didn’t really work for me and just seemed a little silly. Would have been better if it dissolved from him and his family there, to him and her there in the past talking about the future. Would have given the film a moment of visual beauty, which it doesn’t really have enough of (the beauty mainly coming through character moments).

The section leading up to that shot is great though. His family being told about his condition, and the instant 180 from “we hate him” to “he’s our dad and we need him, we can’t have our final interaction be what it was” is believable and is genuinely making me tear up just recalling it here. That’s what this film leaves me with. Not the dull final shot, but the emotion the whole thing made me feel. Truly beautiful and I highly recommend it (plus the ending is made up for by Haddish doing a Bob Dylan cover, which I truly didn’t expect).

Censor (2021)

Quick Synopsis: A film censor (Niamh Algar) is convinced a horror movie she is watching is linked to the disappearance of her sister in this throwback horror directed and written by Prano Bailey-Bond

This is a strange film. It’s essentially a love letter to 80s horror movies of a specific type, the ones with gore so exaggerated it was obviously fake. The way it’s done is masterful, it would have been okay if they told this like a modern film, and made it feel like a 2021 film, it still would have worked. But the fact that the director used film-making techniques to make it FEEL like it was from the 80s REALLY helped it. It sets it’s tone very early, using low-tech dated logos. Changing the logos can be a great way to get people IN early, it allows you to set the tone immediately and I wish more films did it as it seems like the only genres that do are comedies, occasionally horrors do but not often.

That feeling permeates the entire film. It feels like it’s not just from the 80s, but from a very specific time in the 80s, when video nasties were a concern and horror had an underground boom, where cheaply made slashers were everywhere and being sold in weird video shops. It brings to mind not only the time, but also those films. I mentioned this was done by the way it looked, but the sound also helped. It has a weird lo-fi soundtrack that really suits it.

The whole thing just FEELS like it’s from another time. Even the script feels like a throwback. In a modern film it would have been death throughout. This is more about setting a tone, all building up to a murderous scene of carnage and horror. And WHAT an ending, it plays with reality beautifully and ends in a way that’s both beautiful and bloody. This is a horror based around the characters, the scenes on their own don’t mean much. But because you’ve grown to love these characters, know their backstories etc, you GET the ending. You get why it happened and what it means, and why it hits as horrifyingly and beautifully as it does.

It’s not just the directing etc, the performances are great too. Niahm Algar looks broken throughout and it’s amazing to watch. Even when she’s saying things she’s certain about, her face still seems unsure. It’s perfect for the character and I want to see her in more stuff. She’s backed up by a group of performers who are more known among British sitcom fans, featuring stars of The Thick Of It, Nathan Barley, and Alan Partridge. It’s definitely a showcase for the talent of Algar though. Occasionally you get a performer who you truly feel is representing the directors vision, and I feel Algar is doing this for Bailey-Bond. Her performance feels like it suits the character, the film, everything about it. I really hope the two of them work together in the future as they compliment each other wonderfully.

I also want to see more from Bailey-Bond. This is her debut feature film and it’s incredibly strong. It’s like the work of someone who’s three or four films into their career. She’s done a few shorts which are now on my list to watch. (Man Vs. Sand, The Trip, and Nasty). The best parts of this film are due to her, and I’m glad that unique voices like hers are finally being amplified.

It’s hard to discuss this movie and why you should watch it without spoiling moments of it. I normally have no objections to spoiling plot points, but I feel I can’t for this as it will severely impact your viewing experience. This is a film that needs to be watched as blind as possible. You need it to unfold as you watch it and “enjoy”.

Our Ladies (2019)

Quick Synopsis: A school choir drinks and flirts their way through 1996 Edinburgh in this beautiful coming of age story based on an Alan Warner book.

I should preface this by pointing out the obvious: I don’t think I’m the main audience for this. This may surprise you, but I did not go to a Scottish Catholic school for girls in the 90s so I don’t know what that experience was like. But when a film is good enough, it transcends those social boundaries, it’s why I still love films like The Duff or Tomorrowland. With this…..I feel it went slightly against it. I felt a definite disconnect between myself and the film.

That might have been due to the directing. Caton-Jones has a lot of experience and is obviously talented as his filmography shows. But I feel this didn’t seem like his story to tell. He has done similar films before, thinking specifically of Urban Hymn. But with this there’s just a few moments where it doesn’t quite feel personal enough. The film has moments which should be emotional and really hit you, but for whatever reason they don’t and I can’t quite figure out why.

Maybe that is because you are always aware that it’s a film about female sexuality that’s definitely from a male gaze. The only consequence of sex seeming to be pregnancy. Where older men ply schoolgirls with alcohol and take them home, and this is seen as a comedic setpiece. Even when they go to the police and talk about being robbed by a guy who they met in a whorehouse (that they didn’t know was a whorehouse) the noncommittal response of the police is played for comedy as opposed to the frustration and slight horror it should have. The film also struggles comedically in one or two moments. There are lines which are structurally jokes, but you feel there really should have been something funnier there (one of which is in the trailer).

There are also some issues with timing, the dramatic changing of locations make it seem more episodic than a film should be. You can almost feel the “next time on…” breaks at certain points in the film. I say this a lot but I feel this would have been better if it was a series. It wouldn’t have required a prohibitively large budget. The moments where characters are split up and have their own adventures could have been given an episode each character. It also would have meant the fireworks part near the end would have seemed more like a finale than it currently does.

Those are smallish issues though. It is still a really fun watch. That’s mainly down to the dynamic between the characters. You feel the friendship between the group and scenes where they just sit around talking shit are delightful, made so by both the performances and the dialogue. There are a lot of genuine laughs and there’s a real sense of joy that goes through the film, you will spend a lot of time with a smile on your face.

It also does a great job of setting the time. It really FEELS like a 90s film. If it was a 90s film, it is one with some moments which wouldn’t have aged well though, specifically a scene where the main characters (who I should remind you, are schoolgirls) flash truck drivers. Yeah, bit awkward. Does take you away from the film slightly, but not too much. Still a film that’s well worth watching. Maybe you don’t need to see it at the cinema though. But when it comes out on DVD and you can get it as part of a deal with another film, check it out. The best thing I can say about it is it automatically makes you want to call up your friends and hang out with them like you used to. It gives you a really personal nostalgia, and that’s wonderful.

Candyman (2021)

Quick Synopsis: An artist delves into the Candyman mythos and it starts to slowly take over his life.

I will freely admit, I haven’t seen any of the original Candyman films, so I am going into this mostly blind. Pretty much all I know is the basic plot, and that Tony Todd is in it (or to give him his full name: Tony Freaking Todd). That might have made it harder for me to enjoy this film as there are quite a few returning characters who I just didn’t get. On the other hand, if I did know, then it might have ruined one of the “twists” as it would have been obvious what had really happened, so it would have been only an internal reveal, the audience already aware.

I’m not really sure who this was aimed at, the lengths they go to to include all those references to the original make me think it’s aimed at seasoned fans of the franchise. But the fact it was advertised based on creating something new, that it didn’t talk about a “return” made it seem new, even the name made it seem like a new start and a reboot. Compare this to Halloween. Which firmly established itself as a sequel that ignored all but the first film. I also hadn’t seen any Halloween films before I saw that one, but that did a much better job of establishing who the character is, and what he does. This doesn’t really do a good job of establishing what it is the character can actually do. It focuses a lot on “say his name and he’ll appear”, but it doesn’t establish whether he feels physical pain, whether he can be reasoned with, or even deal that much with the mirrors. The character mostly exists in mirrors, unable to be seen in the real world. This means that the film is missing that core aspect of a horror film: the fightback. At no point does any character even begin to look like they can fight back, there’s no “will they survive” to any of the deaths as you know they won’t. So there’s no tension, every death is the equivalent of a train approaching somebody tied to a railway track, you know they’re going to die so the slow nature of it just draws out the inevitable.

It’s not as though the film itself is slow and drawn out, there are moments where it’s painfully rushed. 90 minutes is not long enough to tell a story like this. The film has to do A LOT. It has to introduce the main character in his normal life, then introduce the lore, have the character be uncertain then be presented with evidence, then research it more etc. You need to do a lot for a film like this, and that requires time, and this film just doesn’t have it.

The third act in particular really suffers from the rushed nature. The third act reveal could really work, and the concept itself is exciting and could lead to a great sequel. But the way it’s handled in this is shockingly bad, with REALLY important details rushed over in a sentence or two, so the true implications of the reveal don’t have time to breathe. I’m not asking for a five hour horror film, just another 15 minutes or so would have really helped this.

Now onto the good, it looks amazing. Nia DaCosta is lined up to do The Marvels film, and I’m really excited about what she could bring visually to it. There’s some very cool concepts in this, the idea of the shadow puppets being used to tell some of the stories is interesting, bringing to mind the works of Lotte Reiniger. Her use of angles too are interesting, making even standard scenes have a sense of dread. It’s also suitably gory, and the score is pretty damn intense too. Would I recommend this? It’s hard to say, I feel if you go see a few films a year, maybe skip it. If you want to just sit and be scared, go see it. Also, if you’re interested in film-making I’d go to see it purely so you can study the techniques they use. I’d say it’s more important than it is good.

It did give me one of the stupidest comments I’ve seen on film twitter though:

Yeah, stupid woke Hollywood, taking a story about a former slaves son who was lynched and tortured for falling in love with a white woman, and somehow making it about race. What’s next? Making a film where we actually are supposed to sympathise with the creature in Frankenstein? Or a Nightmare On Elm Street film where it turns out Freddy Krueger is actually the villain just because he kills people? Snowflakes!

People Just Do Nothing: Big In Japan (2021)

Quick Synopsis: Years after they split, Kurupt FM find out one of their songs is being used on a game show in Japan, so head out to sign a record deal.

I watched the series last year, which was almost the perfect time in preparation for this film as it meant I still had to wait for it, so I still got the anticipation, but I didn’t have to wait very long for it so a lot of it was still in my mind. The show occupies a certain section in my mind reserved for sitcoms where I enjoy watching it, I recommend it to people, but I couldn’t pick an episode to watch to suggest to people. I was quite excited about this, but also slightly worried it wasn’t happening. All I knew about it was the basic plot, and it was due out in August of this year. As the year went on I was slightly concerned that I hadn’t heard anything, and then the trailer came out and I was relieved, it was happening, and I knew I was going to see it.

I was still slightly concerned about the quality though, film adaptations have a somewhat mixed history. They’re tricky to pull off as if you make them the same as the show then it can seem pointless, but if you make them too big in comparison, then you risk losing the essence of what the show real. The standard fix for this is just “send them on holiday”. I feel the measurement for success or failure for this depends on one aspect: the side characters. If you have too many background characters “just happen” to join them then it seems unrealistic, one or two is okay though.

The way they’ve done it in here makes sense, other than the main group only two other cast members go with them. One is their manager who pays for it himself so he doesn’t feel left out, the other is the wife of one of the group members, who invites herself. Both of those make a lot of sense for those characters to do so it doesn’t seem out of place.

This film is bigger than the show, it feels slightly more professional and slick, but only slightly. It’s not suddenly turned into a 3 camera sitcom with incredible lighting and sound. It still has the feeling of a guy following them with a camera. The characters haven’t changed too much either, they’re still the lovably unlovable slightly pathetic people we know and don’t love but enjoy watching. The new characters slide perfectly into the ensemble cast too. Although for one of them you are left wondering whether he is actually trying to make them fail, and if so, why because he’s spending all that money? It would have made more sense if the group was pushed upon them by a manager who he is trying to get fired, so he’s pretending to be doing all he can whilst doing things he know will cause the group harm.

I’m not sure how this will hit for people who didn’t like the show. I think they’ll still enjoy it. The film does enough to signpost who the characters are that you won’t feel lost. Actually now thinking about it I think there are times where they actually repeat jokes from the series. But that makes sense in context as not every conversation you have with someone is brand new, you do say the same things to multiple people at times, so it’s okay if that happens in the series, it’s not like they’re having the exact same “wacky coincidences” happen. They still make you laugh a lot.

Now onto the downsides: it does still feel “funny” but nothing else. As much as I did enjoy it, I’m in no rush to go out and watch it again. It’s standard popcorn/time filler, that’s all you get from it. Sometimes that’s what you need though. It would be a shame if this was how the series ended because there is still a lot of potential left in these characters. But I also wouldn’t complain if this was the end. It’s pretty much a “the end…..or is it?” to the series, leaving it open for more, but providing closure if that’s what’s needed.