Quick-Thoughts: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

My prayers go out to all the stubborn American moviegoers who went into this movie not expecting to read subtitles. Oh, the challenges they must’ve faced reading about half a page’s length of words.

So… this was meh? It started off pretty f**king unbearable and awkward at first, but then it got more entertaining towards the end when it decided to increase its absurdities with some lore madness and decently choreographed action spectacles, plus Tony Leung and Simu Liu’s semi-toxic family dynamic explored in the third act saved this from being a total narrative bore, but every other quality to this movie I just found to be driven entirely by the go-to lazy and generic western blockbuster procedural. This may also be the most unfunny MCU movie yet that’s ALWAYS trying to be funny, or perhaps I’m just fatigued by their formula for comedy at this point. We can’t forget too how this is all topped off by often gauche plot writing and expositional bogging. Yeah, MCU movies ain’t doing too hot right now for me this year. I know this is a really quick and depthless review, but hopefully you’ll at least take my recommendation of watching Loki instead if you’re looking for some fresh hope in this franchise.

Verdict: C-

2021 Ranked, MCU Ranked

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is now playing in theaters.

Quick-Thoughts: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1 (2010)

Screened at Harkins • 3rd Viewing

The first act of Deathly Hallows Part 1 has maybe the best momentum in this franchise since Prisoner of Azkaban. David Yates’s action sequences here feel nearly as fresh as they did in Order of the Phoenix, although not nearly as visually gaudy as them, but rather so conditioning themselves into a more murky and Jason Bourne-esc aesthetic in hindsight of the grittier tone. Very early on, the story also brings back the Nazi regime allegory that has now become far more present in this franchise than ever before with the Mudblood racism being the crux of propaganda in Voldemort’s army. 

As the movie progresses, however, I think it gets weaker and weaker, but not enough so for it to be anti-entertaining cause boy does it surpass Half-Blood Prince in those regards, but just in its sudden change of pace and furthermore its rushed finale. This to me is the most contrasting Harry Potter movie from all of the other ones; it features that classic “finding happiness through distraction during times of crisis” theme going on, which gives it a lot more breathability and space compared to the other Harry Potter entries, yet this utter tone of hopelessness too for what these young people have to do in order to be okay with the situation at hand as they become obsessed with the names of the deceased that are constantly listed off as they hide from this outside bloodshed blanked from their vision. The narrative also essentially forces Harry to trace back his entire life beforehand in connection with Voldemort, as if this first parter was meant to be some sort of recap anticipator for the finale that is Part 2. The lack of having a mentor is felt well in this movie not to mention too, and the use of Harry’s shattered mirror constantly relays this. The exposition dump of the Tale of the Three Brothers has always been a personal favorite segment of mine because of its charming animated book-tale qualities and how it ultimately provokes itself into the modern narrative of the war at hand.

There is another trend though that I’ve begun to pick up on since Year 4, being that almost every one of these movies has to end with someone dying quite dramatically, and I feel like the final death in this one was a bit of a tacked-on service to add more emotional tragedy to the film’s drama; the plot conveniences get super noticeable too during this climax, as well, which doesn’t help it feel any less last-minute than it already does. Deathly Hallows Part 1 may have the least complex plot out of all the films to me, and I think that’s sort of why it has been a win or lose situation for most hardcore fans of the franchise. Nonetheless, I personally think it is one of the better movies of the darker entries, but I do think it’s exhilarating first act sort of sets the rest of the film up for a moody subversion that’s likely not going to resonate with some audiences. I can’t help but kind of appreciate it though. 

Verdict: B-

Harry Potter Ranked

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1” is now available to stream on HBO Max.

Quick-Thoughts: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009)

Screened at Harkins • ??? Viewing • Warning: Spoilers Ahead

Congrats to Romilda Vane for landing herself a spot on the Wizarding World’s FBI watchlist. 

It’s been nearly a YEAR since I got cucked from my in-cinemas Harry Potter marathon due to COVID-19 restrictions in the area, but alas, I’ve returned! The sixth year at Hogwarts somewhat revolves once again around Harry trying to find ways to figure out another mystery, one that, howbeit, doesn’t lead him to any profound revelation; the movie decides to keep him in the dark just for now to heighten the tension for its sequels. In terms of character development, he seems to have a new sense of pride and acceptance for his destiny. During so, he is also mildly alerted of his prejudice/bias mindset that the movie then sets up for him to have shattered in Part 2 of Deathly Hallows. I feel pretty confident in claiming that Half-Blood Prince is by far the most comedic and romantic Harry Potter movie thus far. Ultimately, it’s a blessing and a curse, granting us mildly amusing YA love triangles and friendship quarrels to chortle at that are further elevated by some quirky character gesturing, dispatching the overall film with a more sitcom-esc finish than its previous entries. However, this paramount of light-hearted tone fatally suppresses the drama of the film, maybe not to the extent though of it being as bizarrely balanced in tone as Mike Newell’s Goblet of Fire (2005), but it still remains roughly organized sequentially with its structure nonetheless. 

One could easily make the case that this movie was covertly Draco and Tom’s all along, with Tom’s backstory being placed as consummation for Harry’s shortage of personal journey, although, all this movie really does is convince me further of Voldemort’s tediously innate evil as if he were just some less justifiable Darth Vader, which makes him, again, not that interesting of a villain to me still. Draco, on the other hand, is just so underutilized in this; I guess him being a victim hidden in the shadows of circumstance is the point of his minimalist exploration, but him literally having to explain his situation quickly for us in dialogue during the climax indicates perfectly to me that even the screenwriters themselves didn’t think they gave the audience enough weight for us to empathize honestly with his struggle, one that could’ve been executed to a far more awakening and intense degree.

This is also one of the slowest films in the franchise due to its damning issues of inserting serious drama aimlessly in the midst of its spasmodic plot; some of the most awe-striking sequences in this franchise lie within Half-Blood Prince like when Harry and Dumbledore visit The Dark Lake, yet they are crowded into this tonally inconsistent timeline of prominently innocent affairs. And, I know that most of the Harry Potter movies pride themselves on having some sort of a plot twist in their climaxes, but I find the whole “I am the Half-Blood Prince” reveal in this one to be particularly pathetic as if its primary reason for existing was literally just to stick to the franchise’s tradition; the relevancy of that notebook’s content to Snape’s nickname of background does nothing for me in the moment of this actual movie, and even barely enough so to work as some metaphorical foreshadow of what we learn about Snape in Part 2 of Deathly Hallows — i.e. he was helping Harry this entire time and he’s an undercover hero marked evil. Frankly, I think the reason why this sixth entry decided to feature so much comedy and romance at the forefront of it is because it needed something to compensate or justify itself as something that works on its own rights singularly, considering an unfortunate majority of its themes are only here as set-up to be completed in the two following sequels, which ultimately damaged the film’s entertainment value for me.

Verdict: C+

Harry Potter Ranked

“Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince” is now available to stream on HBO Max.

Quick-Thoughts: John Waters’ Female Trouble (1974)

Nobody loves God more than John Waters…

Not nearly as entertaining nor as provocative as Pink Flamingos (1972) for me personally, and maybe a teeny bit too cognate to it as well, but John Waters’ theory on how its possible for the human mind to turn initial perceptions of disgust and atrocity into that of beauty and comedy as long as you normalize it truly shines in Female Trouble. By employing absurd reversals of typical cultural desperations for self-image, Waters then emphasizes how innate desires for attention and glory really aren’t as exclusive as we may seem to think they are in our own cultures, discerning that our only segregations in them are based strictly on the trendy rules of your social circle. Following these rules though are hardly a match when they become faced with punishment or death! “Now who wants to die for art?” 

And yeah, Water clearly finds pleasure specifically however with mocking white trash American lifestyles when it comes to the uber egocentrism of them, overshadowing the love for their future generations and popularizing yet tantalizing their legacy because of it.

Verdict: B-

“Female Trouble” is now available to purchase from The Criterion Collection.

Quick-Thoughts: Bob Fosse’s All That Jazz (1979)

“Now, when I see a rose, that’s perfect. I mean, that’s perfect! I want to look up to God and say, ‘how the hell did you do that? And why the hell can’t I do that?’” 

So well shot and paced with the kind of adrenaline rush that’s quite rare to come by, Bob Fosse’s very personal piece All That Jazz clocks in on a self-destructive personality of your go-to party-, sex-, and big-headed celebrity wearing out his illusions as lethally as possible until facing near collisions with termination. Guilt finally becomes material for a deemed god only when its coerced into a last minute ordeal, and even at that, there’s still always a need to overdramatize those moments as an egocentric artist. I absolutely loved whenever the choreography of dances here were so sensually in-sync with the heated drama, plus the repetition of its spontaneous inserts and sound editing truly feels caged exclusively in the saturating mind of our lead star. 

8 1/2” needs to be coined as its own genre at this point though. 

Verdict: B+

“All That Jazz” is now available to purchase from The Criterion Collection.

Quick-Thoughts: Robert Altman’s Nashville (1975)

Screened at The Frida Cinema

Robert Altman’s anti-political political movie. My politics are just overrated traditions, I say!

A frank, festive, and homey freelancing mood piece spoken as both a conversationalist and a countryside music nut’s depiction of the everyday ups and downs of the U.S. common folk. This is a movie that appears more lost in the moment rather politically charged despite its obvious story circumstances, feeling quite careless and unemotional towards any of the dramas it presents given the reality of how continuous the ego and attention-driven similarities and simplicities of all our individual habits are for which American culture has taught us on. By constantly cutting off so many rants and tragedies in the midst of their points with scenarios polar opposite to them, Altman really hammers this ground of neutralism home. Nashville is definitely an annual must watch for the semi-nihilistic and brain numb 4th of July or election day enthusiast (aka, me and most citizens of this country) who ironically celebrate its lead ups for the aimless social joys, mundanities, and disappointments that are welded into it rather than for its intended, glorified purposes, as most big events, holidays, or celebrations have sort of evolved to here. 

God bless, Geraldine Chaplin’s funny personality in this too!

Verdict: B+

“Nashville” is now available to rent on Amazon Prime.

Quick-Thoughts: Nia DaCosta’s Candyman

Omg, they played Shameika

Nia DaCosta’s reboot / sequel is cursed by its 1992 original. Her direction here is so, so, SO strong when it comes to camerawork, composition — like WOW are the presentation of kills gnarly! — and its unconventionally daydreamy tone, that I would honestly consider her effort superior to the original if there were a Philip Glass score inserted in somewhere and if they banished its dependency for on-the-nose dialogue. Seriously, this follow-up basically just exists as some “spelled out” variant of its predecessor with all its copycat themes and now unambiguous messages being oscillated chaotically between so many elongated character harangues. From historical self-healing through vengeance / violence, real-life inspired expression through artistic fiction, gentrification as a result of white supremacy, and to innocence becoming a victim of truth, what here is being said exactly that the original Candyman hasn’t already expressed and better? The film’s janky plot also feels like a first draft, desperately in need too of a more natural length, and by the time the end of the second act reveals the film’s (yep, you guessed it!) first “big twist”, being one of the oldest tricks in the book when it comes to horror continuations, I sort of accepted its mundane and increasingly goofier course of events from there on out.

However, this reboot is probably more likely going to work for you if you’ve never seen the original, given how disappointing the similarities of the two are. Who knows though, if I were to ever rewatch this again, maybe I’ll come around to liking it as I did when I rewatched Bernard Rose’s Candyman. Nonetheless, as of now, Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfeld have somehow let me down with this script. Although, I’m so excited to experience DaCosta’s future projects because she’s got some serious style!

Verdict: C+

2021 Ranked

“Candyman” will be playing in theaters August 27th. 

Quick-Thoughts, Again: Bernard Rose’s Candyman (1992)

Warning: Spoilers Ahead • 2nd Viewing

Candyman has actually grown on me this past year and a half, and I’ve also rewatched it in preparation for the reboot, which led me to appreciating it even more so. It’s quite the uncanny allegory for superiority complexes in class, specifically depicting the gap between privileged cultures and primarily black ones set in the projects, and how a young white lady goes from viewing an urban legend as a joke — an obvious representation to actual horrors that have happened or are happening to black people in America for which did or continue to go unnoticed / to be disregarded because of the social and psychological mindset of refusing to believe something that comes from a lower class than oneself — to being caught head first as a bystander in the physical heat of its terrors, witnessing a series of murders by this historically prevalent and ongoing killer, until it becomes so rooted in her own life that this mysterious boogeyman inhabits a near reversal of Chicago’s black trauma to that of the community that created it, murdering a white scientist character towards the third act, a man whose culture has a past deeply rooted in inhumane black exploitations for research, and murdering a husband by her own hands who is a part of the academic culture which is occasionally criticized for filtering out graphic knowledge of historical horrors. As industrializations continue, covering up the past more and more, the trauma of fallen victims are then passed on through a secondary means known as “urban lore”, a last attempt at keeping them fresh and us fearful for frolicking in what the very creation of Chicago itself started as. Because the war began, it forced us to never end it because of how it cheated out people of color. Our knowledge is so buried of this at times though, that absurd stories become the key leaders in forcing us to finally notice them, ones that are representative of truths in our immoral pasts that have come to harming all parties in a city now brimmed with crime, segregation, and denial because of it. Ahh…

Where my main criticism from my original review of Candyman was that the film was just a run-of-the-mill slasher plot starring your token “isolated” protagonist, reminding me a bit too much of flicks such as Child’s Play (1988) but coated with loose commentary which thinks it’s more cerebral than it actually is — a real s**t excuse for me just missing the point of the entire movie —, I now realize that it’s intentionally using these run-of-the-mill slasher clichés to slightly enhance that very formula with some intimacy, surpassing the value of a majority of its sub-genre. None of the main character’s colleagues in Candyman believe the stories she tells because humans dislike facing realities unless they’re forced into them literally, and that seems to be a core issue of why people have trouble sympathizing with any contrasting cultural struggles or historical ones that simply aren’t their own unless it becomes there’s, kind of like how Chicago’s glaring homicidal problems have become an issue for its entire population, some obviously more than others. It’s plying that corny “nobody believes the person who’s actually right” chestnut as a way to connect the audience to messages uncommon in this particular horror genre. Whether or not Candyman is real, he is an embodiment of violence in Chicago, a continuing result of rooted historical prejudice, something director and writer Bernard Rose seems to think isn’t acknowledged enough therefore harming the present with ignorance towards the core of crime in gang related affiliations, and how it all began and how myth has become the symbolic means of consoling it. Our main character basically gets “woke” — haha? — or whatever by accepting these hallucinatory visions of this figure that are however paralleled to the reality of ancient and modern transgressions, connecting her closer in relatability to a tragic story such as Candyman’s. He goes as far as to encourage her to embrace feelings of vengeance for how her life has transpired with the betrayal that’s occurred through means of eternal haunting, just as he had. Stories powerful enough can sometimes inspire that in people who now have nothing to lose, allowing the individual to make their own malicious methods to pave their tale, becoming immortal in the minds of the human race’s successors as some form of an inward-looking coping mechanism and as a vicious threat to never let their atrocities happen again. That is why fables are written in the first place, right? 

I must admit, I poorly interpreted this movie on my initial watch, because I’m now starting to recognize that a lot of the flaws I had with it at first are just subtle, plot-based pawns that are there to get its message across further, using genre trope stereotypes and transforming them into applicable substance for a simple yet admirable social statement. Roger Ebert said it best: “What I liked was a horror movie that was scaring me with ideas and gore, instead of simply with gore.” It’d furthermore be difficult for me to not recall just how solid some technicalities of the film still are to me as well, which is more than enough of a reason to give it a positive score this time. Philip F**KING Glass!!!

Verdict: C+ —> B

The Greatest Horror Movies Ever

“Candyman” is now available to stream on Peacock.

Quick-Thoughts: Martin Scorsese’s The Last Temptation of Christ (1988)

Don’t know what Willem Dafoe is doing playing the role of himself in this movie but okay.

Figuring out the path as you walk the path is the purpose of the path. Paul Schrader adapts a pretty introspective depiction of the internal battle of Jesus Christ and the two minds living in his soul, incrementally becoming more and more of a loosened, final host for God. Martin Scorsese’s direction of hallucinogenic-like special effects, editing, and camera personalities weave neatly with the audible grace of the time period’s perceived musical and dramatic commonalities as well, making The Last Temptation of Christ quite the exceptional experience, not to mention more importantly though how its contemplative reimagining of the legendary Gospel is what really makes it an unusual stand out in the filmmaker’s catalog. 

I suppose Christ still manages to appear as life’s greatest plot device in this, but through a far different and less determined lens than your average ascribing of his narrative, one that seems interested in our innate reluctancy for predetermination, using Satan and God as metaphorical figures of prophesies we devise to pave out our journey in conflicting desires, therefore humanizing Christ as a regular person with flawed duties rather than how he is usually referred to as the selfless Messiah who saved all with one spick and span scheme created by the Lord — sheesh, no wonder this film caught so much controversy. Judas’s alteration is also insanely contrasting here, depicting him not as someone who betrays Christ purely of greed, but as someone who was self-aware of the necessity of committing a betrayal because he knew it was God’s plan. It circles back to this concept of the aimlessness of being a follower. How can we worship or follow a plan of God when we can’t tell if it’s Him or the Devil speaking? Why is this plan so expected of completion upon our hesitant hands when all it takes is one unwilling host to ruin it all? If there is a plan, why does God punish those when free-will is practically fictional in the sacred texts of the Gospel? Is the symbolism of His graphic event really that important to be seen as truth, especially when its content is so easy to be misinterpreted by His children as shown in the film, or should it be read only as artistic and moral inspiration? It’s been around 2,000 years since the tale was told and yet we in the present age still cannot come to an agreeable consensus on whether or not God wants us to show His love or His anger after the death and rebirth of Christ. That says a lot, but maybe that’s what makes stories special: the subjectivity of them, not the correct answers behind their creators.

“How could I be the Messiah when those people were torturing Magdalene, I wanted to kill them?”

If Christ is the son of man, then he must think like a man, right? Wow, Shoutout to Scorsese, Schrader, and Kazantzakis for their chad take on the Gospel! 

Verdict: B+

Martin Scorsese Ranked

“The Last Temptation of Christ” is now available to stream on Starz.

Quick-Thoughts: Neill Blomkamp’s Demonic

Well, at least I got to see the weirdest product placement for Uggs ever. 

In the case of feature-lengths, Neill Blomkamp’s career has declined much like that of M. Night Shyamalan’s. After debuting his first directorial motion picture District 9 (2009), an absolute critical and box-office success that pushed the boundaries of mockumentary filmmaking with its satirical blend of harmless aliens and political drama, he released two mediocre follow-ups titled Elysium (2013) and Chappie (2015), movies that expressed similar vibes to his kickoff but with a hindrance from their half-baked and pedestrian dystopian commentaries. It seems as if Blomkamp, in the midst of having his chance to direct an Alien sequel canceled, has geared towards making high-octane short films instead to fill up the time in presence of coming up with new ideas for a fourth feature-length, which has now resulted in the low-budget thriller we see here. 

Demonic unfortunately is nothing more than an irredeemably cliché possession story meeting ends with a — slightly less offensive — cliché virtual reality story, knotting the two together as if their very mission were to express the word “vanilla” seamlessly. There is only one concept in this entire movie that I found to be somewhat interesting, and there are admittedly a few neat visual spectacles as to be expected from a Blomkamp production, but other than that, every other element here falls flat. There is like no momentum to the film as well, so it’s excruciating to sit through. The sound design, particularly during the horror sequences, was unbelievably obnoxious too; sinfully amateur one might say! 

So, yes, you could say I’m extremely disappointed. I can’t say that I have a whole lot of hope for Blomkamp to get back on track anytime soon especially after this atrocity. Three strikes, man. 

Verdict: D-

2021 Ranked

“Demonic” is now playing in theaters.