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: 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: 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.

Quick-Thoughts: The Night House

Honestly, this movie is worth the price of admission alone just so you can experience what may be the greatest use of a jump scare I’ve witnessed yet. Sound design chads, unite!

In spite of my jump scare comment, The Night House much more leans towards the mystery thriller genre than it does the horror. While the subject matter at hand is quite horrifying in its own right, it’s explored with that same curiosity something such as a Gone Girl (2014) had, and that’s probably going to piss off a chunk of audience members going in with straightforward slash n’ dash expectations. The puzzle piecing here is intriguing enough though even with its psychological confrontations of treacherous realities treading some familiar ground, but it still ultimately pays off with Rebecca Hall’s dominating performance also making up for what ends up accumulating into a needlessly overplayed and blunt finale, almost to a point of ingenuity with the down to earth and cautious dramatic tone of its previous acts; I understand its desire for internal explosion, but it shouldn’t have required the cheap plot tension to go along with it. When there are scares in this film though — especially in that first half — they are shot really REALLY creatively, and you can tell David Bruckner actually gives a s**t about nearly every frame he films. 

I hope for the near future of his career he can join the ranks of an Ari Aster or a Robert Eggers hype train with this whole horror drama renaissance going on if he were to continuously improve on these commendable ambitions. I’m looking forward to seeing his Hellraiser reboot now too. 

Verdict: B-

2021 Ranked

“The Night House” is now playing in theaters.

Quick-Thoughts: Don’t Breathe 2

The last line of Don’t Breathe 2 should’ve been, “Rey Skywalker”. If you’ve seen the movie, you know.

To a degree, I can respect this sequel for attempting to top the absurd shock-value twists and turns that partly made its predecessor the talk of the town during its initial release, and while a few of them are genuinely decent as “ideas” in this scheme of reaching for the craziest, they are all just executed horrendously. Somehow the big reveals of this movie, as nutty as some of them are, were unable to shock me as much as how pea brained and of a joke the plot used to express them did. Like, pretty much nothing in this narrative actually makes any sense with the added material it constantly implements throughout its runtime, with almost every following revelation opening up a whole new closet full of story holes.

Watching the desired tension coming from the cat and mouse direction in Don’t Breathe 2 is literally the equivalent to watching a 90 minute Last of Us (2013) gameplay video (if that game were hypothetically boring and stuck on one level) with every character in this movie having that same bugged AI-generated bot logic as the NPCs do, as well as having those near invincible bar levels of health like the user-controlled players do. Also, you know this movie was doomed from the start thinking that they should rely on having literally FIVE (three of which are JUST in the climax) homages to the original Don’t Breathe as if the first one was some cult classic that audience members were dying to see constantly referenced. I mean, that has to be breaking some new world cinema record for shortest time between release date of an original and release date of its cruddy sequel that references its predecessor constantly, right? 

Anyways, if you’re just dying to see the way, way, way more f**ked up version of Logan (2017), now’s your chance.

Verdict: D

2021 Ranked

“Don’t Breathe 2” is now playing in theaters.

Quick-Thoughts: Nine Days

“I send flowers, and other people send pigs to eat them.”

I love this concept. What if every select few people had their own god who brings them into the world and watches over them, hoping for success, or who knows, maybe some gods are more sinister than others with which souls they choose to pave the world, as if all gods were competing for who could create the best lives. A god by the name of “Will” in this unique universe that first-timer Edson Oda has both written and directed seems to be constantly experimenting with which souls would better the existence of their own lives and not life all around, as if he were their guardian or parent. Will appears to represent your standard god here who begins contemplating if this competitive system of choosing a soul to live is broken and if nobody can truly know an individual through observation or conversation with them as he watches his previous chosen ones’ lives in retrospect and meets a soul self-named Emma who understands this discrepancy between say vs. do. In this case, Nine Days decently replicates the struggle of a god as a creator but also as a character who was once human. I say “decently” however because not only was the resolution to Will’s journey far too superfluous for my taste, but the drawback of this is to blame from the film as a whole having this unpleasant habit to sort of unimaginatively plot out the dramatic conflict he constantly faces with “eye-opening” uber-stereotypical personality types as if he were an amateur experiencing this job for only an eighth or ninth time, which should’ve been established instead to make this story seem more believable. 

Nonetheless, I do at least appreciate the film’s disclosure that some gods would probably play it by a “survival rate” theory rather than a “moral rate” theory, precisely calculating the longevity of existing time an individual would likely have rather than on other factors for which may be worth considering. Strangely enough though, I think Nine Days successfully does what M. Night Shyamalan’s latest Old wanted to accomplish: to make us appreciate life a little more from showing a series of candidates fighting to have one in the first place by proving there worth through toughness and perseverance, something some of us don’t even think we have in the first place, yet, here we live.

Verdict: B-

2021 Ranked

“Nine Days” is now playing in select theaters.

Quick-Thoughts: Leos Carax’s Annette

This is sadly now my least favorite of Leos Carax’s work — Annette is basically the La La Land (2016) of his career with its cut and dry Hollywood story enriched nonetheless by the intense effort behind its visual presentation and ironically yeah it happens to be a musical as well — not to say though it’s necessarily a misfire.

Written entirely by the Spark Brothers, this is a cynical, unfiltered reflection of the celebrity mindset with its eternal blabbering of voices and thoughts faced in a universe of the main character’s mental competition for fame. I found there to be a lick of Pierrort le Fou (1965) to its diabolical romantic structure, with Adam Driver as the lead of said tragedy essentially playing Bo Burnham’s long-lost evil brother, and I can’t lie when I say that his intoxicating performance pretty much saved the movie for me. There’s some resourceful editing decisions nonetheless used here and there to compliment the outgoing music, with a lot of the songs mocking actions through repetition in classic Sparks tradition. From this to the intentionally stock-audience audio effects, Carax and the band’s attempts at making us awkwardly laugh at the obvious seems to reveal a sad reality in disguise with its theatrical explosions of sarcasm. So yes, the “celebrity vs. the crowd” war buried under cancel culture, exploitation, etc. is certainly there and amplified to the max, but Carax gives us a VERY bare bones dramatization of that downfall of the flawed celebrity family lifestyle we sometimes see in media, which to me is way below the brainpower of his past work. It is, however as mentioned before, executed so much more enticingly than its story really deserves with Carax’s usual fever-dream visual and audible surrealism, this time around conveying the merciless state of how fragile the few chances we get in life are. 

Anyhow, please just let Adam Driver officially join Sparks at this point if this movie proved anything. 

Verdict: B-

2021 Ranked, Leos Carax Ranked

“Annette” is now playing in select theaters and will be available to stream on Amazon Prime August 20th.

Quick-Thoughts: James Gunn’s The Suicide Squad

Nihilism moment. 

James Gunn has little sympathy for the dead; we get no exaggerated memorial scenes to jerk off decease-afied fictional characters, and the innocents gashed about are treated almost as disposable as the lead assemble; our narrative is headed by socially-awkward psychopaths who dont give a whole lot of Fs when it comes to the company that surrounds them who are also coincidentally controlled by a fellow psychopath with a corrupt high rank, thus the tone here would only make sense to have this psychotic, nihilistic view of the uncensored terror that reigns in The Suicide Squad

But, that’s good, that’s VERY good especially when being present in our modern overwhelming of superhero stories where most are drafted to seem inhumanly biased towards their perfect savior characters rather than the often thousands of people that have to suffer, die, and even combat themselves around their stories; why not just seem inhuman to all? You could make the case that Gunn is actually mocking David Ayer’s original Suicide Squad (2016): a fiasco of a movie that was so desperate to be more poignant than it needed to be with its forced and mawkish moments of “togetherness” and “friendship”, where in this sequel, it’s pretty much background noise in front of the bullet gashing and shark gnawing, even being played off for laughs at times in consistency with the two hours of — mainly — ego-driven absurdities in violence, competition, betrayal, etc. that precedes it. 

James Gunn directs action as always with the lovable distinction of say superhero fan-favorite Sam Raimi, concocting resourceful ways to shoot action whether or not they seem like just a weak attempt at being quirky or genuinely work to enhance the grip of its colorful pizzaz. Gunn furthermore, unlike the OG Suicide Squad, shows himself capable of writing plenty of competent, grounded, and memorable characters in just a bare amount of time. The highlight scenes for me I’d have to say were the Bloodsport and Peacemaker “show-off”, Harley Quinn’s bright and sadistic hallway show, and a commendable moment with Rick Flag of all characters? Speaking though of highlights, this movie does kind of feel like a pick and choose your favorite moment situation, as if there are already many more squad adventures that have been told in its chronology, competing in moments rather than overall story since story seems, again, like background noise in Gunn’s picture.

I guess what separates The Suicide Squad then from the majority of its genre is that it simply feels like a series of casual side tangents concurring, as if it were being executed in the vein of an actual comic book, hopping to the next or stepping back from the last wacko conundrum with its aimlessness being its charm, yet being extremely careless about it rather than acting as if anything happening should be taken completely serious given how many stories such as these constantly occur in American pop culture’s massive catalog of “save-the-world” superhero tales; it’s strange for a multimillion dollar, blockbuster feature-length with a body count so inflated to be carefree with what’s happening, as if it were nothing more than just a randomly selected action-adventure episode from some off-brand, MA-rated Adult Swim cartoon, but honestly, I kind of rate that.

Verdict: B-

2021 Ranked, DCEU Ranked

“The Suicide Squad” is now playing in theaters and available to stream on HBO Max.

Quick-Thoughts: David Lowery’s The Green Knight

“Is this really all there is?”

“What else would there be?”

Haven’t needed to rewatch a movie in theaters in order to review it in a long, long time, but here we are. My thoughts on this film feel quite collected now. 

The Green Knight is super, super original, yet it appears as if it could’ve been based off of an ancient fable torn straight out of some wisdom text. In fact, its source material kind of is that, being an Authurian 14th-century story written by an unknown author that has been reinterpreted over centuries to a point of creating its own lineage of individual stories, and thus bringing forth the existence of this film. Coming from the director behind A Ghost Story (2017), the lifted, floaty feel of this movie is no surprise, as we’re being suspended into unsure realities or abstract hallucinations on Gawain’s (nephew of King Arthur’s) quest for honor as an alleged knight. Andrew Droz Palermo’s cinematography takes us on a very breathable and artificially colorful adventure full of surreal, mythological beings as if this were an acid-trip rendition of LOTR but with a minimalism on the dorky dialogue or logistics of the world and more at the gazes of “awe” in its striking and multi-interpretable scenery. Many could see this movie as being a straightforward series of “pass or fail” stages that our main character is tested on, yet the film is pretty ambiguous towards if those stages are based off traditional blueprints or designed for the specific character who undergoes them, disclosing the journey as maybe an internally crafted fiction as our supposed “knight” character endures a literal psychosis dream with simple actions that expose inner truths about himself and what they could mean for the future if he weren’t to acknowledge them. There’s a bit of philosophy to this in regards to if sudden, innate, repeated actions can unveil anything of a truer story rather than the one’s that end up carved in books that we’re expected to believe.

To me, the trials that Gawain pushes through in The Green Knight are less so to sternly confirm his actions as a “pass or fail” series of unchangeable revelations, but more so used to teach him something about his own character, aspects about what ultimatums could bring upon the kingdom based only on his contemporary personality, and most importantly, if he is currently of the design of a knight or not, and if not, how is he to make up for it through the lessons he learns of what one truly is and the awareness of his own perilous character. Like the famous saying, failure is obviously what teaches someone how not to fail again. This isn’t a story about a knight, it’s about the training that leads one to become a knight. But, that’s not the only story Lowery is telling. There’s a lot of humanity to the way he rationalizes how the outcome of your image is enough to justify how you pave life itself, whether or not if it’s more important than welfare or invincibility — that selfish protective belt you wear over to negate bravery — for which is something quite easy for us to instinctively savor and abuse in. Essentially, would you rather live a beautiful lie, or die a neutral yet honorary truth?

In countless tales of legends often disclosed at campfires or bedsides of younglings inspired to become these fables’ leads, maybe the more truthful ones about those who grow into heroes for themselves are the stories most inspiring rather than the ones based on those gifted with innate righteousness for all others. Maybe an ego-change could be the true savior of a celebrated story. Knowing of a future destiny is one thing, but to be convinced by the self that that destiny is completed with honor seems to be one of the important lessons in The Green Knight, to not let just the view of others be the only thing that convinces you of your character but to respect the accuracy of said depicted character. In view of this quest in all its shortcomings, all its divulgings of realities, and all its overcomings for a man’s instant desires, Gawain the Knight confronts possible futures all while trying to understand what they mean in the end or what their worth is to either the individual, to the kingdom, and to the image of what others may only forever know him as.

Verdict: B+

2021 Ranked

“The Green Knight” is now playing in theaters.

Quick-Thoughts: Jungle Cruise

I love Metallica as much as the next guy, but I already kind of wasn’t that crazy about their song Nothing Else Matters. I must say though, this movie’s rendition of it alongside its “accompanying visuals” made me want to actually shoot the song now. 

“Part Raiders! Part Pirates!” If you pitched that to me right now, as I pretend to be your imaginary stock stereotype producer, I’d have to exclaim, “YES, PLEASE”, but there’s something so dryly uninteresting with how Disney’s Jungle Cruise goes about such an alluring concept. There’s a scene in the beginning of the movie where The Rock (i.e. Frank Wolff) is telling a bunch of cliché puns to his audience of boat riders, and obviously the joke of it all is that they find them to be unbearably cringy. Funny thing is though, a majority of this movie to me ironically felt like a bunch of clichés from every arc to every resolution, to most its quips and most its thrills, that would have me cringing as well. This conundrum truly feels like a been there done that (and far better too) situation in the flesh. From the “Rainforest DLC” pack for the Davy Jones crew to the (like maybe three) over-the-top Keaton set pieces, like mentioned before, this must certainly be Disney’s final stroke attempt at making the next Pirates of the Caribbean genre of franchise while also adding a dash of some “Jones tones” for the archeologist enthusiasts and the general formula of the modern blockbuster that Disney has very much helped establish, crossbreeding the output in totality. To keep things short, the journey here doesn’t seem to operate how it would like its subgenre-blend to pan out. Although, I guess that’s what happens when you hand this demanding burden over to Jaume Collet-Serra, a mixed bag of a director for me who’s (sorry!) atrocious shot compiling of action sequences here feels more Pan (2015) than it does Gore Verbinski’s pirate features. 

Besides the fact that green screen effects can still look this bad — it’s like the Return of the Jedi (1983) speeder bike chase scene all over again! King Kong (2005) basically nailed this technological stuff 15 years ago people c’mon! — the whole picture appears more lost and hastily assembled not when it comes to its effects team, but rather when it comes to its writing; s**t gets so junkie hooked on using awkward McGuffins at any given time that they didn’t even try to make them seem plausible by the end, probably just thinking by that point, “ah screw it; this will happen cause we want it to and we’re done making excuses for it; go home now and please don’t act like you care enough to complain after all we’ve been through”, and by golly they were absolutely f**king right because I didn’t. If anything, it was like I was collectively witnessing an actual crumbling idea fall in full cinematic view. I’m sure someone will find a bit of beauty in that, right?

Yet, in hindsight, I can’t say this movie is a complete unwatchable disaster, more so gearing towards the painfully mediocre and run-of the mill side of things than the abysmally amateur; although if you ask me, “run-of-the-mill” is starting to become the new “abysmal” and “amateur” for me. But yes, this does entail, however, that the expectedly professional actors do give competent performances here, and The Rock’s (i.e. Frank Wolff’s) trickster persona ends up being by a long-shot the most entertaining thing about the film despite how they idly write in and reveal his many complexions. I can’t turn down the Nazi-incentive attitude of good old Meth Damon too, though I wish they let the man go full psycho instead of chastising his peculiarities every time it finally seemed like they were about to burst. Nonetheless, I do genuinely think there are a few clever scallywag gags here and there that do remind me of some A-class Pirates fare [again, mostly transpiring because of the shenanigans by The Rock (i.e. Frank Wolff)] but it only happens ever so occasionally within this over two-hour runtime that feels more like it’s wasting minutes being indecisive of if it should cater to the modern thrills of say a Jumanji 2 (2017)-type framework or rather the nostalgia of its acclaimed adventurous ancestors. In my opinion, it just barely fails in both regards. All in all, Jungle Cruise is sadly *sigh* mostly nothing but forgettable.

Anyways, does anyone else think Emily Blunt kind of looks like Billie Eilish? Idk why, but I just noticed that…

Verdict: D+

2021 Ranked

“Jungle Cruise” is now playing in theaters and available to purchase on Disney+.