Archive for December, 2021

Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton. Starring Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Michelle Yeoh and Tony Leung.

The latest in my irregular review series of films I would have seen at the cinema if it wasn’t for this pesky pandemic.

Shaun (Liu) and Katy (Awkwafina) are best friends and work as parking valets in San Francisco, they lead a fairly aimless existence which annoys some of their friends. One day on the bus they’re attacked by strangers who are intent on stealing Shaun’s necklace. To Katy’s astonishment Shaun proceeds to fight the gang off, although they do make off with his pendant.

Shaun reveals to Kary that his name is really Shang-Chi and he’s the son of Xu Wenwu (Leung) the head of the clandestine Ten Rings organisation. A thousand years ago Wenwu discovered ten mystical rings which not only granted him immortality, but also God like powers. For hundreds of years the Ten Rings operates as a criminal empire, toppling governments across the world, but then in the late 20th Century Wenwu met Ying Li (Chen), guardian of Ta Lo, a village said to harbour mythical beasts. The two fell in love and Wenwu put away his rings and Li left her village to be with him. They had two children, the eldest of which was Shang-Chi.

Sadly tragedy led to Wenwu resurrecting the Ten Rings organisation. Despite being trained as an assassin Shang-Chi escaped and fled to San Francisco and a normal life. Until now. Fearful that the Ten Rings will go after his sister, Xu Xialing (Zhang) Chang-Chi flies to Macau to warn her, and Katy goes along too. All too soon they’re embroiled in an adventure that could have catastrophic consequences for the world.

Shang-Chi isn’t a character I’m overly familiar with, the notion of the magic rings seemed a little preposterous, even for Marvel, and I’ve never been a huge fan of kung fu movies, and so this idea of seeing this film didn’t grab me as much as some Marvel films have. Of course, I might have once said similar thing about the Guardians of the Galaxy, so you’d think I’d have learned my lesson. Turns out Shang-Chi is a hugely enjoyable film full of action, humour, magic and heart. As the first Asian led Marvel film it’s also a little bit different from what we’ve seen before, although it does follow the Marvel template for the most part, which of course means a giant battle at the end, albeit one that isn’t as soulless as some have been.

Liu is great as the protagonist, a handsome leading man who can clearly handle the physicality of the role, yet who’s also vulnerable and conflicted where it comes to his family.

As his sister Zhang is equally good, especially factoring in this is her first film role (it won’t be her last). This is far from Leung’s first film, he has a huge body of work behind him and he’s excellent as Wenwu, who is more than just another two-dimensional villain. Given how badly this character has been portrayed before (effectively he’s the Mandarin) it’s testament to Marvel that they went all out to give us a well-rounded villain.

It’s no surprise to find Michelle Yeoh turning up later on in the film, and as is always the case her presence elevates matters—that woman is incapable of giving a poor performance.

Michelle Yeoh as Jiang Nan in Marvel Studios’ SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS. Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios. © 2021 Marvel Studios. All Rights Reserved.

There are also a couple of characters from previous Marvel films who show up, one in particular was a complete surprise and proved very funny.

Not as funny as Awkwafina of course, and it’s fair to say that Katy is my favourite character in the film, funny, snarky, brave yet also for much of the film, as Awkwafina herself has said, useless. Much like Yeoh I’ve yet to see Awkwafina be anything less than great in anything I’ve seen her in (admittedly in fewer films).

The fight choreography is superb, in particular the fight on the bus and a battle that takes place on the outside of a skyscraper in Macau! Even if it is a bit predictable, the final fight is also great to watch. The quieter moments don’t disappoint either, and this is more than just a sequence of fights strung together. Cretton’s direction is spot on throughout.

Funny, exciting and downright magical, this is top drawer Marvel and I can’t wait for the sequel!

The Big Sleep

Posted: December 15, 2021 in Book reviews

By Raymond Chandler

When PI Philip Marlowe is called to the house of the wealthy and elderly General Sternwood he can little imagine where events will lead. Initially Sternwood hires him to deal with a bookseller named Arthur Geiger, who is trying to blackmail his wild youngest daughter, Carmen.

Marlowe agrees to take the case but on his way out is accosted by Sternwood’s eldest daughter, the only slightly less wild Vivian. Vivian believes her father has actually hired Marlowe to track down her missing husband, Rusty Regan. Marlowe doesn’t confirm or deny her suspicions.

Quickly Marlowe finds himself embroiled in mayhem as he becomes entangled in the criminal underworld of Los Angeles, in pornography and murder, but just what is going on?

I’ve always loved the film of The Big Sleep, and it’s not a lie to say that for much of my reading of the book I had Humphrey Bogart’s voiceechoing through my mind. Much as I enjoy the film I’m never entirely sure what exactly transpires in it, and having read the book, and done some research on the Wikipedia page, I can see that the convoluted plot of the film was lifted pretty much from the book, and I also discovered that I’m not the only one to find it a bit of a headscratcher, though to be fair now I’ve read the book I think the film should seem a little more coherant.

In some respects the confusing complexity of the plot makes sense. My reading of Chandler has made it obvious that he was a writer who rated characterisation and atmosphere over plot, and given The Big Sleep, like most of his novels, was a hybrid of several of his short stories (at least four apparently) then that confusion makes even more sense. There’s one clear loose thread still left dangling at the end.

But I don’t necessarily read Chandler for the plot. I read it for the characters and the prose, for the ambiance of the world He’s writing about.

As usual Chandler is great at this, and populates the book with a slew of memorable characters. Carmen and Vivian for starters (though it’s hard to separate Vivian from the wonderful portrayal of the character by Lauren Bacall) then there’s General Sternwood, an infirm old man who spends his days in the hothouse so he can feel warm, and who enjoys his old vices vicariously through others. The servants, particularly the butler, are also great. Then there’s Harry Jones and the killer Canino who don’t show up for long but who make a strong impression. Pretty much everyone Marlowe meets makes an impression.

It’s also interesting to see how racy the book is, it had to be toned down for the film. There’s sex and nudity and homosexuality, most of which never made it into the film. Hence when Bogie finds Carmen in the film she’s oddly fully clothed, despite having been just photographed for pornographic material, whereas in the book she’s naked.

Anyway, a wonderful book, just don’t expect it to make a whole lot of sense!