Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings

This was a fun two hours, no doubt compounded by my love of martial arts movies, Chinese movies and Chinese culture generally.

Definitely in the wuxia style, the fight scenes are phenomenal and it captures many elements of Chinese mythology and runs it in the background without making a big deal about it. The characters are winning and there are good performances from Tony Leung and Awkwafina, who is always Awkwafina but works here. A guest star steals the show but I’ll avoid mention of that one.

As the original comics came out of the Kung Fu craze in the seventies, this avoids the standard Stan Lee origin trope which we’ve seen many times – nerd meets tragedy/hardship and is rewarded with powers – and that makes a fresher take for a Marvel movie.

Endings are the hardest part of any creative endeavour and this one has some of the regular failings of the genre. But definitely worth a watch, and a quick shoutout for the score too.

Netflix To Let Viewers Pick How Movies End

One of the things you quickly learn as a writer is that viewers and readers never really want what they think they want. They desire what they could never have predicted. That’s why you never listen to ‘fans’ when you’re putting something together for a general audience.

I love Netflix. They’re great disruptors, and they’re driving the modern age of TV and film viewing. Now they’re planning to let viewers choose endings to movies and TV episodes, like a choose-your-own-adventure game.

I think this is a misunderstanding of both human psychology, and how storytelling works.

I’ve had meetings where I’ve been briefed on many new ways of telling visual tales, from VR, to AR, to this. One thing’s for sure – everything is going to change.

But the principles remain the same.

Sucker Punch Review

I have a different take on this from many others. I…enjoyed certainly isn’t the right word…but I *appreciated* the film. I have to use a completely different set of standards to judge Sucker Punch because the director, Zack Snyder, eschews the traditional way of telling a cinematic story to get his point/theme/subtext across. By any storytelling yardstick it looks a mess at first glance – strange logic, cardboard characters, frankly baffling narrative lines. But I found when I stepped back from that and looked at it from a different perspective I thought it was very, very good indeed.

As background, I’m always hooked by films, TV shows and books where the viewer/reader has an important part to play in deciphering the story. Muholland Drive (or any Lynch film, really), Inception, The Prisoner, House of Leaves. Cracking the code gives me as much of a thrill as what’s playing out before my eyes.

Sucker Punch has a lot going on in its warped Wonderland. There are very few touchstones where you can connect with the real world. And that’s part of the director’s theme. (SPOILERS AHEAD) One reading is that *nothing* in the film is real – it opens under the proscenium arch with the curtain drawn back on what is clearly a stage. I can understand how that would turn a lot of people off.

The movie connects with a zeitgeisty theme that runs from BSG, Lost, Ashes to Ashes, Inception, through Sucker Punch and, possibly, into Source Code. One suggestion is that the whole film is a view of hell or purgatory (many critics would agree!) ruled by a devil and many demons from which one girl is trying to escape – the final scenes suggest this to be true. The characters are cardboard in the way that Alice in Wonderland’s characters are cardboard – what it is saying is more important.

Part of the problem for the reception must be laid at Warners’ door. The trailers missold the film to an epic level. Most of the scenes in these trailers come from four sequences amounting to…what…20 minutes? of the film and are the least interesting parts. They’re all symbolic. Sucker Punch is truly a grim film, dealing with the brutalisation of women in a male-dominated society. It’s not empowering as such, more a comment, which does make for a difficult watch. The only escape comes through death. No wonder Warners had trouble selling it.

Nor is it exploitative – one thing several critics have picked up on. I have no idea how they can say that having seen the film. The women may wear fetishistic clothing, but the grimness of their experience strips away any titillation. Their sexualisation becomes truly sad in the end.

I can understand how Sucker Punch won’t appeal to a broad audience. But I’m sure we all have films we love that everyone else hates (I will defend Southland Tales to the death). For me this is a singular if flawed vision that I will revisit many times.

Movie Watching Update

Movies viewed this year so far, in no particular order:

Shutter Island, Inception (x2), Toy Story 3, 2012, The Wrestler, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Sherlock Holmes, Shrek Forever After, The Age of Stupid, The Reader, The Taking of Pelham 123 (new version), Duplicity, The Boat That Rocked, Zombieland, The Princess and the Frog, The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, The Fantastic Mr Fox, Paranormal Activity, 24 Hour Party People, Adventureland, District 9, 500 Days of Summer, Triangle, Mesrine Parts 1 and 2, A Perfect Getaway, Antichrist, The Hangover, Flawless, Night at the Museum 2, Moon, Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Drag Me To Hell, Monsters Vs Aliens, The Damned United, State of Play, Revolutionary Road, Brandy for the Parson, Friday the 13th parts 1-7, Miller’s Crossing, Coogan’s Bluff, Donkey Punch, The Killers, Psycho IV, Kick-Ass, Avatar, A Christmas Carol, Iron Man 2, Seven Samurai, A Day at the Races, Go West, The Big Store, A Night at the Opera, A Night in Casablanca, At the Circus.

And re-watched: The Man Who Wasn’t There, Rear Window, How to Steal a Million, Paint Your Wagon, The Gauntlet, No Country For Old Men, Fargo, Raising Arizona, Contact, The Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons, The Fearless Vampire Hunters, The Dark Knight, Whatever Happened To Baby Jane? Zodiac, Creepshow, 10,000 BC.

And a few more I’ve forgotten.

Peter Jackson To Make Hobbit

New Line Cinema has finally come to its senses and allowed Peter Jackson to oversee the making of two films based on The Hobbit. (New Line co-chairman Bob Shaye not so long ago: “Peter Jackson will never make The Hobbit on my watch”. Hand that man the silver-handled revolver.)

But…two films? Compared to The Lord of the Rings, The Hobbit is essentially a pamphlet. Either we’re going to get lots…and lots…and lots of shots of Bilbo meandering across beautiful New Zealand scenery, or it’s going to be less of an adaptation and more of a jumping off point. There isn’t even an obvious spot in the book to break so the first film ends on a satisfying note.

Having said that, I have every faith that Peter Jackson will ensure a great experience that is both faithful to the spirit of the book and meet the demands of story-telling in the film medium. Unlike some spineless directors who cave in at the first sign of pressure from the philistine impulses of the Hollywood money-men (Chris Weitz, I’m looking at you), Jackson has proven that quality will never be compromised.