SHANG CHI & THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS (2021)

It’s great!

The best fight sequences in the MCU spiced up with a real kind of classical martial arts film flavour. Bucks the usual Marvel first-movie formula and takes a hard right turn in wild Asian mysticism and fantasy in the back half which was a pleasant surprise.

Compelling villain (the legendary Tony Leung!) and a solid emotional through-line. Simu Liu kills it in the title role, Awkwafina brings a great levity without falling into comic movie bathos. There’s some significant deviation from the source material but it’s all for the better.

And I mentioned that the fight scenes are great fun, right? Choreography feels frantic and snappy and the editing doesn’t get in the way. Sure, the climax turns into an insane CGI party, but it feels fitting for the high fantasy turn.

A little bit Hong Kong martial arts flick, a little bit Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, a little bit classic MCU. Very promising for the future direction of Marvel, they’re setting the bar high for Phase Four.

Recommended!

Whatcha been readin’?

Since the pandemic started I’ve been leaning harder into setting wind-down time in the evening aside specifically for reading, and as a result have made my way through around twenty-seven books in the last eighteenish months. A couple of these were re-reads, but of the new ones I’ve compiled a couple of highlights below:

THE NAME OF THE WIND / THE WISE MAN’S FEAR — Patrick Rothfuss

Wonderfully written “traditional” fantasy with one of the best modern voices in the style, imbued full of wonder, intelligence and a deep love of the genre by its author. The only problem being that the third book is close to a decade past due with no release date in sight so while I highly recommend the first two books they come with the caveat that you’ll be joining the ranks of disappointed fans stuck waiting for a conclusion.

CIBOLA BURN (THE EXPANSE) — James S.A. Corey

The best modern sci-fi series, hands down. I read this, the fourth book, as a refresher for season five of the show last December. Book five will be the same for season six at the end of this year and then I’ll be able to read the last three without fear of spoilers. It’s less complicated than it sounds. I rave about this series a lot, it’s got everything.

SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE — Kurt Vonnegut

One of my all-time favourite books got a graphic novel adaptation that both serves its source beautifully while also bringing its own flavour and style. Probably better appreciated if you’ve read the original novel, but nonetheless a worthwhile pickup.

THE THREE BODY PROBLEM — Cixin Liu

Heady, cerebral sci-fi that’s both wildly imaginative and coldly mathematical. Considered one of the greatest novels of the modern era and for good reason — a slowly unfolding scope puts its vision on timescales akin to masterwork Foundation while making the human elements much more compelling. Currently reading the sequel, The Dark Forest.

RAYBEARER — Jordan Ifueko

African magical realism via YA, with political intrigue thrown in for good measure. The world is incredibly distinct and well realised, and this is just the first in a series well worth following.

THE DISPOSSESSED — Ursula K LeGuin

An anarchist physicist is brought to a Capitalist society so that he can realise his great unifying theory, but quickly becomes disillusioned with the falsity and exploitive nature of their culture. Hard biting political commentary draped in planetary science-fiction and social satire. It’s dense, but it’s faaaaaaar ahead of its time.

DAWN — Octavia E Butler

After the world ends, aliens abduct a small handful of surviving humans to help them rebreed and repopulate, but this also means intermingling their DNA with their new benefactors. Very strange, and also the first in a trilogy. I plan to come back to see where it goes, this first one was great.

DOCTOR SLEEP — Stephen King

How do you follow up something as iconic as The Shining? With pretty much exactly this book. Explores other creatures from King’s multiverse, while tying it back to the Overlook and the Shine in new and satisfying ways. Adult Danny might not have the same problems as his father but hooboy does he have troubles of his own.

HOUSE OF X / POWERS OF X — Hickman, Larraz, Silva, Gracia

Fantastic recalibration of the X-Men universe by way of a looping time cycle, a living island and multiple possible realities (most of which end in some variation of terrible apocalypse). Makes mutantkind feel fresh and new again, full of big ideas, which is an impressive feat. The main problem is that it immediately sprawls out into half a dozen plotlines so I have no idea how to follow up from this collection, but as a standalone “reboot” of the X-Men this was great.

THE IMMORTAL HULK — Ewing, Bennett, Garbett, Hotz

Similarly, this run takes the concept of the Hulk and turns it into a Cronenbergian body horror nightmare. See, Bruce Banner can die, but the Hulk is immortal and no matter what you do to the man the monster will always come back. It was a brilliant move to take this character and make him terrifying, and the series looks like it’s only getting darker.

JURASSIC PARK / THE LOST WORLD— Michael Crichton

Pulp fiction at its best. I first read these twenty-five years ago and somehow still remembered every detail like I’d read them just last week. Quite a tonal departure from the first film and far more critical of the Capitalist aspects of genetic patenting. The second book and film are almost completely unrelated aside from a few character appearances. Still, easy to understand why they were so popular, I blew through the two of them inside a week.

LOKI (2021)

The best of the Disney+ Marvel shows so far.

Production design is outstanding, the cast is charismatic and strange. It’s a tight six episodes too, which is a real sweet spot for these series. Feels like the best parts of a Dr Who adventure mashed together with a big budget behind it.

There’s SO MUCH fan service drawing from the deepest, more ridiculous and obscure depths of Marvel Comics’ silliness.

Ultimately the story ends up servicing the next big phase of MCU projects, but it does so with style and the characters are fun. I mean, they weren’t exactly going to let Tom Hiddleston off the hook easily, were they?

Alligator Loki is MVP.

Recommended.

BLACK WIDOW (2021)

A great standalone spy film that’s biggest flaw is that it maybe came a few years later than it deserved.

It’s refreshing to have Natasha reframed and to have her backstory finally filled in, and the supporting cast here is one of the best things about it. It’s a made family of strong and capable women, plus a strongman clown, and the dynamic is great.

The action is among the best in the MCU, though arguable the Taskmaster is a little underutilised — fundamentally a Winter Soldier redux but with a more interesting moveset gimmick. Still, there’s room to push the idea closer to the comics going forward.

Does a lot to set up characters and potential for the next generation of Avengers, but smartly keeps focused on having Black Widow be its own film.

A good time, and great to see as a blockbuster up on the big screen.

Recommended.

WANDAVISION (2021)

A solid start to the MCU’s new Disney+ arm.

A little slow to start for the first two or so episodes, but quickly gets comfortable playing with its concept and pushes what’s expected of a superhero show out into some interesting directions.

I’ll save the big plot twists and geekery for a spoiler section after the click-through, but safe to say there’s some solid easter eggs and fan service woven into it all.

If you’re not familiar with much of the Marvel universe there’s still a decent amount to enjoy in the satirisation of various television sitcoms over the years, and at its heart it’s fundamentally about Wanda and her sadness. If anything it could have stood to lean a little harder on the sitcom tropes, since there was a lot of good material in the supporting cast that felt a little shoved aside when the main arc needed to wrap up.

Great supporting cast, Paul Bettany imbues The Vision with a wonderful humanity, and extra accolades must go out to Elizabeth Olsen for such a multi-faceted performance anchoring it all together.

Hard to say what got shuffled out in terms of the larger MCU tie-ins since the release schedule was scrambled last year, but it’s a worthy addition to the canon and bodes well for the D+ series going forward.

Criticisms and larger discussions are pretty spoilery so consider yourself warned:

SPOILERS AHEAD

Continue reading “WANDAVISION (2021)”

THE NEW MUTANTS (2020)

It’s hard to tell at what point of this film’s absurdly protracted release things started coming apart — clearly there was a distinct vision at one point and all the mess of its production just muddied that so much that what we got was just sort of a flat, disjointed and indecisive jumble of ideas that don’t cohere together at all.

Nothing in its premise stands up to the slightest bit of scrutiny, and the fact that it’s trying to squeeze five superhero origins and a romance and a horror film and a teen drama all into a tight 94min does nothing any favours at all.

100% would have been better served as a limited TV series where any one of those concepts could have had a moment to breath outside of rushed expository dialogue. As it is, each of the characters gets an introduction, a scene where they Don’t Want To Talk About Their Trauma, a manifestation of said trauma and then a moment of overcoming it in the climactic battle. On paper it sounds like everyone gets an arc but really it’s just a fill-in-the-blanks, paint-by-numbers rollout with zero nuance and a staggering lack of clarity or explanation.

I’m familiar with the comic run it’s based on and even still I struggled to keep focus. Some of the visual effects and design are cool but they’re not in service of anything.

Not even bad enough for a fun drunk watch, just skip it like you would all the late-game X-Men movies that aren’t Logan.

LEGION (s01-03)

It’s hard to pin Legion down, since it’s very proudly one of the least superhero-y comicbook-based TV series of the past decade despite being populated by very comicbooky characters and ideas.

It’s more of a psychedelic mind trip through gorgeous production design, S-tier cinematography and a plot and cast of characters that absolutely delight in and embrace all the weirdest things that the genre has to offer.

The cast is clearly having a ball, and it goes to show yet again how underutilised Dan Stevens is in the broader scheme of things.

Sure, there are action sequences and the like, but more often the central conflicts are resolved by compassion and strange conversations and a few times by psychic dance-battles. Oh, and a hippy cult smokes happiness from the udders of a gigantic pig at one point.

Yeah. It’s weird.

And that’s all to the benefit, because it’s not trying to be a regular sort of X-Men show, it’s a character study of a persona fragmented by trauma, wrapped in a dream-like 1960s aesthetic and often a very Lynchian desire to be willfully obtuse.

It’s unsettling and dark at times, gorgeous and strange and wonderful at others. The pacing overall is fairly off-kilter, but if you’re willing to forgive its self-indulgence you’ll find a tonne of reasons to fall in love with it.

It runs just long enough to tie itself up nicely without overstaying, but I wish more shows were this willing to embrace the absurdity of their own premises.

Highly recommended.

MEPHISTO IN HADES // TRIUMPH & TORMENT

iPAD // PROCREATE

Digital painting study from MARVEL / Mike Mignola’s TRIUMPH & TORMENT graphic novel, wherein Drs Doom and Strange voyage into Hades to reclaim the soul of Doom’s mother from Mephisto.

This also marks my 100th post here over years and several iterations of the page. Thanks to everyone who’s stuck around and welcome to those who’ve just found me now, noodling away in my quiet little corner of the internet :)

REVIEW SPECTACULAR 5: 2019 EDITION

If you’re just now dropping in on these:

I’ve been doing quick reviews/recommendations via FB for years but have finally decided to move them over to the blog here.
There are five collections dating back to 2016 posted now, but from here on out each new review will get its own post so follow my various social medias for notifications!
I try to stay mostly spoiler free and give my impressions and broad recommendations over any in-depth discussions of plot etc. So much of the fun is going into a film or series knowing very little, but there’s always exceptions.
No ratings as they’re too reductive.
I don’t always watch things right when they come out and I don’t always watch everything.
Sometimes I’ll have rewatched something and have noted what I thought that time.

Here’s all of my 2019 watches so far, starting from the most recent:

IT: CHAPTER TWO (2019)
GLOW s03 (2019)
DARK PHOENIX (2019)
MINDHUNTER s02 (2019)
MEN IN BLACK INTERNATIONAL (2019)
ROBIN HOOD: MEN IN TIGHTS (1993)
INVADER ZIM: ENTER THE FLORPUS (2019)
TRAIN TO BUSAN (2016)
THE BOYS s01 (2019)
ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD (2019)
THE WAILING (2016)
THE LION KING (2019)
DUMBO (2019)
DETECTIVE PIKACHU (2019)
HELLBOY (2019)
HALLOWEEN (2018)
SHAZAM! (2019)
STRANGER THINGS s03 (2019)
MIDSOMMAR (2019)
SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME (2019)
OVERLORD (2018)
BLACKKKLANSMAN (2018)
VEEP (s01-07)
CHERNOBYL (2019)
JOHN WICK 3: PARABELLUM (2019)
GODZILLA: KING OF MONSTERS (2019)
ALADDIN (2019)
AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019)
mY GAME OF THRONS REVEIW (2019)
BUMBLEBEE (2019)
PET SEMATARY (2019)
ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT s05 (2019)
AQUAMAN (2018)
BLOOD MERIDIAN or THE EVENING REDNESS IN THE WEST – Cormac McCarthy (1985)
US (2019)
LOVE, DEATH & ROBOTS (2019)
MUPPET TREASURE ISLAND (1996)
CAPTAIN MARVEL (2019)
RUSSIAN DOLL s01 (2019)
ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL (2019)
LOST IN SPACE s01 (2018)
VELVET BUZZSAW (2019)
GHOST STORIES (2018)
BLACK MIRROR: BANDERSNATCH (2018)
THE BALLAD OF BUSTER SCRUGGS (2018)
MOWGLI (2018)

Enjoy!

Continue reading “REVIEW SPECTACULAR 5: 2019 EDITION”