Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings - Marvel with a Chinese mythology spin. Simu Li plays Shaun/Shang-Chi, a trained warrior and son of the 4000 year old, more highly trained, more warriory Xu Wenwu (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung). Xu is immortal because of his use of the mysterious and unexplained ten rings of power.
Shang-Chi is hiding
as Shaun in San Francisco, working with his friend Katy (Akwafina,
playing in another movie with dragons shortly after her role in Raya and the Last Dragon).
Shaun, Katy, and Shaun's sister Xialing (Meng'er Zhang) are kidnapped
by Xu to attack a gate near some village (led by Ying Nan (Michelle
Yeoh)) in another dimension in order to free his wife/their mother (who
is dead, but Xu thinks his wife is calling to him and may still be
alive). But this is a ruse by the evil Dweller-in-Darkness to ... uh ...
take over the world. Sides are taken, pretty beasts fly around in the
other dimension, people do martial arts and people fight. Sacrifices are
The movie attempts to give a backstory and character to Shang-Chi - a bit more than we saw in Guardians of the Galaxy 2 - but this is still a Marvel movie, so the backstory is comic-worthy. Much of the plot setup and story is told in jerky walk-and-talks between fighting scenes. Like Black Panther, the directing and choreography try to honor Chinese culture with appropriate costumes, fighting styles, music, and landscapes, but, unlike that movie, it doesn't all gel. It feels paint by numbers and jumbled. Still, points for trying.
ten rings are in the movie, but they come from nowhere, mean nothing,
have no definition, and add nothing but glowing balls of light. There is
a lot of annoying deux ex machina before the ending, and all of the
fighting basically runs by itself; the people are mostly observers. The
return to our world is satisfying, and some other MCU characters show up
as a nice touch. This is one of the lesser entries in the Marvel canon,
kind of boring, and not a film that I plan to see again.
Summer of Soul (...Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised) - A documentary by Questlove about the 1969 Harlem Culture Festival, a series of music festivals celebrating Black culture. Owing to Woodstock, and to the media's generally ignoring Black culture, the event is not well known about outside of the Black community. The concerts had a combined attendance total of around 300,000 people, and the performers included Sly and the Family Stone, BB King, Glady Knight and the Pips, Stevie Wonder, and, perhaps most notoriously, Nina Simone. Simone gave a long speech about how she would like to see violent revolution and armed conflict by the Black community to fight against racial injustice.
the hour-plus of the movie devoted to actually hearing the music, the
music appears to have been good to great. Maybe there was not much more
footage of the music, or maybe Questlove simply decided to use the rest
of the movie to present the politics around the event. The movie is
important in presenting an overlooked event of Black culture. Other than
this, and Sly's performance and Simone's speech, the movie is just a
standard documentary: it's fine, not great.
The Last Letter From Your Lover - Like Me Before You, this movie is high on sweetness and potential, but low on depth, which I assume, like Me Before You,
is a betrayal of a deeper novel by Jojo Moyes. In the 1960s, Jennifer
wakes from a car crash with little memory of what happened before, to
relearn about her rich lifestyle, absent and problematic husband, and
possible lover. In the modern era, journalist Ellie, who has her own
commitment problems, discovers a series of love letters that uncover
Jennifer's story. Will love triumph in the past and in the present?
film is shot and costumed beautifully. It is watchable and well
produced, but it does not present real characters well enough to engage
our sympathies. Why did Jennifer marry this guy to begin with, and what
is her life story, other than her husband and her possible lover? What
else do we know about Ellie? It's all so shallow and pretty, that we
don't learn much.
Which is a pity. The plot is easy enough to
follow through the different time periods and
the different happy and unhappy relationships. Shailene Woodley,
Jones, and their various male counterparts do fine enough jobs given the
script. I suspect that if you have read the book and already sympathize
with the characters and their stories, that the movie is more enjoyable
to watch. Or maybe just as frustrating in its lack of truly bringing
the complete book experience to the screen.
The Man Who Knew Infinity - A sturdy biopic about the Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan, who, unschooled, formulated thousands of insights into mathematical formulae in his youth in India in the early twentieth century. He (Dev Patel) wrote to Cambridge University in an effort to find others who could understand his work, and so was brought over to England by G. H. Hardy (Jeremy Irons). There he encountered many things in his short life before his untimely death: some of the usual racism of that period; contentious but highly respectful colleagues who insisted that he present proofs for his insights (most of which were right, but not all); a separation from his wife and culture in India and and a very different, atheistic culture in England (to his very religious Hindu one).
The math explanations are kept short and tidy, but their
importance - other than that they are mathematically important in some
way - is never explained. The film is also rather bleak and cold, even
if it is the usual celebration of triumph in some small way. Everyone
plays their part well, but, other than Ramanujan's decline in health,
the occasionally amusing or troubling conflicts are eased through
without much on-screen tension. As a result, the film is colder, less
enjoyable, and somewhat more forgettable than other recent films, such
as The Theory of Everything and The Imitation Game. It is worth watching, but I wouldn't go out of my way for it.
The Red Turtle - An intriguing myth in the shape of a movie from Studio Ghibli. A man is washed onto a deserted island. He tries to escape by raft a few times, but each time is stopped by a mysterious red turtle that keeps him trapped (safe?) on the island. In revenge, he attacks the turtle and flips the turtle over. Before the turtle dies, he tries but fails to make amends. He goes to sleep beside the dead turtle, but wakes up next to a woman in the turtle shell. They eventually make a life together and have a son.
There is no dialog, other than the occasional grunt. So what is the movie about? A treatise about nature? A metaphor about life, birth, and the womb? Pre- or post-lapsarian? All and more?This may be a little slow for some viewers: although most of it moves as a good pace, a few of the sequences go on a bit long. The story, such as it is, doesn't hit you over the head with its meaning, so you have to bring your own. I'm a little annoyed at the use of a woman as a kind of object for the man, rather than as her own person, but this is only a problem depending on how you interpret the myth. It's not a tour de force, but it's fascinating, dreamy, and beautiful. Worth watching.