Sunday 21 November 2021

What I'm Watching: November 2021


A recap of my month in movies and media, featuring Red Notice, Halloween Kills, Army of Thieves, The Harder They Fall and Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (Disney+)

Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is the first Marvel film since March 2019, when Captain Marvel swooped into cinemas, to introduce a wholly new hero to the sprawling universe. 

In the lead role we have Simi Liu as the titular hero, a young man who is forced to confront his past when his father, Wenwu (played by Hong Kong cinema icon, Tony Leung), leader of the nefarious Ten Rings organisation, reappears and threatens to unleash a mystical evil force unto the world.

Inspired by Chinese legend, wuxia cinema and fantasy films, Shang-Chi is a lot of fun. Acrobatic and inventive action, likeable characters – Liu is a charming lead alongside Awkwafina as lifelong friend Katy – and the customary laugh-a-minute script from Marvel, all work in tandem to shape an all-round great, enjoyable entry in the series. The first half is definitely stronger than the second, when the fantasy elements come to the fore and the fights becomes flashier and bouncier, but the action is never hard to follow or ugly to look at. 

If, like me, you didn't get round to seeing this one in theatres – it's now included with a standard Disney+ subscription. 

Halloween Kills (In theatres)

I'm not a huge Halloween aficionado; setting aside John Carpenter's excellent original for a second, it took 2018's legacy sequel slash reboot from director David Gordon Green to really spark my interest. So, I was curious to see where Halloween Kills, a sequel (also directed by Gordon Green) that picks up immediately after, would go next.

Series mainstay Jaime Lee Curtis is somewhat sidelined here; confined to a hospital bed after the events of the previous film. So it falls to her onscreen daughter Judy Greer and granddaughter Andi Matichak, to pick up the slack, along with a jumbled ensemble of other townspeople who have crossed paths with Michael Meyers over the years. 

The premise is simple; the people of Haddonfield have had enough, and vow to band together to put an end to Michael once and for all. The only issue is, everyone in the town has a combined IQ of 80, because they all split up, go their seperate ways, and wouldn't you believe it, get picked off one by one in increasingly gruesome and gnarly ways. Dumb people is a troupe of horror movies; but this is something else. 

The middle chapter in a trilogy – part three is due out next year – Halloween Kills is spinning its wheels and running in circles to prolong the plot. The core cast is wasted and Michael's kill count is borderline ludicrous here. Let's hope the final film in this modern revival gets things back on track. 

The Harder They Fall (Netflix)

As directorial debuts go, you'd be hard pushed to find one quite as entertaining and confident as Jeymes Samuel's The Harder They Fall

Full of colour and swagger, this gun-toting, whip-cracking Western boasts a talented principal cast of black actors (Jonathon Majors, Zazie Beetz, Regina King and Idris Elba, to name just a few), a wholly original screenplay that melds modern sensibilities with historical figures, and a great soundtrack featuring original tracks by the likes of Jay-Z and Kid Cudi.

If you thought Western was a dead genre, think again – because here's a filmmaker who understands that even the most antiquated of genres, can be polished up and repackaged for a new era of audiences. This is a 100 per cent, pure-blooded Western, with all the trimmings you would expect from the genre. The thing that sets it apart, is the slick, energetic execution. The Harder They Fall isn't just one of the best films this year, it's one of the best Westerns in years. 

Army of Thieves (Netflix)

Back in May, Netflix unleashed Zack Snyder's big-budget zombie heist flick, Army of the Dead, on its platform. One of the film's wacky characters, safecracker Ludwig Dieter (played by Matthias Schweighofer), apparently impressed the production crew enough to greenlight spin-off prequel while Army of the Dead was still shooting, and here it is.

Titled Army of Thieves, this film – which sees Schweighhofer both reprise the character and also direct – shifts genre gears, from schlocky action into slick heist flick with shades of rom-com, in a classic continent-hopping plot that visits Berlin, Paris, Prague and St Moritz. 

Now, I liked Army of the Dead as much as the next man – but I wouldn't have said any of those ragtag characters warranted their own standalone prequel, let alone Ludwig. So I went into this film skeptical, and there wasn't much on offere here to dissuade that notion. 

Here, Sebastian (we quickly learn that Ludwig is just a pseudonym) is a meek loner who is drafted into a similarly ragtag crew by Nathalie Emmanuel's charming Gwen. The crew of five – which naturally features a driver, a techie and a tough man – set out to rob three increasingly difficult safes in quick succession, with an angry Interpol agent hot on their tail. 

Look, Army of Thieves is by no means bad – it's just a bit derivative. 

Red Notice (Netflix)

On paper, a slick heist caper starring Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds and Gal Gadot sounds like great fun – who doesn't want to see three of the most attractive A-listers prancing around Europe, trading punches and quips?

Directed by Rawson Marshall Thurber (Skyscraper, Central Intelligence), this film claims to be Netflix's most expensive production to date; the only problem is, not a single cent was spent on polishing the script. 

But who needs a good script when all that money is splashed across the screen? If you're looking for a fun, throwaway action adventure flick where sexy people shoot guns, throw hands, drive cars and steal art, then Red Notice is for you. The only problem is, this film is so expected and safe, that I wouldn't be surprised if it was written, produced and directed by a massive supercomputer at Netflix. 

This is a three-pronged star vehicle in which Reynolds, Johnson and Gadot exist firmly in their comfort zone; Reynolds is a fast-talking antihero with pop culture references up his sleeve, Johnson is a no-nonsense lawman who gets to throw a punch or six, and Gadot is playful siren who slinks around in stunning outfits.

Netflix's track record with big-budget blockbusters (6 Underground, Bird Box) has been patchy – and the easy, breezy Red Notice does little to dispel that notion. 

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