The Plain, Simple Review of the Month: September 2021

No TV for me to talk about this month but what else have we got? Well, this month we have a few three star films, an intriguing new horror, a brand new Marvel film and oh yes, the return of BOND! Let’s have a look:

2021 Releases

Our Ladies (2019)

★ ★ ★

Having heard a super positive review of this film on Kermode and Mayo, I was eager to see this comedy, it having been described as a “female Superbad” (though doesn’t Booksmart take that title?) with tons of heart as well as plenty of outrageous, wild humour about a group of Catholic teen friends in ’96 aiming to “go wild” and to indulge in a ton of sex and booze.

In reality, Our Ladies is not as crazy, funny, or as riotous as I had been led to believe and I found the film to perhaps be too restrained with a leisurely pace, even though the dialogue relating to sex and everything is admirably bold and frank. On the positive side though, the leading ladies are a very endearing and supportable bunch, there is a good amount of heart involved as we can clearly see the sisterly bond that the likeable leads share, and the film really does appear to be an endearing and genuine depiction of female friendship. Plus, the nineties soundtrack is a treat; there’s a wonderful standout scene involving karaoke and later on, a club they all go to sure does deliver some real bangers: Chumbawumba, Corona AND Savage Garden? Lord, I miss the nineties.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021)

★ ★ ★ ★

At a time when the MCU is occasionally showing signs of growing stale, Shang-Chi breathes new life into the franchise by bringing us a brand new story as well as colourful new locations, a whole new set of characters (ones, unlike heroes like Captain America and Spiderman, who many people will not have heard of before) and most prominently, martial arts as well as a predominantly Asian cast, things not properly seen before in the MCU.

The story and the “lore” involved manages to be absorbing and the script is well written – both emotional and funny, but not in a forced way – and it teases one or two tantalising plot threads that will surely be revisited in future Marvel films and regarding the performances, Simu Liu makes for a likeable and wonderfully committed lead, Awkwafina totally crushes it, and Tony Leung brings us a top tier Marvel villain in Wenwu: an antagonist who shows remarkable depth and clear motivations and Leung plays him beautifully.

And in other areas, the music, cinematography and special effects are all a treat and Short Term 12 director Destin Daniel Cretton directs brilliantly, capturing the fluidic, graceful and balletic fight sequences in a remarkable manner and having excellent control over pacing and tonal balance.

There’s most definitely a lot more that could be said about this film and maybe my few paragraphs won’t do it justice but rest assured, I thought very highly of it and it will certainly be making an appearance in my top ten at the end of the year. Rating wise, I was so close to giving it a five star verdict but it juuuuuust missed the mark.

Respect (2021)

★ ★ ★

Regarding this new Aretha Franklin biopic, Jennifer Hudson obviously delivers the goods when it comes to belting out the popular songs but apart from that, Respect doesn’t have much else going for it and is, at the end of the day, your standard music biopic; everything about it – acting, production design, cinematography, costumes and make-up and the like – is just fine but I’d say that the direction is flawed because Liesl Tommy lets things drag on at a far too leisurely pace and the camerawork is too listless and boring.

Similar to The Courier, which also came out earlier this year, Respect is a film that’s informative (though not as enlightening as the aforementioned film) but not that exciting; for a film all about the Queen of Soul, I’d expect to be entertained and enthused but honestly, this film bored me quite a bit and it occasionally led me to look at my watch.

Copshop (2021)

★ ★ ★

Copshop was a film that I was excited to see because, having seen the trailer a few times, it sure did look like a fun romp that was perhaps a throwback blend of Assault on Precinct 13 and Free Fire but, in a similar fashion to the latter, this film didn’t live up to the promise of the trailer and although it teased a wild and crazy ride full of frantic action and all manner of guns blazing, the film ultimately disappoints due to its slow pace and overly talky nature, as well as a story that is both uninteresting and not that easy to understand. But on a more positive note, Toby Huss makes for an entertainingly mad villain and Alexis Louder is probably the best performer out of all of them. Gerard Butler and Frank “manbun” Grillo are on autopilot here.

Malignant (2021)

★ ★ ★ ★

Malignant is the brand new release from director James Wan and straight out of the gate, I have to admit that I initially predicted this would turn out to be just another Conjuring/Sinister/Insidious (though I have nothing against those films!) and although Malignant initially gives us plenty of familiar horror tropes, perhaps tricking us into thinking that this will indeed be just another forgettable horror film, it ultimately stands out from the crowd as it contains an intriguing mystery to be solved and when the truth is revealed, things do indeed get bats**t crazy and Wan treats us to plenty of bold gore and some really slick action/horror setpieces that will surely be remembered come the end of the year; the acting from the leads is strong, the writing is good (though it overexplains things at certain points), the look and design of “Gabriel” is memorable and effective, and Wan’s direction is accomplished.

I may have watched this on a whim, not knowing much about it going in, and although it takes a little while to warm up, it won me over by the end and it may very well crack my end-of-year top ten.

The Many Saints of Newark (2021)

★ ★ ★

I was perhaps a little apprehensive about the prospect of seeing this cinematic “Sopranos prequel”, it having been quite a while since I last viewed the popular show, but I was thankfully able to keep up with it all and to appreciate most of the references and all the familiar characters who are seen and mentioned and when it comes to the question of whether this film is a good one or not, I’d say that Newark is a perfectly decent film as it has a good story that is easy enough to get invested in as well as one or two powerful moments and a fine cast – Vera Farmiga is particularly well cast as Livia and relative newcomer Michela De Rossi was a real breath of fresh air – but, in a similar manner to the recent El Camino (which I never would have thought of had Mark Kermode not mentioned it in his review), Newark isn’t strong or original enough to act as a standalone movie and although it will treat fans to plenty of “extra material”, it will only be a semi-interesting film for those not familiar with The Sopranos and won’t exactly provide them with a memorable cinema experience.

Additionally, the film is too unfocused and slowly paced and regarding two of the characters, the lead protagonist Dickie Moltisanti isn’t interesting or charismatic enough – not ideal for a central character – and John Magaro’s Silvio was way too offputting and his performance was more of an impression than an original take on the character.

But I apologise if all that sounds too negative because Newark isn’t a bad film and it has no unforgivable errors, it’s just not original enough and will only really hold appeal for fans of the show. At the end of the day, television to cinema adaptations remain incredibly tricky things to get right. Has it ever been done successfully?

No Time to Die (2021)

★ ★ ★ ★

At last! The film that has famously been delayed several times, irritating so many hardcore film fans by making them wait for just under a year and a half, is finally in cinemas (myself, I didn’t mind waiting as I was more than happy to watch other films in the meantime and was always prepared for the possibility that No Time to Die wouldn’t even be that good) and so the question is: was the film worth people going on and on and on about it for so long?

Well, no, not quite, but it’s still a mighty fine film nonetheless.

Despite being the longest Bond film so far, it maintains a steady pace and it did a great job I keeping me interested and entertained for the duration and its major strengths would be in its action sequences, which are very well captured and will provide audiences with the necessary bang for their buck; director Cary Joji Fukunaga proves to be more than up to the task of helming a big bombastic Bond film and he keeps things running smoothly and even treats us to an impressive one-shot action sequence set on a stairwell – using those skills he previously demonstrated in True Detective!

Elsewhere, Hans Zimmer of course provides a thrilling score – at times sounding similar to his Dark Knight pieces while also giving us the kind of Bond music that we’re familiar with (even slipping in some On Her Majesty’s Secret Service nods) – and with regards to the cast, Daniel Craig really does go out with a bang and here, he’s given the opportunity to give Bond a lighter side while also letting him admit his feelings at certain moments and looking at the rest of the cast, familiar faces such as Ralph Feinnes, Naomi Harris and Ben Wishaw appear perfectly comfortable and as for the newcomers, Lashanna Lynch makes the biggest impression as the extremely capable double O agent, Ana de Armas lights up the few scenes that she’s in, and Rami Malek makes for a decent enough villain.

I don’t really have many negative points but if I had to choose, I’d say that my main gripe would be with the story because, while it makes a few bold choices (including one vital part at the end which has never been done in a Bond film before) it ultimately boils down to “scarred villain wants to kill millions and take over the world with a fearsome new weapon” (World domination. Same old dream.) and despite succeeding in so many other areas, it does fall victim to a few familiar plot beats as well as having a villain who won’t prove to be that memorable.

And in order of personal preference, it’s:

  1. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
  2. Malignant
  3. No Time to Die
  4. The Many Saints of Newark
  5. Our Ladies
  6. Copshop
  7. Respect

The Best of the Rest

The Lives of Others (2006)

I’m not even sure I can put into words just why I liked this film but I’ll say that it just looked and “felt” so satisfying; the music was beautiful, the characters were well written, and the story was fully absorbing and totally understandable. I’m glad that I watched all those series of Deutschland 83/86/89 – they really assisted in my understanding of the historical/societal context.

Creep (2014)

This was a great addition to the found footage subgenre of horror; it’s really tense and uncomfortable and Mark Duplass is so creepy.

American Gangster (2007)

This was a really interesting and absorbing crime drama epic that can stand proudly alongside Heat in the genre (heck, it even has its own tantalising final meeting between cop and criminal) and there’s even touches of The Godfather and The Untouchables in there; it’s very well written (Steven Zaillian is such a good screenwriter), performances are strong across the board, and even though it’s a 2.5 + hour film, it doesn’t drag and I was really invested throughout, although it did take a little time for the film to find its feet at the beginning

Mary and Max (2009)

I really didn’t expect this film to be so dark – with its bold and brave material relating to mental illness, eating disorders, alcoholism, depression and death, to name but a few – but I did indeed think highly of it; it has such memorable design, there’s hope (and surprisingly raunchy humour) to counterbalance all the pain and gloom, and Philip Seymour Hoffman is particularly wonderful.

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