Film Review of the Week


Here Today (12A)

Review: Based on former Saturday Night Live writer Alan Zweibel’s short story The Prize, which makes hay from an anecdote about a silent auction, Here Today bids repeatedly to address the issue of dementia through comedy and a May to December romance between director Billy Crystal and co-star Tiffany Haddish. The leads catalyse winning screen chemistry when they trade one-liners and Crystal and Zweibel’s script sings when it gently pokes fun at the serious business of making people laugh behind the scenes at an SNL-style sketch show. Once the tones shifts to reflect on the inexorable, agonising deterioration of a brilliant mind, there’s a clear disconnect between writing and performances, and you can see wheels turning in actors’ minds as they wring out tears on cue.

Haddish’s character is disappointingly light on back story. Aside from an antagonistic relationship with an ex-boyfriend, swiftly distilled in one scene, her feisty chanteuse serves one purpose: to care for Crystal’s showbusiness legend as the fog descends on his mental acuity. It’s impossible to avoid drawing parallels between the lead character and Crystal’s frequent collaborator in rambunctious comic relief, Robin Williams, who took his life following a diagnosis of early Parkinson’s disease. The film’s intent is distressingly heartfelt and sincere, the execution simply falls short.

Veteran comedy writer Charlie Burnz (Crystal) has Emmy and Tony awards on his mantelpiece from a long and distinguished career penning material for stage and screen. He now serves as consiglieri to TV producer Brad (Max Gordon Moore) on top-rated sketch show This Just In on The Funny Network. Surrounded by overly enthusiastic twenty-somethings in the writers’ room, Charlie is the voice of experience and a guiding light to introvert young scribe Darrell (Andrew Durand) whose tenure depends on getting one sketch on air. Unbeknownst to his colleagues, Charlie is contending with “a form of dementia” that requires frequent consultations with his caring physician (Anna Deavere Smith).

Humdrum routine is shattered when Charlie offers an hour of his time as an auction prize and aspiring singer Emma Payge (Haddish) turns up for lunch. Her ex-boyfriend won with a bid of $22 and she is more interested in the seafood platter than Charlie’s company. A violent allergic reaction to mussels quickly dispatches Emma to A&E with Charlie in tow and an unlikely partnership is forged.

Here Today focuses intently on Charlie at the expense of everyone in his orbit. Strained relationships with grown-up children (Penn Badgley, Laura Benanti) are painted in broad strokes and dewy-eyed flashbacks to Charlie’s courtship of his wife (Louisa Krause) keep us at arm’s length from the raw emotion. Finished sketches on This Just In don’t warrant a studio audience’s cacophonous response. It’s the bitterest irony that Crystal’s film slips so effortlessly from the memory.

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Rise Of The Footsoldier: Origins (18)

Review: In the opening 60 seconds of director Nick Nevern’s tale of violence and retribution, bile-spewing Essex hard men toss out three c-bombs and twice as many f-grenades before a punch to the face momentarily silences the verbal onslaught. Profanities are as common as commas and full stops in Rise Of The Footsoldier: Origins. Based on true events, the fifth film in the blood-spattered series is another prequel to the 2007 dramatisation of the Rettendon murders, which joined a long list of homegrown gangster thrillers that jumped on and fell off the Lock, Stock,… bandwagon.

Nevern’s knuckle-bruised picture welcomes back Terry Stone, Roland Manookian and Craig Fairbrass as the victims of the 1995 shooting – Tony Tucker, Craig Rolfe and Pat Tate – while Billy Murray briefly reprises his role as Mickey Steele, one of the men jailed for the execution down a quiet farm lane. Violence is treated as everyday self-expression. One hapless geezer, who flirts with the wrong woman, is rewarded with multiple blows to the face from a snooker ball while another fella’s prize motor is thoroughly doused with petrol to make a point. “It’s gone beyond word, mate,” growls the perpetrator before he lights a match and walks away from an automotive fireball.

Tony Tucker (Stone) and buddies Frampy (Michael Elkin), Jacko (Sam Gittins) and Pete (Jacey Elthalion) served together in the Falklands War. They remain a band of brothers years later and intervene to save a young man (Kieran Moggan) from a brutal mugging outside a nightclub. The victim’s grandfather, Ian Jarvis (PH Moriarty), offers Tony a job as a doorman at his club, Hollywoods in Romford. Tony roots out disloyalty among the bouncers, installs his friends as the new security detail and introduces a fresh music policy – acid house – spearheaded by DJ Brandon Block (Chas Symonds). Hollywoods goes from strength to strength.

Over in Basildon, Dave Simms (Keith Allen), debt-riddled owner of nightclub Raquels, hires hard man Bernard O’Mahoney (Vinnie Jones) to root out football hooligans in his clientele led by Joey Waller aka Basildon Joe (George Russo). Bernard convinces Tony and his boys to switch allegiances for a 20% cut of profits from the door, cloakroom and bar. Drug dealer Pat Tate (Fairbrass) is dragged into the escalating feud between Raquels’ doormen and Basildon Joe.

Co-written by Nevern and Andrew Loveday, Rise Of The Footsoldier: Origins squanders the addition of Jones, who has little to occupy his time besides a gratuitous torture scene with a hammer and fish hooks. Pacing is inconsistent and the running time feels longer than 106 minutes. Dodgy haircuts and a 1980s-scented soundtrack of Black Box, Laura Branigan, New Order, Sam Fox, Taylor Dane, The Thompson Twins and Ultravox turn back the clock more convincingly than the lead cast.

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Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings (12A)

Review: Blessed with the Asian cinema royalty of actors Tony Leung and Michelle Yeoh, and the acrobatic excellence of fight co-ordinator Andy Cheng, Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings is brimful of eastern promise and largely delivers on it. Pirouetting gracefully onto the Marvel Cinematic Universe diversity bandwagon that started rolling at breakneck speed with Black Panther, director Destin Daniel Cretton’s fantastical romp through post-Avengers: Endgame worlds introduces richly-drawn new characters with some of the franchise’s most breathtakingly balletic action sequences.

Bruising martial artistry on a runaway articulated trolley bus heightens the adrenaline-pumping delirium with a flurry of roundhouse kicks and flashing blades while one-on-one fisticuffs on the edge of a bamboo forest nod reverentially to Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. A frenetic chase along the scaffolding of a gleaming high-rise marries vertiginous thrills with silent cinema slapstick when a loose plank upends into the face of an oncoming henchman.

Actor and stuntman Simu Liu takes the title role by the scruff of the neck, performing many of his own acrobatics, while co-star Awkwafina brings tenderness to her scene-stealing comic sidekick with a penchant for burning rubber. One glaring mis-step is the reintroduction of Sir Ben Kingsley’s theatrical ham Trevor Slattery from Iron Man 3, sporting a Liverpudlian accent, who is completely redundant aside from one high-octane scene as a human GPS.

Shaun (Liu) and best friend Katy (Awkwafina) work as hotel parking valets in San Francisco and break up the monotony of their day by taking a guest’s turbo-charged motor for a spin along the wildly undulating streets. Content to idle through life, Shaun and Katy pay scant regard to a friend’s warning that they are now “living in a world where half the population can just disappear”. On the way home, the workmates are attacked by hulking assassin Razor Fist (Florian Munteanu) and his goons, who demand Shaun hands over a pendant that once belonged to his mother (Fala Chen).

Shaun unleashes a dizzying array of fight moves but ultimately loses the trinket. “Who are you?” gasps Katy. Reluctantly, Shaun confesses he is Shang-Chi, son of Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung), an immortal who can harness the devastating power of 10 ancient golden bracelets. Fearful that his estranged younger sister (Meng’er Zhang) is now a target, Shang-Chi races to Macau with Katy in tow.

Shang-Chi And The Legend Of The Ten Rings is a rollicking romp laced with plentiful father-son angst and noble sacrifices in the heat of battle. Special effects overload threatens a bombastic final act but solid performances largely cut through a digital blitzkrieg that conjures memories of Awkwafina’s animation, Raya And The Last Dragon. Predictably, end credits conceal two teases. The first explicitly grounds the title character in the wider Marvel mythology replete with fan-pleasing cameos while a second vignette is a tokenistic redress of gender inequality. The Ten Rings Will Return promises an end title card. Happy days.

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