REVIEW: SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS (2021)

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SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS (2021)

Centuries ago the power hungry Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung) came into possession of the ten rings, mystic objects that granted him power, invincibility and immortality. Not satisfied with all that he conquered, he set out to take over Ta Lo, a mystical village. There he was defeated by and fell in love with the beautiful warrior Ying Li (Fala Chen). They were wed and had a son, Shang-Chi and daughter, Xu Xialing. Upon her death, Xu returned to his villainous old ways and his children fled. In modern day Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) works in San Francisco as a valet named Sean with friend Katy (Awkwafina) and his sister remains hidden. When his father’s forces steal an amulet given him by his mother, the warrior within emerges, as Shang-Chi sets out to find Xu Xialing (Meng’er Zhang) and stop his father from whatever evil he’s plotting.

Flick is energetically and colorfully directed by Destin Daniel Cretton from his script and story with Dave Callaham and Andrew Lanham, based on the Marvel Comic. He presents a Marvel superhero epic by way of a Hong Kong martial arts fantasy flick and it can be dazzling entertainment at times. There are some stunning and fast moving action scenes, some wonderfully designed fantasy creatures and a superhero tale steeped in Asian culture. Cretton also gives the film a heart and soul to go with all the top notch SPFX and ferocious fight scenes, and the film has a rich background story to add depth to all the derring-do. There are a large amount of characters, but many are three dimensional and have purpose, thanks to story, script and excellent casting. If the film has any flaw, it’s that the fever pitch momentum grinds to a halt for a while, once Shang-Chi and company arrive at Ta Lo and there is some soul searching and we get exposition on the real threat coming. It then picks up quite spectacularly for it’s climactic confrontation. Other than a considerably slower middle act, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is breathtaking entertainment.

Getting back to the cast, there is quite an impressive one assembled here. Simu Liu is charming, charismatic and sometimes very funny as hero Shang-Chi. He plays a reluctant hero at first, but a noble and brave one, when it’s time to face his father and his Ten Rings army. Awkwafina provides some nice comic moments as his best bud Katy, but the actress has some nice dramatic and heroic moments, too. She’s not just there for laughs. Hong Kong film legend Tony Leung is a strong villain as Xu Wenwu, also known as The Mandarin. A celebrated actor in his Hong Kong films, he brings depth and dimension to what is anything but a stereotypical villain. Meng’er Zhang is good as Shang-Chi’s sister Xu Xialing and has some nice fight scenes of her own. Fala Chen is very good in her scenes as Ying Li, a noble warrior and loving wife and mother. Hong Kong film legend Michelle Yeoh is strong and wise as Shang-Chi’s aunt Nan and Ben Kingsley returns as fake Mandarin actor Trevor Slattery. A great cast with some fun surprise cameos, too.

Overall, this was a really fun and entertaining Marvel superhero epic that wonderfully borrows from the classic Hong Kong cinema martial arts fantasy flicks. There is dazzling martial arts action, stunning visuals and some very interesting characters both human and not. The FX are top notch, there are some sumptuous locations and lead Simu Liu makes for a noble hero as Shang-Chi, amongst a great cast. After a somewhat disappointing Black Widow, Marvel rebounds with one of the most fun movies of the year. As with all these flicks, stay through all the credits for two additional scenes.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 and 1/2 swords

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BARE BONES: BREAKING NEWS IN YUBA COUNTY (2021)

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BREAKING NEWS IN YUBA COUNTY (2021)

Comedy/drama finds small town wife Sue Buttons (Allison Janney) feeling insignificant and ignored, especially as it is her birthday and no one seems to care. Things change when she catches her philandering, money laundering husband Karl (Matthew Modine) cheating on her at a motel and the surprise of her appearance gives him a heart attack. She buries his body and then concocts a wild story about him being missing and possibly kidnapped, to gain attention. When her ambitious local reporter sister (Mila Kunis) seizes the opportunity for a big story and goes on the air with Sue’s yarn, things start to snowball. Be careful what you wish for, as Sue keeps embellishing upon her story to cover the plot holes and she catches the attention of some of Karl’s shady business partners (Awkwafina and Clifton Collins Jr.) and a suspicious detective (Regina Hall).

Flick is directed by Tate Taylor (The Help, The Girl on the Train) from a script by Amanda Idoko and despite strong work from Janney and a really talented cast, it’s a sadly mediocre effort. The film has it’s moments, but never lives up to it’s potential and is kind of dull, when all is said and done. The script never takes full advantage of it’s premise, despite a promising set-up, and the direction by Taylor is surprisingly very by the numbers. Somber film has none of the manic energy it needs to make this a spirited farce, is never engaging enough on a dramatic level and the spurts of Tarantino-esque graphic violence seem out of place. The cast does what it can with the thin material, but even the likes of Wanda Sykes, Ellen Barkin and Juliette Lewis, in addition to the cast members already mentioned, can’t elevate this routine comedy from being anything more than a moderately amusing diversion…and it struggles with that. On top of everything else, it ends exactly as you’d expect something like this to end. Disappointing considering all the talent involved.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON (2021)

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RAYA AND THE LAST DRAGON (2021)

500 years ago the united peoples of the kingdom of Kumandra fell under attack by sinister beings known as the Druun. The Druun turned all they encountered into stone, till the dragons of Kumandra vanquished them at the cost of their own lives. Over the years, the people split into five kingdoms with only the magical dragon gem to keep the Druun away. When treachery splits the gem into five pieces and thus allows the Druun to return, Princess Raya (Kelly Marie Tran) of the Heart tribe must seek out the legendary last dragon Sisu (Awkwafina) to reunite the pieces of the gem and defeat the Druun once and for all. Standing in her way is bitter rival Namaari (Gemma Chan) of the Fang tribe and 500 years of mistrust between the peoples of this fragmented kingdom.

Film is directed by Don Hall (Big Hero 6) and Carlos López from a script by Qui Nguyen and Adele Lim (screenwriter of Crazy Rich Asians) and is a fun and very colorful fantasy adventure. Raya is a noble and likable heroine, if not a bit cocky, and a good fit for Last Jedi/Rise of Skywalker’s Kelly Marie Tran, who voices her well. Awkwafina, is having a blast as the goofy, hyperactive and hopeful dragon, Sisu, who can transform into human form and back at will. They work well together and the characters are a nice balance to each other. There is also a colorful group of supporting characters, both good and bad, and the film movies quickly, as Raya seeks out Sisu and then needs to steal all five parts of the gem to reunite it. This is all done under the gun, as the Druun are quickly overtaking the five tribes and laying waste to all the land. There is adventure, escapes, betrayal and unexpected friendships and even if it is a bit predictable, it’s a lot of fun and has a lot of heart. The South Asian-centric design for both land and characters is visually sumptuous and imaginative and the animation is top notch. A really fun and engaging fantasy tale with endearing characters and a classic quest/adventure storyline that includes a nice emotional center. Fun for the whole family.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: JUMANJI-THE NEXT LEVEL (2019)

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JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL (2019)

Sequel to the sequel/reboot of the 1995 book based flick finds Spencer (Alex Wolff) returning to Jumanji, because there he felt like a hero. Fridge (Ser’Darius Blain) and Martha (Morgan Turner) follow him in and inadvertently take Spencer’s grandfather Eddie (Danny DeVito) and Eddie’s friend Milo (Danny Glover) along with them. Meanwhile Bethany (Madison Iseman from Annabelle Comes Home) seeks help from Alex to help rescue her friends. Once inside, they find Jumanji once again in peril, this time from Jurgen the Brutal (Rory McCann). Also creating distress is that avatars have become mixed up and Eddie is now Dr. Smolder Bravestone (Dwayne Johnson), Milo is Mouse (Kevin Hart) Fridge is Professor Sheldon Oberon (Jack Black) with Bethany becoming a winged horse and Spencer becoming thief Ming Fleetfoot (Awkwafina). Martha is still Ruby Roundhouse (Karen Gillan), however, and Alex is still Jefferson “Seaplane” McDonough (Nick Jonas). The group must again save Jumanji, somehow get their avatars straightened out and maybe get back home again.

Film is again directed by Jake Kasdan from a script by himself, Jeff Pinker and Scott Rosenberg. While not quite as lively as the last film, it’s still mindless and harmless fun. There is plenty of action and exotic settings, though does replay a lot of the gags from the Welcome To The Jungle. The cast are again having fun, especially Johnson and Hart, who get to play different characters whom their video game alter egos are representing. Johnson is fun echoing Danny DeVito, though Kevin Hart really steals the flick with his dead-on impression of Danny Glover. He’s hilarious. New addition Awkwafina is also fun as Spencer’s avatar Ming and when the gang gets their avatars realigned, she gets to have fun mimicking DeVito in the film’s second half. McCann makes a functional yet generic villain and it’s once again the character interaction that really makes it so enjoyable. Entertaining enough with a solid cast that overcomes a fairly pedestrian script.
-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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BARE BONES: THE FAREWELL (2019)

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THE FAREWELL (2019)

Heartwarming and poignant movie finds family matriarch Nai Nai (Zhao Shuzhen) being diagnosed with terminal cancer and given only months to live. Her family decides to keep the news from her, but then stages a wedding between her grandson (Chen Han) and his girlfriend (Aoi Mizuhara), so that the family can come together to see her one last time. This brings her granddaughter Billi (Awkwafina) to China from NYC and thus begins a bittersweet reunion that creates mixed emotions for Billi, as to whether the family is doing the right thing for Nai Nai.

The Farewell is exceptionally well directed by Lulu Wang from her own script, based on her own true-life experiences. It is a very well balanced film in terms of emotional tone, as we get a perfect mix of lighthearted and heartfelt moments, one never overwhelming the other. The film presents a look into Chinese culture and family life, and there is some subtle commentary on keeping one’s heritage while pursuing one’s dreams abroad. It is a film about family and tradition and is acted by a splendid cast, including an impressive performance by Awkwafina, who recently won a well deserved Golden Globe for the role, and a wonderful Zhao Shuzhen as Nai Nai. This is a very entertaining movie that will resonate with anyone with a family and knows exactly when to be serious and when to make you smile. Highly recommended. Stay through the credits for one more moment that will definitely put a smile on your face. Also stars Tzi Ma and Diana Lin as Billi’s parents.

-MonsterZero NJ

three and one half stars rating

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BARE BONES: CRAZY RICH ASIANS (2018)

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CRAZY RICH ASIANS (2018)

Rachel Chu (Constance Wu) is a woman from humble beginnings who is now a college professor and has a handsome boyfriend, Nick Young (Henry Golding). When Nick needs to return home to Singapore to be the best man at a friend’s wedding, Rachel finds out his family is “crazy” rich and Nick is heir to an empire. Worst still, Rachel feels that his wealthy family may not accept her…and they don’t. But Rachel is in love and determined to win them over whether they like it or not.

It’s been twenty-five years since 1993’s The Joy Luck Club that Hollywood produced a film that was steeped in Asian culture and featured Asian talent in front of and behind the camera. Crazy Rich Asians is based on Kevin Kwan’s book, which has been adapted by Peter Chiarelli and Adele Lim and very well directed by Jon M. Chu. At it’s heart it’s still a fairly routine romantic comedy/ drama, the kind we’ve seen many times before. What elevates it, aside from the abundant Asian culture, is a strong and witty script and a wonderful cast. From the legendary Michelle Yeoh, as Nick’s mother, to Constance Wu’s strong-willed Rachel…not to mention a scene stealing Awkwafina…we are given a cast of three dimensional characters to inhabit this familiar and oft told story. Sure it’s predictable, but it presents some old clichés from a refreshing perspective that Hollywood hasn’t visited in quite some time.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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