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: GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE (2021)

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GUNPOWDER MILKSHAKE (2021)

Sam (Karen Gillan) is an assassin for The Firm, and after her most recent assignment goes awry, is tasked with retrieving some money stolen from them and killing the man, David (Samuel Anderson), who took it. She finds he stole the money for ransom, to get his kidnapped daughter Emily (Chloe Coleman) back and Sam proceeds to go rescue her. Along the way the money is destroyed, David dies and now The Firm wants Sam dead. With Emily in tow, Sam is forced to team with her estranged assassin mother, Scarlet (Lena Headly) and a sisterhood of assassins (Carla Guigino. Michelle Yeoh and Angela Bassett) Scarlet once belonged to, to face down an army of killers sent her way.

Netflix streaming movie is stylishly enough directed by Navot Papushado (Rabies) from a script by he and Ehud Lavski. It’s an entertaining enough movie, though a bit of a mess and clearly is a strong case of John Wick meets The Professional, with a little Tarantino thrown in for good measure. The cast all seem to be having a good time playing a host of oddball characters and there is plenty of gunfire, but it gets tiresome after a while. We’ve been watching these slow motion gunfights and stabbings since John Woo made them popular in the 90s and these hip, hyper-violent crime flicks are starting to get played out. They’ve become their own subgenre. Gunpowder Milkshake has a fun neon colored look to go along with all the CGI blood and gun flares and while it’s never boring, it’s never all that involving either. An OK waste of time if there is nothing else to watch and Gillan does make Sam a likable killer with a sarcastic sense of humor and a heart. Also stars Paul Giamatti as Firm head Nathan.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1-2 star rating

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BARE BONES: LAST CHRISTMAS (2019)

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LAST CHRISTMAS (2019)

Christmas season set romantic comedy finds pretty Kate (Emilia Clarke) down on her luck and unable to keep a roof over her head, because of constantly pissing-off those she roommates with. She’s had a traumatic, life threatening illness, has not been herself since and is alienating her family and friends. Even her stern, Christmas loving boss (Michelle Yeoh) is loosing patience with the wannabe singer turned Christmas store elf. One night things start to change, however, as Kate meets the mysterious and charismatic Tom (Henry Golding), who inspires Kate to overcome her emotional troubles and be herself again.

Holiday flick is directed by Paul Feig (Ghostbusters 2016) from a script and story by co-star Emma Thompson, Greg Wise and Bryony Kimmings. As such, it is a mixed bag. Even though we are supposed to be on Kate’s side, she is somewhat annoying at first and it’s hard to sympathize with her when she is being a bit of a selfish a-hole. The romantic aspects are very cliché, though thanks to a charming cast they still work very well. That cast elevates this above the mediocre holiday rom-com it is, with Clarke and Golding having really nice chemistry together. Clarke especially wins us over once Kate starts to change her ways and goes from annoying to adorable in the last act and Golding proves to be a charismatic leading man. A fantastic Michelle Yeoh steals every scene she is in and Dame Emma Thompson is amusing as Kate’s Yugoslavian mother. The London setting is equally charming and the film does have a surprising reveal, about two third through, that you may not see coming. Overall, it’s entertaining enough, wins you over by it’s last act and made far better than it’s routine script by a solid cast and some good old fashioned charm…though, you might be a little tired of that Wham! song by it’s end.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star 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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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: MORGAN (2016)

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MORGAN (2016)

(Remember, clicking the highlighted links brings you to other reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

Morgan is a sci-fi/horror about the attempts to artificially engineer a human being and the product of those experiments…Morgan. In a secret lab facility deep in the woods, a team of scientists have created a young women who they named Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy from The Witch), who at five years-old appears to be closer to her teens and is vastly intelligent. Her emotional development is not coming along as well and a temper outburst injures a team member (Jennifer Jason Leigh) and causes the corporation in charge to send specialist Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) to the facility to assess the situation. But the more Lee starts to see that the emotionally unbalanced Morgan should probably be terminated, the more she finds out what this genetically manufactured girl will do to survive.

Morgan is written by Seth Owens and directed by Luke Scott, who is the son of the legendary Ridley Scott. While this tale of man trying to play God with disastrous results is nothing new, Scott has learned well from his father and makes this a suspenseful and entertaining thriller despite the familiar plot and themes. The tension is there as Morgan begins to realize she is in danger and maybe these people who she thought of as family and friends really aren’t and it works if not a bit predictable. The last act goes expectedly in full Frankenstein mode with Morgan on the loose, but despite us knowing this is exactly where it was heading, Scott does direct the proceedings well and there is some startling and brutal violence to add weight to what we see. The closing moments may also not be the surprise it’s meant to be, but again Luke Scott makes it effective and overall this is an entertaining and atmospheric flick despite being a tale told quite often since Mary Shelley’s classic first appeared in 1818.

The cast is solid. Anya Taylor-Joy is both sympathetic and creepy as Morgan. She portrays well her conflicting emotions, so we side with her at first and then gives her a sense of threat and lethality when the monster is unleashed. A good job by the young actress. Kate Mara gives her Lee a Spock-like cold efficiency that rarely breaks. This does keep her from being endearing, but the character isn’t written to be sympathetic or a ‘hero’. She’s there to do a job and can’t afford emotional distractions. As such, Mara does good work. We also have Rose Leslie who is sympathetic and likable as the behavior expert who is most emotionally attached to Morgan. We do sympathize with her once Morgan goes into survival mode and she is caught in the middle between her and the pursuing Lee. Rounding out is Michelle Yeoh as the scientist in charge, Dr. Cheng, Toby Jones as one of the lead scientists who is opposed to Lee’s plan to terminate the experiment and Paul Giamatti as a psychologist sent in to evaluate Morgan psychologically. All do good work in their parts.

So, this flick is far from original and definitely heads in a direction that we fully expect. It overcomes some of it’s predictability with being solidly directed by Luke Scott and the cast are all good in their parts, stereotypical of this kind of flick, though they may be. There is some tension and suspense despite the familiarity and the last act has some legitimately startling moments, though leads to a conclusion we can see coming. Worth a look and not bad for an evening’s entertainment on the couch, even if we have seen it all before.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 syringes.

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