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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REVIEW: BLACK WIDOW (2021)

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BLACK WIDOW (2021)

Not only was Black Widow a long time coming in terms of Natasha Romanoff getting her own solo feature, but it is another highly anticipated flick postponed for over a year by COVID 19 shutdowns. Now it has arrived and we finally get some of the answers we were looking for, and a bit of closure.

Film opens with a sequence from 1995 detailing Natasha’s (Ever Anderson) fleeing from America with her Russian sleeper cell family and being taken with her sister Yelena (Violet McGraw) to be part of the Black Widow training program. Film then resumes between Captain America: Civil War and Avengers: Infinity War with Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) on the run after helping Cap and Bucky escape. Nat is about to go off the grid, when her long lost sister Yelena (Florence Pugh) pulls her into a mission to stop the Black Widow assassins training program, still being conducted in the Red Room, by a man she thought she killed, Dreykov (Ray Winstone). Determined to stop the Red Room and Dreykov once and for all, reunites her not only with Yelena, but with her sleeper cell mother and father, Alexei “Red Guardian” Shostakov (David Harbour), a super soldier and Melina Vostokoff (Rachel Weisz), a Black Widow herself.

Flick is directed by Cate Shortland from a script by Eric Pearson and story by Jac Schaeffer and Ned Benson. It has some nice emotional resonance and gives us a glimpse into how Natalia came to be the hero we know her as from the previous MCU films. The first act is strong and features a lot of action, as Nat reconnects with Yelena and are on the run from a metal-clad master assassin known only as Taskmaster, who perfectly mimics the fighting styles of his enemies. The pace here is quick, though not too fast and the action can surprisingly be a bit brutal, pushing the limits of the PG-13 rating. It’s the second act where the film loses some momentum, as Nat and Yelena break Alexei out of a Russian prison and then travel to a pig farm in St. Petersburg to reconnect with Melina, who has vital information as to the Red Room’s whereabouts. It’s here the story grinds to almost a halt, as the “family” catches up, voices their issues and awkwardly tries to bond again. Despite some nicely placed humor in the first third, here a few of the attempts at laughs fall a bit flat amidst the melodrama. The film thankfully picks up again as a betrayal brings the foursome’s enemies to their door and we head into the climactic last act in the flying Red Room complex, where Natasha comes face to face with her past, Dreykov and Taskmaster. There is a lot of action and the FX are spectacular, though there are a few weak CGI fire effects that stand out a bit. As a whole, Black Widow plays more like a Daniel Craig Bond film than a superhero movie, until the more FX heavy climax. It has a nice emotional center giving the character of Natasha Romanoff, aka Black Widow, some closure and us some answers and details, that have been left out of her story thus far.

The cast all shine here. Scarlett Johansson gives one of her best performances as Nat and imbues her with some emotional depth that she wasn’t always afforded as a second banana in the other flicks. It’s too bad her story arc is at an end, as it would be nice to see her in solo action again. That being said, if this is a passing of the torch, Florence Pugh does a great job as her “sister” Yelena Belova, who takes up the mantel in the comics. Pugh is funny, tough and handles the action quite well. She has star quality and hopefully Yelena returns in future projects. Harbour is good as Red Guardian, though the character’s dialogue tends to ramble a bit and it stands out, especially in the slow middle. Weisz is good as the matronly Melina and gets to have a few action moments herself. Winstone is efficiently villainous as Dreykov, a far more grounded villain than we are used to in these films, but the veteran actor makes him lethal. William Hurt is briefly seen as Ross, O-T Fagbenie is a Natasha ally named Mason and Olga Kurylenko appears in a role that won’t be spoiled here. A good cast and it was nice to see Johansson get to say goodbye (?) to Romanoff with a really good performance and her own flick.

Overall this was a solid entry in the MCU. It’s a more down to earth action/adventure than the previous films, at least unit the last act, and gives us some of the details we’ve been waiting for. It has a good cast, with hints at the future, as well as, finally filling us in on Nat’s past. If anything holds this flick back, it’s that the middle act slows down momentum considerably and a few of the character interactions, during these sequences, come across as more awkward than effective. It recovers for it’s last third, with an action packed finale and some nice closure for the Romanoff character. Maybe not quite living up to the large expectations set by the long wait, but far from a disappointment. Stay through the credits for an especially shocking post credits scene.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 Black Widows

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MARVEL’S BLACK WIDOW GETS NEW CHARACTER POSTERS!

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MARVEL’S BLACK WIDOW GETS NEW CHARACTER POSTERS!

On 7/9/21 we are finally getting a solo adventure for Natasha Romanoff and the latest trailer has anticipations high. Black Widow is directed by Cate Shortland from a script by Jac Schaeffer, David Hayter and Ned Benson. The flick stars Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova, Rachel Weisz as Melina Vostokoff, David Harbour as Alexei Shostakov aka Red Guardian and William Hurt returning as Thaddeus Ross. What took you so long, Marvel!?

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…and in case you haven’t seen the first trailer…

-MonsterZero NJ

Source: Instagram/Marvel

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MARVEL’S BLACK WIDOW GETS A FINAL TRAILER and NEW POSTER!

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In less than 2 months we are finally getting a solo adventure for Natasha Romanoff and the latest trailer has anticipations high. Black Widow is set to release on 5/1/20 and was directed by Cate Shortland from a script by Jac Schaeffer, David Hayter and Ned Benson. The flick stars Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova, Rachel Weisz as Melina Vostokoff, David Harbour as Alexei Shostakov aka Red Guardian and William Hurt returning as Thaddeus Ross. What took you so long, Marvel!?

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…and in case you haven’t seen the first trailer…

-MonsterZero NJ

Source: youtube

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MARVEL’S BLACK WIDOW GETS A TEASER TRAILER!

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Sure, a Black Widow movie should have happened a long time ago, but we are finally getting a solo adventure for Natasha Romanoff and from the new teaser, it looks like it might be fun. Black Widow is set to release on 5/1/20 and was directed by Cate Shortland from a script by Jac Schaeffer, David Hayter and Ned Benson. The flick stars Scarlett Johansson, Florence Pugh, Rachel Weisz and David Harbour.

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-MonsterZero NJ

Source: youtube

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REVIEW: OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013)

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OZ THE GREAT AND POWERFUL (2013)

I liked Sam Raimi’s Oz The Great And Powerful but, I didn’t love it like I’d hoped. There seems to be an element of fun that the film is missing and that keeps it from being a real treat like it should be. Oz is based on L. Frank Baum’s books and is a prequel to the classic 1939 The Wizard Of Oz. It tells the story of selfish womanizer and shyster carnival magician, Oscar Diggs (James Franco) who, while escaping a jealous husband in a hot air balloon, is grabbed by a twister and whisked to the mystical land of Oz. Greeted there by pretty witch, Theodora (Mila Kunis), who instantly falls to his charms, she tells Oscar that he is the fulfillment of a prophecy that a great wizard would fall from the sky and save Oz from the Wicked Witch, Glinda (Michelle Williams). When brought to the emerald city, Diggs is promised by Theodora’s sister, Evanora (Rachel Weisz) the throne of Oz and a mountain of gold but, first he has to destroy Glinda by stealing her wand and breaking it. Oscar accepts this quest with riches in his eyes but, soon discovers that he has been duped and it is Evanora who is the Wicked Witch and Glinda is the exiled Good Witch. Now having fallen for Glinda, he must find the selfless hero within to help the Good Witch defeat Evanora and free Oz of the Wicked Witch’s tyranny but, there is one catch… using the jilted Theodora’s feelings for Oscar against her, Evanora transforms her sister into a angry and vengeful witch who may be far more wicked then she herself. Oz is an entertaining enough movie but, there just seems to be something missing. Director Raimi and his leads seem to be taking things far too seriously and it’s not till well into the second half that the movie really provides some solid fun and the cast start to enjoy their larger then life characters. James Franco and Mila Kunis especially don’t seem to quite fit into their roles with Kunis outright appearing to be overall miscast. While Franco seems to settle in and start to enjoy himself as the future Wizard Of Oz in the second half, Kunis just never seems to have a good time with the over the top nature of the character, unlike Rachel Weisz and Michelle Williams who seem to get the point from the beginning. The supporting cast are also fairly lively including the vocal talent for the CGI characters and there are plenty of colorful supporting characters and creatures. Despite taking the material a bit too seriously, director Sam Raimi does deliver a visual feast of color and design populated with some wonderful settings and characters. He and his FX technicians deliver a sumptuous and epic looking Oz that not only recreates elements from the first film but, beautifully expands upon it. MGM still owns the rights to the original Wizard Of Oz so, Raimi and Disney couldn’t recreate everything but, they do a good job at a visual match in what ways they could. The second act and the battle for Oz does give us a bit more of the fun we came looking for but, it still doesn’t help that we had to wait over an hour for Franco and the film to liven up. And it’s a shame a talented actress like Mila Kunis just couldn’t deliver an iconic Wicked Witch that the film needed. She was so bubbly and fun in Friends With Benefits, where was THAT actress when we needed her? Sometimes a role just isn’t right and it’s too bad because, this could have been a real blast if she had hit the right notes or at least followed Weisz’ lead and had fun with it. Overall I would still recommend the film as it has plenty to offer but, just not as much as it should have and it is a good film rather then the great movie it had the potential to be. And a movie telling the story of how The Wizard Of Oz came to be, needs to be a great movie!

3 fried Francos

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