Yes, it's true, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is top-tier Marvel. An excellent cast (Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng'er Zhang, Fala Chen, Michelle Yeoh, and Tony Leung), well-developed characters, amazing choreography throughout, a worthy story with heart, and strong representation of Asian culture.
While the third act of Shang-Chi does walk back to more familiar Marvel-CGI territory — overall — it's a solid superhero origin story expanding the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe). This is a superhero flick that I highly recommend. Shang-Chi helps thicken MCU's growing story with a fresh perspective and superhero flare. Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton (Short Term 12 and The Glass Castle), Shang-Chi is one of the brightest entries in the Marvel franchise. Shang-Chi also became the first Marvel Studios film with an Asian-American director and a predominantly Asian cast — showcasing the importance of representation. The MCU extravaganza is chop full of dazzling choreography and splendid action sequences throughout. We also get a phenomenal cast; that helps propel the movie to extraordinary new heights. Our story follows Xu Wenwu (the great Tony Leung), who discovers the mystical ten rings, granting him immortality and godlike powers.
For thousands of years, Wenwu's reign grows stronger as he topples governments and vanquishes kingdoms; with his Ten Rings organization. Until one day, when he meets a village guardian Ying Li (the wonderful Fala Chen) and falls in love. Together, they start a family, which includes Xu Shang-Chi (a strong Simu Liu). I won't spoil what happens with Wenwu and Shang-Chi, but I will say there is a fallout between father and son. Let's quickly talk about our protagonist and antagonist (Liu and Leung). The dynamic between the father and son storyline excels thanks to the tremendous acting chops of both Liu and Leung. I remember first seeing Liu in an episode of Awkwafina's Is Nora from Queens (season 1, episode 8, "Grandma & Chill"). Liu played the hunky 'Garbage Boy' in that episode and was hilarious. Liu as also played as a series regular (Jung) in the hit-TV-show Kim's Convenience (2016-2021), which I have gone on to watch. Looking over at Leung — a veteran actor who has been in the acting business for almost 40 years now. However, this was Leung's first crossover into a Hollywood blockbuster.
The Hong Kong actor is one of Asia's most successful and internationally recognized actors. He's been in masterful films like Chungking Express (1994), 2046 (2004), Lust, Caution (2007), The Grandmaster (2013), and In the Mood for Love (2000) — which was the first film I saw him in and it's also one of my personal favorites. Leung's character is complex and complicated. He blurs the lines between good and bad, giving us one of Marvel's most well-rounded villains. Leung steals every scene he's in. Jumping to the present day, we follow Shang-Chi, who now goes by 'Shaun.' Shaun lives in San Francisco and works as a valet with his best friend Katy (a fantastic Awkwafina). It was also nice to see Awkwafina in a well-developed role throughout the movie. Yes, she is there for comedic appeal, but her character was so much more than that. Something I appreciated, and I am excited to see her in future MCU films. Shaun keeps his life on the down-low until one day, his past demons catch up with him. From there, Shaun and Katy are on a mission to hunt down and stop his father. Along the way, we also meet Shaun's sister Xu Xialing (an excellent Meng'er Zhang), who runs her own underground fight club. I would love to see a spin-off TV series with Zhang on Disney+ in the near future. Yes, she's that great.
Shang-Chi transcends to great heights with top-notch martial arts sequences, dazzling action, a compelling story, and characters that we care about. Cretton's movie also completely crushed its box office expectations for its opening weekend. Marvel's newest superhero feature set a Labor Day Weekend record with $94.4 million for the 4-day holiday weekend. Shang-Chi had the second highest-grossing weekend box office (behind Black Widow) of the year thus far. This is great news for movies because we are still battling a pandemic and are trying to get out on the other side. PSA, get vaccinated. In addition, it's exciting to see a film with a predominantly Asian-led cast do so well. So, if you feel safe going to the theaters (like I do), I highly recommend seeing this movie on the big screen. I was able to experience this superhero sensation on the IMAX. Since it opened, Shang-Chi has grossed $363 million worldwide and has reigned as No. 1 for four straight weekends. Wow! After its fourth weekend superiority, Deadline Hollywood has projected that the film's final domestic gross would be around $250 million. In the end, Shang-Chi is top-tier Marvel. "A Marvel legend will rise" and risen it has.
Want to hear more of my thoughts about this fantastic Marvel film? I spoke with my good friends, Matt and Ashley, on their podcast, Mashely at the Movies | Listen Here.
Shang-Chi is rated PG-13 (Parents Strongly Cautioned) Sequences of Violence & Action | Language.
Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton
Starring Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Meng'er Zhang, Fala Chen, Michelle Yeoh, and Tony Leung.
James Wan's Malignant starts out as a normal horror flick, then transcends into an absolute bonkers third act. You won't know what hit you.
Malignant: "(of a disease) very virulent or infectious."
This wacky approach Wan uses in the third act to eventually let the gates of hell break loose, works incredibly well for the film as a whole. I was already intrigued by the film's creepy and slow-burning approach, then was completely gobsmacked at what transpired next. I will reveal no spoils in this review. Only to tell you that if you love horror, then you should drop everything and watch this movie immediately. Wan is known for making some great horror pictures in the past. Most notably Insidious (2010) and The Conjuring (2013). I had a great experience in the past watching The Conjuring on the big screen. I took my younger sister to see it with me and the theater was sold out. I distinctively remember this group of rowdy jocks walk in and sit directly behind us. They were a bit rambunctious at the beginning and then shut up less than halfway through the horror feature. After the movie was over, all of them got up in a single file line and walked out in complete silence. It was glorious.
That's who Wan is as a skillful horror director — he can make a picture so scary that it numbs your bones. Now, Malignant isn't particularly scary — like The Conjuring — but it was always thrilling. Our film follows Madison (a strong Annabelle Wallis), who has become paralyzed by shocking visions of grisly murders while she sleeps at night. Madison's torment worsens when she discovers that these dreams are, in fact, terrifying realities. This is about as much as I want to reveal in the plot. I'll let you discover the wacky outcomes on your own. I also enjoyed the '80s horror throwback early on in Malignant. My one complaint about this movie would be, that if it wasn't for the insane third act, then Malignant might have just been an average horror feature. But because Wan lets all hell break loose towards the end, the movie reeled me back in with uncontrollable excitement. Malignant is definitely an enjoyable film, delicate in craft and eerie with its environment. Plus, Wan's dazzling camerawork added to the film's overall tension. So, have fun with this horror movie because, in the end, you won't know what hit you.
Malignant is rated R (Restricted) Language | Gruesome Images | Strong Horror Violence.\
Stream it now on HBO Max and see it in theaters.
Directed by James Wan
Starring Annabelle Wallis, Maddie Hasson, George Young, Michole Briana White, Jean Louisa Kelly, and Susanna Thompson.
Candyman (2021) runs as a direct sequel to the 1992 Original while expanding the Robitaille lore, writer-director Nia DaCosta's (2018's Little Woods) slasher feature and gory nightmare will seep through your bones.
If you have not seen the original Candyman, I advise you to pause this review and go watch it before you see the newest film. Now, the reason for that is because the newest Candyman runs as a direct sequel to the original, helping provide more knowledge into the story's backbone. DaCosta does change up some past history slightly, to add more depth to her characters. The 1992 horror film is based on Clive Barker's short story "The Forbidden." In the first film, we follow a Chicago graduate student named Helen (Virginia Madsen), who's working on a thesis about urban legends and folklore. During Helen's research, she discovers the legend of the "Candyman" (the great Tony Todd) and his connection to a series of murders in Chicago's Cabrini–Green Homes. As the legend goes, the Candyman (Daniel Robitaille) was murdered in the late 19th century for having an interracial relationship with the daughter of a wealthy white man.
The Candyman was an African American artist and the son of a slave. After word of the affair got out, the Candyman was brutally murdered by a white mob. Now, if you say his name five times in the mirror, he will reappear and kill you. Director DaCosta gives us an entire recap of what happened to Helen's fate in the original, shown through some beautiful sequences of shadow puppetry (designed by Manual Cinema). Running as a "spiritual sequel," DaCosta's latest Candyman explores the intersection of white violence and Black pain. We follow Chicago artist Anthony McCoy (an excellent Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) who — like Helen — becomes obsessed with the Candyman legend. Now that Cabrini–Green has been torn down, DaCosta creatively infuses racial themes with bloody horror. Like in the original film, which constructed a plate of social commentary, DaCosta takes her picture even further. Shown through visual splendor, pitch-black humor, and misdirection, DaCosta keeps her viewers guessing what's lurking from around the corner.
Jordan Peele (Get Out and Us) also worked as a co-writer and producer for this bloody horror film, but it's DaCosta's tightly constructed craft that stands out. Though this is not a perfect picture — I felt it needed a longer runtime, and parts seemed a bit messy — 2021's Candyman still delivers its relevant message loud and clear. Other great actors that contributed to this film include Teyonah Parris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Colman Domingo, Kyle Kaminsky, and Vanessa Williams. DaCosta's horror flick also delivers a pretty striking twist halfway through the movie, which I dare not spoil. I will say that this twist compliments itself better if you have already seen the original. For far too long, residents of Chicago's Cabrini-Green neighborhood were terrorized by a word-of-mouth ghost story about a supernatural killer with a hook for a hand. In the end, just say his name. I dare you. I'll start, "Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candyman, Candy—"
Candyman is rated R (Restricted) Language | Bloody Horror Violence | Some Sexual References.
Directed by Nia DaCosta
Starring Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Colman Domingo, Kyle Kaminsky, and Vanessa Williams.
9/11: Inside the President's War Room is an astonishing and harrowing documentary — taking a behind-the-scenes look at one of America's most tragic days.
BBC One's newest documentary gives us an in-depth look and a minute-by-minute breakdown at the Bush administration's response to one of the worst terrorist attacks in American history. Now, BBC One does a great job keeping their documentary sufficiently apolitical and focused. Likewise, I will also do my best to keep this review apolitical as well. I believe this documentary needs to be watched and discussed: no matter what side of the political spectrum you fall on or what your feelings are towards the Bush administration. Narrated by actor Jeff Daniels, we follow then-President George W. Bush and his inner circle for 12 hours on September 11, 2001. Starting from 6 a.m. that morning until that evening, we get to see and listen to then-President Bush's viewpoint.
As the chaos and tragedy of that day unfolded, Bush and his administration had to piece the news and intelligence coming in from New York City and elsewhere. Inside the President's War Room is a gripping documentary that reconstructs the day of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks from the point of view of Bush and his advisors. News broke of the first jetliner crashing into the World Trade Center shortly before 9 a.m., while Bush was attending a Florida Elementary school. At first thinking, it was an accident, then realizing that this was an attack, shortly after the second jetliner crashed into the World Trade Center. We watch Bush and his advisors trying to gather intelligence from inside a Florida classroom — while then-Vice President Dick Cheney and then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice were at the White House being informed on the situation. It's easy to forget how surreal and confusing that day was, but Adam Wishart skillfully captures that sad day through archived videos and photos.
Once Bush made it to Air Force One, he insisted that he go back to Washington. His advisors deemed it not safe, especially after the Pentagon was attacked at 9:37 a.m. We watch Air Force One's route from Florida to Louisiana to Nebraska, where the administration could gather more intelligence and briefings. We also learn that Air Force One did not have cable and could only pick up news channels if they were flying over large cities. Ironically, Air Force One became the worst place to gather intelligence, but the secret service deemed this the safest place for the president at the time. Other people we listen to during this documentary include: Cheney, Rice, Colin Powell, Andy Card, Dan Bartlett, Deborah Loewer, Josh Bolten, Ari Fleischer, Karl Rove, Ted Olson, and more. Apple bought the distribution rights for Wishart's doc, releasing it on September 1, 2021: paralleling the 20th anniversary of 9/11.
Wishart's doc also captures the horrors and turmoil of that day. He tackles a genuine backseat view at an administration's worst fears coming alive. Through breathtaking editing and photography, we relive America's deadliest terrorist attack and how it has shaped and modeled our country 20 years later. On a final note: Over the weekend, former President Bush gave a speech at the Flight 93 memorial service, where he recounted the heroism of the passengers and crew of Flight 93. But he also talked about the impacts of domestic terrorism and how it has become a growing threat, i.e. the US Capitol insurrection on January 6, 2021. "There's little cultural overlap between violent extremists abroad and violent extremists at home. But in their disdain for pluralism, in their disregard for human life, in their determination to defile national symbols, they are children of the same foul spirit. And it is our continuing duty to confront them."
Now Streaming on Apple TV+
9/11: Inside the President's War Room is not rated (NA)
Directed by Adam Wishart
Starring George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Rice, Colin Powell, Andy Card, Dan Bartlett, Deborah Loewer, Josh Bolten, Ari Fleischer, Karl Rove, and Ted Olson.
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