Sunday, September 5

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Review


Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Dir: Destin Daniel Cretton

Starring: Simu Lu, Awkwafina, Tony Leung Chiu-wai, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen,

and Michelle Yeoh

2h 13m

 

The first big action sequence in Marvel Studios’ newest superhero origin story, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” happens on a bus in the busy streets of San Francisco. It is easily one of the best action moments of recent Marvel movie memory. The scene boasts beautifully choreographed martial arts moves, which sometimes feel like an homage to the Jackie Chan/Sammo Hung school of battle ballet, in a traveling bus that adds a sense of danger up and down every hill road. This sequence helps establish director Destin Daniel Cretton’s film with early energy, excitement, and, most notably within the vast catalog of Marvel films, identity.

 

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” separates itself from the typical Marvel action fanfare by introducing this early, ingenious action scene, but there is more to enjoy. Cretton, who co-wrote the script with David Callaham and Andrew Lanham, takes the Marvel formula, adjusts the scope and storytelling structure, and tells a superhero origin tale with Asian-American representation. The film ultimately bends to the formulaic structure that keeps many of Marvel’s films from succeeding from start to finish. Still, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” works best when avoiding clichés and allowing the culture to lead the heart, humor, and heroics that define comic book stories.

 

Shaun (Simu Lu) works as a valet in a swanky San Francisco building with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina). The two live for simple pleasures, like driving the valet cars fast and singing karaoke all night long. When a group of assassins targets Shaun, and he suddenly reveals some impressive hand-to-hand combat skills, the secret is revealed that Shaun, whose real name is Shang-Chi, is the son of Wenwu (Tony Leung Chiu-wai), an ancient Chinese warrior. Wenwu has survived and conquered for centuries by wielding the power of the Ten Rings.

 

 
The narrative throughout “Shang-Chi” is working towards a few different goals. One is the final encounter between good and evil, in this case, Shang-Chi and his father. The journey getting to this point is where the film becomes rather complicated and hurried with the goals it’s trying to achieve. Sprinkling a Marvel crossover storyline to link the franchise universe is fun, while a trip to the past helps connect the dots of how Shang-Chi became so skilled at martial arts and why he’s hiding from his father. Unfortunately, the film rushes through some crucial character moments, leaving Awkwafina’s amusing character Katy left as an afterthought and at times robbing Shang-Chi’s story of the emotional depth necessary to make the solid familial elements have an impact when they eventually collide. 

 

Simu Lu’s charming performance keeps Shang-Chi’s character gaps from being too obvious, while Awkwafina is consistently entertaining whenever she is on screen. However, and this is an obvious statement for cinephiles, the performance of special note belongs to the great Tony Leung Chiu-wei playing Wenwu. Leung’s graceful and captivating presence allows the villainous character to be both dangerous and vulnerable, an equally unforgiving father but also a passion-driven husband. It’s a bold and confident casting choice in regards to the source material Shang-Chi is derived from. In Stan Lee and Don Heck’s original comic book, the character Fu Manchu, an offensive stereotype for Asian people, was the villain. With no mention of that character, Leung is allowed to create his complicated baddie, and the actor shines during the entire process.

 

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” struggles to find the balance in its storytelling. Still, it succeeds in maintaining a clear sight of entertainment value and allowing its cast to lead the charge into new, necessary territory for superhero storytelling.

 

Monte’s Rating

3.25 out of 5.00

Wednesday, September 1

The Stairs Review


The Stairs Review

Dir: Peter 'Drago' Tiemann
Writers: Jason L. Lowe, Peter 'Drago' Tiemann
Starring: Kathleen Quinlan, John Schneider, Brent Bailey, Stacey Oristano, Adam Korson, Josh Crotty, Tyra Colar
1h 32m

What starts as a weeklong camping adventure with friends quickly turns into a terrifying fight for survival in THE STAIRS. 

As the recent winner of Best Horror Feature Film at Phoenix Film Festival/International Horror Sci-Fi Film Festival, I enjoyed sitting in a darkened theater again with fellow horror fans to see this unique tale unfold.

The film starts out in 1997, when a young boy goes out hunting with grandfather. He quickly gets distracted and separated from his grandfather, then stumbles upon a mysterious staircase deep in the woods. As his grandfather hears his cries for help, some “thing” takes them both. 

The subsequent disappearance leaves locals baffled as to the fate of the wayward pair and creates many urban legends.

Twenty years later, a group of hikers set off for a long camping trip, deep into the same stretch of wilderness. With each step further away from civilization, they are pulled deeper into the treacherous trap of the same set of ominous stairs.

Without giving away any spoilers, the third act of the film is an intense creature feature where survival is key.

The writers did a fantastic job of shaping their characters with their own quirks and personality so you get to enjoy them more as the story unfolds. Crowd favorite was crass, love-him-or-hate-him, Doug. 

At times, the plot can feel a bit jerky as some scenes felt a bit too short and lacked some explanation. There was a lot the writers wanted to tell, and it is a bit obvious that some of the fat was left on the cutting floor. But the meat of the story is prime and enjoyable. 

What made this film was the setting. The forest was welcoming yet precarious. The stairs are jarring, out of place and just add to the uneasiness. The creature isn’t too cheesy and is featured just enough so not to kill some of the more intense plot moments.

Like the stairs themselves, it’s a very intriguing story. You will want more after the credits.

While not perfect, for a lower budget horror film, THE STAIRS is one I still contemplate and want to share with others.

Theresa's Rating 

3.50 out of 5.00


Friday, August 27

Candyman Review


Candyman

Dir: Nia DaCosta

Starring: Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Teyonah Parris, Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Colman Domingo, Kyle Kaminsky

1h 31m

 

In 1992, director Bernard Rose brought author Clive Barker's short story, "The Forbidden," about an urban legend known as The Candyman, to gruesome cinematic life. The film starred Tony Todd as the hook-wielding ghoul who fell in love with the wrong woman and was punished by racists for his desire and Virginia Madsen as the inquisitive grad student searching the housing projects of Cabrini-Green in Chicago for the origins of the urban legend. By saying his name five times in the mirror, you invite the Candyman into the world, hook, gore, and all. 

 

The film, which has grown a cult following over the years, is a rare horror film well ahead of its time in examining the injustices, frustrations, and rage for the treatment of Black people in America through the lens of genre filmmaking. While Bernard Rose's vision may offer a few unforgettable chills and a more than memorable villain, the story seemed only to graze the surface concerning the politics and social commentary found inherent in a story about the sins of America's past. 

 

In the thought-provoking, confident continuation of the myth, directed by Nia DaCosta, Candyman's legend has been hushed to forgotten folklore, not even a bedtime story to scare the little ones. Gone are the distressed Cabrini-Green housing units, in their place, a gentrified living tower with sleek designs and floor-to-ceiling windows that illuminate the Chicago skyline. Candyman, in present times, isn't the one we remember from the past film. Instead, the tale exists with a falsely accused Black man blamed for giving candy with razor blades to White children. His demise, at the hand of aggressive law enforcement, is the lore that is remembered for current times. 

 

The story of Candyman begins to take greater shape in DaCosta's account once a painter named Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) begins exploring the ruins of Cabrini-Green. Anthony's insight and very soon obsession with the myth starts to consume him. The relationship with his girlfriend Brianna (Teyonah Parris) begins to suffer after Anthony's Candyman art exhibit ends with the gruesome murder of two people. Soon, Anthony comes face to face with the unspoken legend from the past, leading more unsuspecting people to remember and say his name. 

 

DaCosta, who wrote the script along with Win Rosenfeld and Jordan Peele, takes this urban legend and imbues it with current themes of social commentary surrounding the injustices for people of color, the brutality inflicted on Black bodies, and the historical trauma, some as recent as last year, perpetrated throughout American history. It doesn't take profound observation to connect the tagline for this film, "Say His Name," to the Breonna Taylor incident that advocated to "Say Her Name." 

 

The design of CANDYMAN paints Chicago as a modern landscape with deep history underneath its glossy exterior. The opening credits display a masked Chicago skyline hidden in the fog. It's a nice callback to the birds-eye introduction of the original film. And, instead of framing the scares and violence with an abundance of gore, DaCosta focuses her fear more on creepy factors utilizing mirror tricks and depth of field to display how close Candyman is throughout the film. It's a nice touch that allows this version of the myth to shape its unique atmosphere. 

 

The perspective of CANDYMAN shifts, perhaps too often, between Anthony and Brianna as the film leads towards its ultimate culmination. When the third act hits, the emotional notes established for Anthony disappear to a large extent as the film focuses on Brianna's journey towards the truth the movie has kept a mystery. 

 

In one of the film's best elements, DaCosta utilizes shadow puppets to reimagine the past and how stories are changed, exaggerated, and hidden the longer they are kept. It's a beautiful and elegant touch. It's within this technique that CANDYMAN tells the most intriguing tale. Storytelling, folklore, and spoken traditions exist to keep a piece of history alive and relevant, no matter how horrifying those pieces may be. To allow the world to know that a people, place, or event existed. It also allows for a reframing of traumatic events, a way to make sense of the fears and monsters that have brought sorrow and pain to the world, in a manner allowing for stories to capture those traumas and take away their power. You can feel this version of CANDYMAN engaging in all those aspects of storytelling.

 

Even amidst some late missteps, Nia DaCosta's CANDYMAN utilizes the horror genre and vengeful spirit to tell a powerful tale of social, economic, and racial inequality.  

 

Monte's Rating

4.00 out of 5.00