Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings


A new hero rises.

(2021) Superhero (Disney) Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Tony Leung, Michelle Yeoh, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Florian Munteanu, Yuen Wah, Andy Le, Paul He, Jayden Zhang, Elodie Fong, Arnold Sun, Stephanie Hsu, Kunal Dudheker, Tsai Chin, Jodi Long, Dallas Liu, Ronny Chieng, Stella Ye, Ben Kingsley, Michael-Anthony Taylor, Zach Cherry, Raymond Ma, Benedict Wong, Harmonie He. Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton

 

There are a number of firsts going on in the latest entry into the MCU. The first Asian-American superhero. The first Marvel feature to introduce a new hero into the mix since Captain Marvel. The first MCU film with a director of Asian descent. The first villainous role for Chinese action legend Tony Leung (and also his first English-language film). The first to debut on Labor Day weekend. The first Disney film to resume production after the initial pandemic shutdown.

But is that all there is to a movie? Ground-breaking alone doesn’t make for a great, entertaining film. Thankfully, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings fits the bill and then some.

A prologue tells us of Wenwu (Leung), a villain who found (or stole) ten magic arm rings that rendered him invincible as well as virtually immortal. Over a thousand years, he conquered everything there was to conquer, but he wanted more. The “more” was a village called Ta Lo, a hidden village that sits in a neighboring dimension where dwell legendary magical creatures and contains magical power of immense proportions. Wenwu – who would later be used as the blueprint to create the fictional terrorist known as the Mandarin – already led a criminal enterprise and commanded an army of ninjas, including killers Death Dealer (Le) and Razor Fist (Munteanu), but comes by a map that helps him arrive at the village, although the bamboo forest it is located in seemed to be a living guardian of the peaceful village. There is also a human guardian – the beautiful Li (Chen) who bests Wenwu in a fight. The criminal overlord promptly falls in love and, improbably, ends up marrying her.

Because of Wenwu’s criminal past, the couple is denied residence in Ta Lo so Macau is where they end up living. Li gives birth to a son and daughter before she dies, and Wenwu, who had softened into a family man, hardens right back up, training his young son, Shang-Chi, to be a killer while mostly ignoring his daughter, Xiang.

Shang-Chi (Liu) eventually runs away from his father, choosing not to become like him, and ends up in San Francisco, using the name Shaun. He has a bestie named Katy (Awkwafina) who, like him, parks cars at a swanky SF hotel. While Katy’s mom (Long) and grandma (Chin) wonder when the two are going to get married, but they’re just friends (without benefits – this is a PG-13 film after all). However, on a bus ride to work, Shaun is attacked by a group of thugs including Razor Fist and turns out that he has extraordinary martial arts abilities, much to the shock of Katy who is unaware of his past. He manages to beat the thugs, but they steal a pendant that his mother had given him, but let slip that they are going after his sister next. So Shang-Chi boards a plane for Macau, having received a cryptic postcard from his sister which apparently reveals her address and Katy insists on going with.

There they find a bitter Xiang (Zhang) who had resented her brother for leaving her behind with their father. She, too, had eventually run away from home and began an empire of her own with a high-tech fight club on top of a skyscraper. That’s when the goons arrive and so does dear old dad. You see, it seems he needs the pendants to reveal a map that will navigate a safe passage through the bamboo forest to Ta Lo. Wenwu has been hearing his wife’s voice, begging him to set her free from imprisonment in her former home. But he also intends to destroy that home, much to Shang-Chi’s horror. They must find a way to get there first if they are going to stop their dad, who is unwittingly going to release a horrible, Apocalypse-bringing monster onto the earth if he succeeds.

First of all, the good news: this is one of the best Marvel movies yet, right up there with Black Panther and Guardians of the Galaxy. It is beautifully shot, the fight sequences are phenomenal (particularly the first one on the bus) and the CGI without peer. Simu Liu, who was previously best known for the Canadian TV series Kim’s Convenience, is going to be a huge star, following the example of Chris Hemsworth who was a little-known actor before being cast as Thor. Add to that the lustrous Michelle Yeoh as Auntie Nan, Leung who gets to show American filmgoers what Asian audiences have known for decades, and Awkwafina who continues to become a major A-list star with her performance here.

weaves all the elements together pretty well. I will admit that during the middle the movie becomes necessarily exposition-heavy and drags somewhat, but other than that, he shows a sure hand on the big stage even though he comes from an indie background (Short Term 12) and this is really his first big budget major tentpole release. Undoubtedly he’ll get a lot more like this, in all likelihood including Shang-Chi 2 which is almost a certainty to make it onto Marvel’s schedule eventually.

There are two post-credit sequences, incidentally, and the first one is maybe the best one in the franchise with a couple of cameos by Marvel superheroes and hints at what Shang-Chi’s place in the larger MCU is going to be. Given what I’ve seen here, he’s not going to fade into the woodwork any time soon. This is the must-see movie of the season and by all means go out and see it in a theater if you can.

REASONS TO SEE: Wonderfully weaves Chinese culture, myths and legends into the MCU. Simu Liu is going to be a star and Awkwafina further cements her own reputation. Incredible action sequences and effects. One of the best Marvel movies ever.
REASONS TO AVOID: A little bit long, dragging a bit in the middle third.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of fantasy/superhero action and violence, as well as some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Stunt coordinator Bradley James Allen, who was the first (and only) non-Asian member of Jackie Chan’s stunt team, passed away on August 7 from an undisclosed illness. The film is dedicated to him.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 9/4/2021: Rotten Tomatoes: 92% positive reviews; Metacritic: 71/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Hero
FINAL RATING: 9.5/10
NEXT:
Triaphilia

New Releases for the Week of September 3, 2021


SHANG-CHI AND THE LEGEND OF THE TEN RINGS

(Disney) Simu Liu, Tony Leung, Awkafina, Michelle Yeoh, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Yuen Wah, Florian Munteanu, Andy Le. Directed by Destin Daniel Crettin

Shang-Chi is the son of a criminal mastermind, leader of the Ten Rings organization. His father trains him to be a lethal weapon, but Shang-Chi rejects his father’s ways and flees to America. However, you can’t run from your past any more than you can run from who you are and he will have to find it within him to stand against his own father to become the hero within him.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Superhero
Now Playing: Wide
Rating: PG-13 (for sequences of violence and action, and language)

Cinderella

(Amazon/Columbia) Camilo Cebello, Idina Menzel, Pierce Brosnan, Minnie Driver. The familiar fairy tale is given a modern update with a pop soundtrack. Hopefully, Pierce Brosnan isn’t singing in this one.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Musical
Now Playing: Cinemark Universal Citywalk (also on Amazon Prime)
Rating: PG (for suggestive material and language)

The Gateway

(Lionsgate) Shea Whigham, Olivia Munn, Frank Grillo, Keith David. A social worker winds up in a situation out of control when he tries to protect one of his clients from her violent drug-dealing husband, recently paroled from jail. He and his crew will do anything to find their stash of drugs – and kill anyone who stands in their way.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Crime Thriller
Now Playing: Studio Movie Grille Sunset Walk
Rating: R (for strong violence, pervasive language, drug use, some sexual content and nudity)

The Lost Leonardo

(Sony Classics) Jerry Saltz, Martin Kemp, Doug Patteson, Robert K. Wittman. The story of the most expensive painting ever sold, which purports to be a lost masterpiece by Leonardo Da Vinci. But is it, or is it a game piece in an elaborate charade?

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Enzian
Rating: PG-13 (for nude art images)

Wild Indian

(Vertical) Michael Greyeyes, Kate Bosworth, Jesse Eisenberg, Chaske Spencer. A native American man has left his violent past – and murderous secret – on the reservation. Now the new life he has made for himself is threatened by a ghost from that past.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Thriller
Now Playing: Studio Movie Grill Sunset Walk
Rating: NR

Yakuza Princess

(Magnet) Masumi, Jonathan Rhys-Meyers, Tsuyoshi Ihara, Eijiro Ozaki. An orphan discovers that she is heir to half of the Yakuza criminal empire. Joining with an amnesiac stranger who believes that both of their destinies are tied up in an ancient sword, she must fight against the heir to the other half of the Yakuza fortune who wants to kill her for complete control.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Genre: Crime
Now Playing: Fashion Square Premiere
Rating: R (for strong bloody violence, some language and graphic nudity)

COMING TO VIRTUAL CINEMA/VOD:

Afterlife of the Party (Thursday)
Attention Attention
Good
Hands Up
The J Team
Karen
The Madness Inside Me
Memory House
Samantha Rose
(Tuesday)
Saving Paradise
Ted Bundy: American Boogeyman
We Need to Do Something
Worth

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Good
The Lost Leonardo
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings
Worth



Crazy Rich Asians


Love, Singaporean style.

(2018) Romantic Comedy (Warner BrothersConstance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Awkwafina, Gemma Chan, Lisa Lu, Harry Shum Jr., Ken Jeong, Sonoya Mizuno, Chris Pang, Jimmy O. Yang, Ronny Chieng, Remy Hii, Nico Santos, Jing Lusi, Carmen Soo, Pierre Png, Fiona Xie, Victoria Loke, Janice Koh, Amy J. Cheng. Directed by Jon M. Chu

Fairy tales are powerful things. Doesn’t every little girl want to marry the prince and go riding off into the sunset together, preferably in the direction of a beautiful castle? Trust me, men have their fairy tales as well but we won’t get into those here.

Rachel Chu (Wu) is an economics professor at NYU and she’s been dating handsome Nick Young (Golding), a fellow academic, for more than a year. She’s headed to Singapore with him to attend his cousin (and best friend’s) wedding. When they get first class tickets on the airplane, she asks him how wealthy his family is. “We’re comfortable,” he says modestly. Yeah, they’re comfortable in the same way that Bill Gates is comfortable.

Nick’s mom (Yeoh), the imperious matriarch of the family, is none too pleased to see Rachel who even though her son is crazy about her is still nonetheless not even close to the kind of match that she had in mind for her son. Rachel will have to navigate the sometimes-treacherous waters of Nick’s family, aided by her college bestie Peik Lin (Awkwafina), if she is going to keep the man she loves.

America loves its rich folks and that helps the movie out a great deal. The fact that this is a largely Asian-American cast and crew is a big deal, and the movie gives us some insight into Chinese (primarily) culture and customs, and those are some of the more endearing moments of the film.

I can’t say enough about Constance Wu, one of the stars of Fresh Off the Boat. She has tons of charisma and likability; she has a big future ahead of her and not only as a romantic leading lady. She has the kind of presence that Awkwafina (who would break out this year in The Farewell) has, but with a touch more self-assuredness. Golding also has a ton of leading man appeal.

Although there are a few rom-com tropes here, they don’t necessarily get in the way of the enjoyment of this movie. After an over-profusion of the genre over the last 20 years, romantic comedies have fallen somewhat out of favor. With a fresh take on them as this one has and particularly after the kind of success it enjoyed (the highest box office for any romantic comedy in more than a decade), you can bet we’ll be seeing more of them in the near future. If they’re this good, I wouldn’t mind at all.

REASONS TO SEE: Constance Wu is a find. Culturally informative. Escapes most rom-com clichés.
REASONS TO AVOID: Sends some mixed messages about the institution of marriage.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some sexually suggestive content and a bit of profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Netflix offered to produce the movie at a substantially larger budget, but producer Kevin Kwan felt that it was important to prove to the studios that Asian-American movies were commercially viable. Netflix ended up producing Always Be My Maybe instead.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AppleTV, Fandango Now, Google Play, Microsoft,  Movies Anywhere, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/7/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 91% positive reviews: Metacritic: 74/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Pretty Woman
FINAL RATING: 8/10
NEXT:
A.X.L.

Between Two Ferns: The Movie


Given a choice between watching Between Two Ferns and two actual ferns…

(2019) Mockumentary (Netflix) Zach Galifianakis, Lauren Lapkus, Ryan Gaul, Jiavani Linayao, Will Ferrell, Matthew McConaughey, Bruce Willis, Keanu Reeves, David Letterman, Chrissy Teigen, John Legend, Rashida Jones, John Cho, Brie Larson, Paul Rudd, Adam Scott, Jon Hamm, Benedict Cumberbatch, Tiffany Haddish, Peter Dinklage, Tessa Thompson, Awkwafina. Directed by Scott Aukerman

 

I will admit that the kind of humor found on podcasts, YouTube videos and generally anything on the Internet leaves me pretty cool. I suppose I’m too old, not hip enough or just plain too curmudgeonly for the kind of wry humor that seems to dominate those forms these days, with the almost obsessive pop culture references. In any case, while I generally like Galifianakis and his short interview sequences on the Funny or Die website, I was hesitant about watching a full-length feature film about it.

Anyone who has seen the interview segments that Galifianakis conducts in the web series knows that they are deadpan and viciously funny, and that continues here. Asking McConaughey “Of all the things you could win an Oscar for, how surprised are you that you won one for acting?” or Keanu Reeves following up on his assertion that he researches for his film roles, “Have you ever thought of researching a character who has taken acting lessons.”

The thing is, these zingers are better on paper than they are live where they just come off as kind of dickish. Also, the surrounding storyline – Zach has to film ten Between Two Ferns episodes in two weeks if he is going to get the late-night talk show host position he so dearly covets. The road trip aspect of the movie is decidedly unfunny. Lapkus does commendable work as Zach’s long-suffering assistant while Gaul and Linayao are solid as his sound and camera operators. The parade of A-list celebrities turn out to be good sports about the often really nasty questions Galifianakis asks them. A closing credits blooper reel shows, however, that they are definitely in on the joke – most of the time.

Some will find this deliciously funny; others will find it needlessly cruel. Like I said, maybe I’m not exactly the target audience but I would trend more towards the latter group although there are some really hilarious moments. Just not enough of them to make me recommend this one.

REASONS TO SEE: Lapkus does a solid job.
REASONS TO AVOID: The droll humor is really hit or miss – mostly miss.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity and sexual situations.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This marks the second time Hamm has been an interview subject on Between Two Ferns.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Netflix
CRITICAL MASS: As of 1/5/20: Rotten Tomatoes: 75% positive reviews: Metacritic: 59/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Borat
FINAL RATING: 5/10
NEXT:
Kin

New Releases for the Week of December 13, 2019


JUMANJI: THE NEXT LEVEL

(Columbia) Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart, Jack Black, Karen Gillan, Awkwafina, Danny DeVito, Danny Glover, Alex Wolff, Colin Hanks. Directed by Jake Kasdan

The gang is back, sucked into the world’s most dangerous videogame like dust bunnies in a vacuum cleaner. This time they are there to rescue one of their own and will brave unexplored territory – deserts and mountains in addition to the jungle – to make it home alive.

See the trailer
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Fantasy/Adventure
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for adventure action, suggestive content and some language)

Black Christmas

(Universal) Imogen Poots, Cary Elwes, Aleyse Shannon, Lily Donoghue. A black masked killer stalks sorority women at a college during Christmas break in this remake of a classic 1974 horror film.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for violence, terror, thematic content including sexual assault, language, sexual material and drinking)

Code 8

(Vertical) Robbie Amell, Stephen Amell, Sung Kang, Greg Byrk.  *insert gravelly trailer voice here* In a world where 4% of the world’s population has super powers, those with extraordinary gifts have been discriminated against and forced to live in poverty. A young power-enabled man who is fighting to survive and is drawn into a seedy underground of crime.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Superhero
Now Playing: Touchstar Southchase
Rating: NR

Hell on the Border

(Lionsgate) David Gyasi, Frank Grillo, Zahn McClarnon, Ron Perlman. This is the true story of Bass Reeves, who went from being an escaped slave during the Civil War to becoming the first African-American marshal in the American West.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Biographical Western
Now Playing: Premiere Fashion Square
Rating: R (for violence and language)

Mickey and the Bear

(Utopia) Camila Morrone, James Badge Dale, Calvin Demba, Ben Rosenfield. Mickey Peck works a job in a taxidermy shop in Anaconda, Montana. She must cope with her father, a veteran with severe PTSD who isn’t getting better, an oversexed boyfriend and her upcoming high school graduation – all without her late mother. This amazing first film from Annabelle Attanasio was recently reviewed by C365 – check the link in the section “Scheduled for Review” below.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for substance abuse, language throughout and some sexual material)

Richard Jewell

(Warner Brothers) Paul Walter Hauser, Sam Rockwell, Olivia Wilde, Jon Hamm. Clint Eastwood’s latest directorial effort is the story of the security guard at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta who thwarted a bomb planted in Centennial Park and then wrongly came under suspicion for planting it there. The film has been controversial due to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution taking exception to the portrayal of its coverage and one of its reporters.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Biographical Drama
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for language including some sexual references, and brief bloody images)

The Two Popes

(Netflix) Jonathan Pryce, Anthony Hopkins, Juan Minujin, Sidney Cole. Pope Benedict, a staunch conservative, is the leader of a Catholic church in crisis. He soon develops a relationship with the cardinal who would one day become Pope Francis, one who has sought to reform the Church.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic content and some disturbing violent images)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

The Body
Ernesto’s Manifesto
The Great War
Kettyolanu Ente Malakha
Line of Descent
Mamangam
The Mandela Effect
Mob Town
Venky Mama

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE/KEY WEST:

6 Underground
The Body
Kettyolanu Ente Malakha
Line of Descent
Mamangam
Mardaani 2
One Cut of the Dead
Venky Mama

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG/SARASOTA:

The Body
Fantastic Fungi
Mamangam
Mardaani 2
Rabid
Synonyms
Venky Mama

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

The Aeronauts
Fantastic Fungi
Mamangam
Satantango

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Black Christmas
Fantastic Fungi
Jumanji: The Next Level
Mickey and the Bear
Rabid
Richard Jewell
Synonyms
The Two Popes

FILM FESTIVALS TAKING PLACE IN FLORIDA:

Vero Beach Wine + Film Festival at Sea, Port Everglades, FL

New Releases for the Week of August 16, 2019


THE ANGRY BIRDS MOVIE 2

(Columbia) Starring the voices of Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Leslie Jones, Bill Hader, Rachel Bloom, Awkwafina, Eugenio Derbez, Tiffany Haddish. Directed by Thurop von Orman and John Rice

The Angry Birds and their formal rivals, the Green Piggies, must set aside their differences and work together when a new threat imperils both of their island homes.

See the trailer, video featurettes and an interview here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Animated Feature
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG (for rude humor and action)

47 Meters Down: Uncaged

(Entertainment Studios) Sistine Rose Stallone, Corinne Fox, Brianne Tju, Sophie Nėlisse. A quartet of teenage girls are trapped in an underwater ruin of an ancient Mayan city. Their dwindling air supply is the least of their worries however; the city has become a hunting ground for Great White Sharks.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Adventure
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for creature-related violence and terror, some bloody images and brief rude gestures)

Blinded by the Light

(New Line) Viveik Kalra, Hayley Atwell, Rob Brydon, Nell Williams. A young immigrant to London in 1987 is torn between two worlds; the traditions and expectations of his strict Pakistani father and the exciting world of his adopted country in the midst of a music revolution. When he discovers the music of Bruce Springsteen, he finds a kindred soul who gives him hopes to find his own way through the darkness on the edge of town

See the trailer, clips and a video featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for thematic content and language including some ethnic slurs)

David Crosby: Remember My Name

(Sony Classics) David Crosby, Cameron Crowe, Henry Diltz, Graham Nash. One of rock’s most influential voices from the Byrds to CSNY is battling age and poor health as he struggles to face the ups and downs of his past.

See the trailer and a clip here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Music Documentary
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: R (for language, drug material and brief nudity)

Good Boys

(Universal) Jacob Tremblay, Will Forte, Lil Rel Howley, Keith L. Williams. A 12-year-old is invited to his first middle school party where there is sure to be kissing. Not knowing how to properly kiss a girl, he enlists his friends and his dad’s drone – which he is forbidden to touch – to see if he can figure out the right way to kiss a girl. Things go from bad to worse from there.

See the trailer and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for strong crude sexual content, drug and alcohol material, and language throughout – all involving teens)

Honeyland

(NEON) Haditze Muratova, Nazife Muratova, Hussein Sam, Ljutvie Sam. The delicate natural balance of a remote village of the last female beekeeper in Europe is threatened by the arrival of itinerant beekeepers.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: NR

Mission Mangal

(FIP) Akshay Kumar, Vidya Balan, Taapsee Pannu, Sonakshi Sinha. The Indian Space Agency must overcome a spectacular history of failure and severe budgetary limitations to launch a cost-effective probe to the surface of Mars.

See the trailer and a video featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: True Life Drama
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks, Cinemark Artegon Marketplace
Rating: NR

Where’d You Go Bernadette?

(Annapurna/MGM) Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, Kristen Wiig, Judy Greer. A suburban supermom decides that she must reconnect with her own artistic impulses, taking her on a journey slash adventure that will jump start her life and lead her to an epic rediscovery of herself.

See the trailer, video featurettes and an interview here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: PG-13 (for some strong language and drug material)

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Alien Invasion
Already Gone
Evaru
Jimi Hendrix: Electric Church
Light of My Life
Ode to Joy
Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

After the Wedding</em
Already Gone
Awake
Batla House
Evaru
Good Time
Piranhas
Ranarangam
This Changes Everything

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG/SARASOTA:

Awake
Batla House
Comali
Evaru
Gwen
Mike Wallace is Here
Ranarangam
The Souvenir

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Batla House
Evaru
Ranarangam

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

47 Meters Down: Uncaged
The Angry Birds Movie 2
Blinded By the Light
David Crosby: Remember My Name
Honeyland
Ode to Joy
Where’d You Go, Bernadette?

The Farewell


A happy family portrait.

(2019) Dramedy (A24) Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Shuzhen Zhou, Diana Lin, Jim Liu, Han Chen, Aoi Mizuhara, Yongbo Jiang, X-Mayo, Hong Lu, Gil Perez-Abraham, Becca Khalil, Ines Laimins. Directed by Lulu Wang

 

It is inevitable as we journey through our lives that we will lose loved ones. The natural order of things is that we age, grow old and die so those who were put on this Earth before us finish their cycles before we do. We have to come to grips with their mortality and in doing so, our own. It is hardest sometimes for those who are young to truly understand that those around them are neither invincible nor immortal.

Billi (Awkwafina) is an underachieving Chinese-American writer whose parents emigrated to this country when she was a little girl, tearing her away from the culture she knew and the family she loved, in particular her grandmother, Nai Nai (Zhou). Even as a grown woman, she still telephones her grandmother regularly and remains close even though she hasn’t seen her in years.

One day while home doing laundry, she discovers her father (Ma) disconsolate in his bedroom and demands to know what’s wrong. It turns out Nai Nai – his mother – has been diagnosed with stage four lung cancer and doesn’t have long to live, maybe only weeks. Billi is devastated of course but she is further thrown for a loop when she discovers that Nai Nai hasn’t been told the truth about her condition – a Chinese tradition in which the family takes on the burden of knowing and worrying about the impending mortality of a loved one.

The marriage of a hapless cousin, Hao Hao (Chen) to a Japanese girl, Aiko (Mizuhara) is used as an excuse to bring the family to Changchun where Nai Nai lives. Billi is eager to go to say farewell to her grandmother but her mother (Lin) is adamant; Nai Nai must remain ignorant about her condition and Billi is sure to give away her grief, being an emotional sort.

Naturally Billi goes anyway and Nai Nai is absolutely delighted. She’s totally in her element, planning everything having to do with the ceremony and the reception, arguing with the caterers over whether crab or lobster is to be served. Billi agrees to hold her tongue but it’s hard not for her to be melancholy from time to time. It’s the rest of the family though that has trouble keeping their emotions in check.

Billi has issues regarding the move to America. China has changed to an incredible degree and isn’t a country she recognizes. Her connection with Nai Nai is her connection to her heritage and it is part of her identity. The Farewell allows us – and director Lulu Wang, whose life and experiences this is based on – to explore the tightrope that Chinese-Americans must often walk to reconcile the cultures of their background and of their present circumstances.

Awkwafina, a rapper who started out as comic relief in films like Oceans 8 and Crazy Rich Asians is absolutely devastating here. This is the kind of performance that establishes careers and can net an actress plum roles. Billi is a nuanced individual, caught between two cultures and not really sure which one she identifies with most. Her self-worth has taken a beating, mostly due to her overbearing hyper-critical mother. She believes strongly that her Nai Nai should be told the truth about her condition and she has trouble justifying the lie, yet she keeps a big secret of her own. At the end Billi embraces both sides of her identity and it is beautiful to see. Zhou and Ma give Awkwafina some great support and the onscreen relationships feel totally real.

It is no secret how much the Chinese culture values family above all else and for those Westerners who don’t understand that, the difference between East and West is succinctly explained here. Even so, there is a universal aspect to families; we all have members of our family we treasure and others we see only on rare occasions (and that’s just fine with us) while there are still others we barely know. I think you’ll find that the family gathering here will seem very familiar in a lot of ways to most of you, even if there are some cultural differences – like karaoke. Just don’t try to make sense of all the cousins, aunts, uncles and family friends.

This is a movie that has heart and comes by its emotional responses honestly. You don’t get a sense of being manipulated here; nonetheless this will resonate, particularly with those who have lost a beloved grandparent. I was very much reminded of the last time I saw my grandmother alive in Winnipeg. I did get a chance to say goodbye to her which was a very good thing even though she wasn’t in a terminal stage yet. I’ve never forgotten my Baba and how warm and loved she made me feel. Grandmothers are like that, you know.

This looks to become a major indie hit for A24 and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it get a wider release than it is already enjoying. I also wouldn’t be surprised if the film got some recognition come Oscar nomination time, particularly for Awkwafina but maybe for Best Screenplay, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress (Zhou) and Best Picture. Cinephiles should make a beeline to the box office for this one as should anyone who has ever loved their grandmother, particularly if that grandmother is still alive. You definitely need to appreciate her while she’s still around.

REASONS TO SEE: The story struck a huge chord in me. Awkwafina is absolutely amazing here. This is not a tourist version of China but a peek into the everyday lives of Chinese people.
REASONS TO AVOID: Got a little bit hard to figure out who was who in terms of the relatives.
FAMILY VALUES: There is a little bit of profanity as well as some serious adult themes.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: When the film made its limited release debut on July 12, it beat out Avengers: Endgame for the largest per-screen average of the year to date.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 7/31/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 100% positive reviews: Metacritic: 90/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Departures
FINAL RATING: 8.5/10
NEXT:
Lamp Light

New Releases for the Week of July 25, 2019


ONCE UPON A TIME…IN HOLLYWOOD

(Columbia) Leonardo di Caprio, Brad Pitt, Margot Robbie, Luke Perry, Dakota Fanning, Al Pacino, Kurt Russell, Timothy Olyphant, Bruce Dern. Directed by Quentin Tarantino

In 1969 the world was undergoing a radical change and so was Hollywood. For action star Rick Dalton and his longtime stunt double Cliff, those changes are getting increasingly hard to navigate. Rick has an ace up his sleeve though – a very famous next door neighbor whose career is just taking off. A young star by the name of Sharon Tate.

See the trailer, clips, video featurettes and promos here
For more on the movie this is the website
Genre: Dramedy
Now Playing: Wide Release
Rating: R (for language throughout, some strong graphic violence, drug use, and sexual references

The Farewell

(A24) Awkwafina, Tzi Ma, Diana Lin, Shuzhen Zhao. A Chinese-American family returns to China, ostensibly to attend a wedding but really to spend time with their grandmother who has a short time to live but following Chinese tradition hasn’t been told the truth about her condition. The adult daughter of the family has an especially hard time concealing the truth from her beloved Nai Nai in this acclaimed indie comedy from visionary director Lulu Wang.

See the trailer, clips and a video featurette here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Enzian Theater
Rating: PG (for thematic material, brief language and some smoking)

Sea of Shadows

(National Geographic) Marc Davis, Andrea Crosta, Carlos Loret de Mola, Cynthia Smith. When a group of Chinese and Mexican criminals’ over-the-top methods of poaching fish in the Sea of Cortez threaten one of the most endangered species of whales in the world, a team of journalists, activists and undercover agents take on the syndicates to protect the whales and bring the perpetrators to justice.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website  
Genre: Documentary
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village
Rating: NR

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Above the Shadows
Clarita
Dear Comrade
iSmart Shankar
Sword of Trust

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Asako I & II
Astronaut
Dancing Elephant
Dear Comrade
iSmart Shankar
Judgementall Hai Kya
Marianne and Leonard: Words of Love
The Other Story
Yuli

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG/SARASOTA:

Dead Water
Dear Comrade
Judgementall Hai Kya
The Raft
See You Soon
Skin
Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Dear Comrade

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

The Farewell
Once Upon a Time in…Hollywood

Ocean’s 8


Back in black.

(2018) Action Comedy (Warner Brothers) Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Anne Hathaway, Elliott Gould, Helena Bonham Carter, Mindy Kaling, Richard Armitrage, Awkwafina, Rihanna, Dakota Fanning, Sarah Paulson, James Corden, Dana Ivey, Elizabeth Ashley, Marlo Thomas, Charlotte Kirk, Whitney White, Charles Prendergast, Damian Young, Talia Cuomo. Directed by Gary Ross

 

Sure, we need more films with empowered women doing what men do. The Ocean’s trilogy had an A-list all-star cast including George Clooney, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, Bernie Mac and so on and so forth. Why should they have all the fun?

Indeed, this seemed like the perfect opportunity to prove that girls just wanna have fun too but the movie is sorely lacking in the presence of Steven Soderbergh, who wrote snappy dialogue, created a retro mood that recalled the Rat Pack that made the original Ocean’s 11 and let the men loose in Sin City – obviously the cast was having a great time with one another.

Sadly, this heist movie involving the theft of a fabulous Cartier diamond necklace from the equally fabulous Met Gala party annually hosted by Vogue’s Anna Wintour (who cameos as herself, one of a raft of cameos) fails to deliver the goods. As much as the Oceans trilogy felt like all involved were having a great time, this one feels like just another job. The bonding never feels authentic and the chemistry is sorely lacking. Like the distaff version of Ghostbusters back in 2016, the movie feels less of an ensemble and more of a collection of actresses. Don’t get me wrong – some of the sequences here are done with the kind of clever wit that the Oceans films are known for and the movie is entertaining in its own right and it makes some salient points about our celebrity-obsessed culture but it doesn’t hold up to any of its predecessors except maybe the least of the series, Oceans 13.

Part of the problem is that I think the expectations for a distaff version of an established and beloved franchise is that the movie will replicate the feel of the originals and that’s hard enough to do in the first place; throw in that the cast is going to be all-female in a fairly misogynistic society as we have and the movie has two strikes on it before it gets out of the gate. I think that thand their relationships I I think that the biggest mistake that was made here was that short shrift was given to the characters at the expense of a “sisters are doing it for themselves” empowerment narrative and sisters can do it for themselves as Wonder Woman and The Hunger Games have more than proven. It’s a pity that a cast this glittery left me so cold.

REASONS TO SEE: Some of the sequences are marvelous.
REASONS TO AVOID: Lacks the camaraderie of the first three films.
FAMILY VALUES: There is some profanity, drug use and sexually suggestive content.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Although Gould is the only actor from the first trilogy to appear in this film, scenes were filmed with Carl Reiner and Matt Damon but were both left on the cutting room floor.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, Fandango Now, Google Play, iTunes, Microsoft, Movies Anywhere, Vudu
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/12/19: Rotten Tomatoes: 69% positive reviews: Metacritic: 61/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Bandits
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Bob Fosse: It’s Showtime!

New Releases for the Week of August 17, 2018


CRAZY RICH ASIANS

(Warner Brothers) Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Lisa Lu, Awkwafina, Harry Shum Jr., Ken Jeong, Sonoya Mizuno. Directed by Jon M. Chu

A native New Yorker of Asian descent falls in love with a young man from Singapore. As things are starting to get serious between them, she is invited to meet his family and it turns out that they’re crazy wealthy – not to mention just plain crazy. This romantic comedy has been getting strong reviews which is unusual for any rom-com.

See the trailer, interviews and video featurettes here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Now Playing: Wide Release (opened on Wednesday)

Rating: PG -13 (for some suggestive content and language)

1945

(Menemsha) Peter Rudolph, Bence Tasnádi, Tomás Szabó Kimmel, Dóra Sztarenki. As a small Hungarian village prepares for the wedding of the son of the town clerk one morning in August 1945, two mysterious strangers in black show up at the railway station, starting a chain reaction as the town is brought short to face the actions of the War.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village

Rating: NR

Alpha

(Columbia) Kodi Smit-McPhee, Natassia Malthe, Leonor Varela, Jóhannes Haukur Jóhanneson. In the Ice Age, a young hunter is injured. Left to die, he helps an injured wolf. The two face a harsh world as allies as he struggles to reach home before winter.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, 3D, IMAX 3D
Genre: Adventure
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: PG-13 (for some intense peril)

Gold

(ZEE) Akshay Kumar, Mouni Roy, Kunal Kapoor, Amit Sadh. In 1948 India was a newly minted country, released from colonial status from the British empire. They were participating in their first Olympic Games as an independent nation. Their field hockey team was set to take on the British team. They were not expected to win. You can imagine what happened next.

See the trailer here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: True Sports Drama
Now Playing: AMC West Oaks

Rating: NR

The Little Mermaid

(Freestyle) Poppy Drayton, Shirley MacLaine, William Moseley, Gina Gershon. Loosely based on the Hans Christian Andersen fable, a young reporter and his niece discover a beautiful girl that they suspect might be the real Little Mermaid.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Fantasy
Now Playing: AMC Altamonte Mall, AMC Disney Springs, AMC Universal Cineplex

Rating: PG (for action)

Mile 22

(STX) Mark Wahlberg, Lauren Cohan, Iko Uwais, John Malkovich. A police officer with sensitive information needs to be smuggled out of his native country. Assigned to the job is an American intelligence officer and his elite tactical squad. However, in order to make the rendezvous at Mile Marker 22 he is going to have to run a gauntlet of those who want the cop silenced – and they seem to know every move he makes before he makes it. This is another collaboration between Wahlberg and director Peter Berg.

See the trailer here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard, Dolby, IMAX
Genre: Action
Now Playing: Wide Release

Rating: R (for strong violence and language throughout)

Puzzle

(Sony Classics) Kelly Macdonald, Irrfan Khan, David Denman, Helen Piper Coxe. A suburban housewife, taken for granted by her family, develops a passion for solving jigsaw puzzles. She impulsively enters a jigsaw competition and finds herself immersed in a whole new world she could never have imagined.

See the trailer and a video featurette here.
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Drama
Now Playing: Regal Winter Park Village, Rialto Spanish Springs Square

Rating: R (for language)

Summer of ‘84

(Gunpowder & Sky) Graham Verchere, Judah Lewis, Caleb Emery, Tiera Skovye. A group of suburban teens suspect that the neighborhood cop might be the serial killer who has been plaguing their town. They spend the summer keeping an eye on him and looking for evidence. But the closer they come to discovering the truth, the more dangerous things get. This Florida Film Festival favorite has been compared to Stranger Things.

See the trailer and a clip here
For more on the movie this is the website

Release Formats: Standard
Genre: Horror
Now Playing: Enzian Theater (Friday and Saturday midnight shows only)
Rating: NR

ALSO OPENING IN ORLANDO/DAYTONA:

Benched (Rounding Third)
Geetha Govindam
Kolamavu Kokila
Koode

ALSO OPENING IN MIAMI/FT. LAUDERDALE:

Billionaire Boys Club
Geetha Govindam
The Good Life
Koode
The Miseducation of Cameron Post
Puppetmaster: The Littlest Reich

ALSO OPENING IN TAMPA/ST. PETERSBURG:

Billionaire Boys Club
Down a Dark Hall
Geetha Govindam
The King
Koode
McQueen
Running for Grace
The Spy Gone North

ALSO OPENING IN JACKSONVILLE/ST. AUGUSTINE:

Geetha Govindam
Kolamavu Kokila

SCHEDULED FOR REVIEW:

Alpha
Crazy Rich Asians
The Little Mermaid
Mile 22
Summer of ‘84