Note to readers: I have started going to movies in the theaters, having received my two shots and passed the two-week standby period, wearing a mask at all times and following social distancing. Most of the films I am reviewing are still movies that I watched at home, but I will note in the review if I saw them in a theatre. I am not going to tell you whether or not to attend a theatre. Just be aware of the risks, do your research, and follow the instructions to the letter.
My View: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings (2021) PG-13 Shang-Chi (Simu Liu) was trained from childhood to be a master of Kung Fu until he ran away from his father (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung), who wanted him to become a killer for his Ten Rings organization. Now living in America and going by the name of Shaun, he works as a valet with his best friend Katy (Awkwafina). Shaun is about to confront his past and go on a journey with Katy and his long-lost sister (Fala Chen) to stop his father from taking over the world. I liked this film, and it has a cool hero, good but not great fight sequences and an interesting plot-line, but the reason to see this film is not the main character but his sidekick, Katy, played by the brilliant and always hilarious Awkwafina. She gives the film a need boost anytime the action or the plot starts to falter a bit, as Shaun’s loyal friend who decides to go with him on his adventures. The film is setting up some of the subsequent films in the Marvel Universe, and there are a few characters from other Marvel movies that show up to help move the plot along. I saw this film in a theatre, and I think it will lose some of its impact on a smaller screen, especially the fight scene that takes place on a subway train. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings gets a little too complicated during the last third of the film, with a bit of an overload with the special effects/CGI, but they have introduced a new hero to the Universe, and as long as Awkwafina’s character is by Shaun’s side, I’m going to watch. Oh, and as usual with Marvel, there is a bonus scene in the credits that sets up the next film or two. My Rating: Full Price Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings Website Now playing in theatres everywhere.
My View: Cinderella (2021) PG Cinderella (Camila Cabello) lives in the basement of her evil stepmother Vivian (Idina Menzel) and her two daughters (Maddie Baillio, Charlotte Spencer). Cinderella dreams of being a dressmaker and owning her own shop when she meets Prince Robert (Nicholas Galitzine), and love fills the air. This musical is a strange mixture of a classic fairy tale with a modern touch, including a bizarre mash-up of pop songs from some current hits with songs from Queen and Madonna. I liked Camila Cabello’s singing in this film, as her voice has a unique and bewitching quality to it, but unfortunately, she has trouble with the acting part, and this film requires her to be in almost every scene. The film is helped, of course, by the always fabulous Idina Menzel, who has a couple of outstanding songs to sing and a brilliant performance by Billy Porter as Cinderella’s Fairy Godmother who brings the house down with a fantastic musical number. The film is full of ‘girl power’ messages and a prince (Nicholas Galitzine) who is the most supportive prince in fairy tales of all time. Much has been made lately on the Internet of James Corden and his stopping of traffic with his pelvic thrusting, but I am happy to tell you that he has a small part (mostly comic relief) as one of the mice that turn into Cinderella’s coachmen. I wish the film had more original songs and less of the clash of pop standards that seem weird and sometimes out of place for such a modern take of a classic story. Oh, and maybe an actress that can do more than sing. My Rating; Cable Cinderella Website Now playing on the Amazon Prime platform.
Indiefest: The Lost Leonardo (2021) PG-13 Documentary about the mystery surrounding the Salvator Mundi, a painting by Leonardo da Vinci that was the first painting in more than a century to be discovered and then mysteriously disappearing. The painting has a fascinating history; bought for 1,175 dollars at a New Orleans auction house, a restorer discovers Leonardo’s painting underneath the heavy varnish of a cheap restoration. The film was sold for a record 450 million dollars and then disappeared. The Lost Leonardo is a fascinating film that touches so much about what is wrong with the high stakes, big money of the art world. First, you have the mystery of whether this painting is really Leonardo’s (they always call him by his first name in this film) or more of a creation by the restorer. Next, we have the trail of how the painting was bought and sold (more than a few times), each purchase brought the price up, finally selling for a record price that didn’t just break the record for a single painting at auction, it blew it away. Then you get into the world of the rich and how artwork is now being bought by the rich, stored in high-security vaults, and being used as collateral for other money-making ventures. And add all the high-stakes politics that go on about this painting, and making it one film that continues to cause your jaw drop and shake your head. The Lost Leonardo is a story worthy of all those ‘true-crime’ podcasts that we all love to listen to because an actual crime has occurred, but by the end of the film, you won’t know exactly what crime has occurred. My Rating: Full Price The Lost Leonardo Website Now playing in select theatres.
Indiefest: The Gateway (2021) R Parker (Shea Whigham) is a down on is luck social worker assigned to the care of the daughter of a single mother (Olivia Munn) when the dad returns from prison who is convinced the mother knows where his priceless stash is hidden. This is a hard film to like, with a main character in Parker, whose heart is in the right place but keeps making one stupid mistake after another, a mother (Olivia Munn) whose choices in men are right up there with Parker’s mistakes, and a cast of other characters that are equally unlikable. The film wants you to root for Parker, but we get a ton of side stories (mostly that take place in a bar Parker frequents) that don’t contribute anything to the plot but make Parker seem even more annoying. Like its hero, The Gateway is too flawed to like. The only satisfying thing about this film is that the ending means that a sequel is highly unlikely. My Rating: Cable The Gateway Website Now playing On-demand and digital.
Indiefest: Wild Indian (2021) Michael (Michael Greyeyes) has tried to leave his trouble behind and is living off the reservation. Michael has a successful life that he has built from the ground up with a loving wife (Kate Bosworth) and the undying support of his boss (Jesse Eisenberg). However, everything that Michael has built is being threatened by a man from his past. This film is one full of surprises and twists that make it a compelling movie to watch, bolstered by a powerful performance by Michael Greyeyes, a man whose past is a weight that he can’t escape. Michael is a character that seems closed off, even to those close to him, but it's the guilt of his childhood and the scars it created that he tries to hide. Michael is alwys trying to become something he thinks is successful but is always unfulling. I don’t want to give too much of the plot away, but it’s a storyline that creates a world where children don’t always turn out to be the adults you think they will be. My Rating: Full Price Wild Indian Info Now playing in select theatres and available to rent online.
My View: Worth (2020) PG-13 An attorney, Ken (Michael Keaton), is assigned the seemingly impossible task of determining how to compensate the families who lost loved ones in the attacks on 9/11. The story starts with a man who is deeply moved by the 9/11 attack and decides it’s his duty to take on the task no one else wants, but he soon learns that what has worked in the past, spreadsheets of stats, negotiation, and hard work, won’t satisfy a group of people whose lives were destroyed by a terrorist attack. Based on a true story, this is a journey of a man who learns to open up his thinking, doing away with the statistics and graphs that have worked in the past, letting his humanity govern what he and his team need to do, not to make things right, but to make the victims feel heard. Worth is bolstered by solid performances by Keaton, who does some of the best work of his career in this film, as he slowly gives us insight into a man who has built his career on being able to find what a life is worth, moneywise. Add a cast that includes the marvelously understated Amy Ryan (playing his second in command) and Stanley Tucci, who plays a widower who fights for the little guy with a website and a moral guidepost, making the film full of characters that seem real. Worth is a film that explores the politics of a grieving nation but is being pulled by many outside factors, including an economy that could collapse if a settlement isn’t reached. The film does an outstanding job of giving us insight into the people left behind, with so many stories to be told about their loved ones that have left them without a chance to say goodby. Worth is a forceful film that lets the survivors tell their stories with love and compassion. My Rating: Full Price Worth Website Now playing on the Netflix platform.
Indiefest: Yakuza Princess (2021) R Set in the large Japanese community in San Paulo, Brazil, Akemi (MASUMI) is an ordinary shop girl who trains at night in the martial arts. She is attacked by three hoodlums and is rescued by a stranger (Rhys Meyers) who doesn’t remember who he is. Little does Akemi realize that this is fate, with an ancient sword that has bonded them together and a past that she must confront. I am a huge fan of samurai films, loving the comparisons between the classic Japanese films and the westerns of Hollywood. I enjoyed the swordplay of this film, and it’s created a very cool hero in Akemi, a woman whose past is unknown to her, and yet that past is tied up in her fate. The film has a cool look, with some incredible shots of the Japanese section of San Paulo and a very artful confrontation at a remote cemetery. Unfortunately, the film forgets the fascinating fact that San Paulo has the largest population of Japanese descendants in the world outside of Japan itself. This is lost on the filmmakers, and this fact gets so lost in the storytelling that it could take place in any big city. The plot slows down at times, trying to fill in the pieces of Akemi’s past, making the film start and stop too many times. Yakuza Princess is a film with a lot of style but needed more substance to make it work. My Rating: Bargain Matinee Yakuza Princess Website Now playing in select theatres and available for rent online.
Forgotten Film: Class (1983) R I will tell you right off the bat that this film isn’t a great film. Heck, it isn’t really a good film, but it was part of a group of films in the mid-80s where the plot revolved around a younger man having an affair with an older woman. The thin plot is about a young man, Jonathan (Andrew McCarthy), who gets a scholarship to a prep school. He feels out of place until he finally makes friends with his roommate, Skip (Rob Lowe). Skip decides the problem is that Jonathan needs to get laid and sends him off to the big city (Chicago) with a mission. There he meets Ellen (Jacqueline Bisset) at a bar, and she is charmed by his goofiness (and the fact that he looks like Andrew McCarthy), and they start up an affair. The plot thickens when Jonathan goes home for a weekend to Skip's home and finds out that he has been sleeping with Skip’s mom. The film kind of falls apart right there, but that’s not the reason to see the film. First, Jacqueline Bisset, who I have loved since she played Steve McQueen’s girlfriend in Bullitt (1969), is fun to watch playing with/seducing Jonathan. And the supporting cast is full of soon-to-be stars, including Alan Ruck, John Cusack, and Virginia Madsen. My Rating: Bargain Matinee (barely) Class Info
Weird Credits: From the credits of Shan-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings: Iron Head Painter
Coming Soon to a Screen Near You: Dune (2021) PG-13 A son ( Timothée Chalamet) of a noble family is destined to become the leader of a planet that contains the most vital element in the galaxy. As a kid, Dune by Fran Herbert was one of the first Sci-Fi books I read and made me fall in love with the genre. I was horribly disappointed with the 1984 movie that is now mostly known for a couple of scenes with a bare-chested Sting and a madman flying around inhaling a drug. I have hopes that this film will capture the magic of the book, and at least they aren’t trying to pack the whole book into one two-hour movie. The cast includes Javier Bardem, Josh Brolin, Rebecca Ferguson, Jason Momoa, Sharon Duncan-Brewster, Oscar Isaac, and Zendaya. Dune Website