Bingo Hell

Last week I watched an Amazon Prime exclusive, Black as Night, which was in the Welcome to Blumhouse series. There was a second film in that series and it was called Bingo Hell. I liked this one much more than I did Black as Night.

From IMDB: “In the Barrio of Oak Springs live a strong and stubborn group of elderly friends who refuse to be gentrified. Their leader, Lupita (Adriana Barraza) , keeps them together as a community, a family. But little did they know, their beloved Bingo hall is about to be sold to a much more powerful force than money itself.”

This movie is carried on the backs of some of the most likeable characters you are going to find. Lupita may be a bit of a Latina stereotype, but you can’t help but root for her. Then L. Scott Caldwell (the ever wonderful Rose from LOST) is here too as Dolores. They make a great pair.

The story has several themes inside it, from gentrification to community coming together. They may not be covered too deeply, but the ideas are here and the film puts it out into the world.

Richard Brake played Mr. Big and does a fantastic job of going over the top and being the face of the evil trying to tempt the older people of Oak Springs into easy money.

The conclusion of Bingo Hell is full out thrilling and exciting and brings our heroes to the forefront in a satisfying result.

Bingo Hell is a much more fun film than last week’s Black as Night and it feels as if it will maintain the score over time.

3.5 stars

No Time to Die

The final Daniel Craig appearance as James Bond has finally come out after being delayed several times due to COVID-19. It is the official 25th film in the Bond franchise (though there are a few others that typically are not considered part of the franchise).

The Daniel Craig series of Bond films are very up and down. They have a couple of films that have to be considered top five/ten of all time with Skyfall and Casino Royale, but also has some of the lesser Bond films, such as Quantum of Solace.

No Time to Die picks up where the previous film had left Bond, retired and living with his love Madeleine (Léa Seydoux). However, when some shenanigans from Spectre occur and Bond is approached by his old friend from the CIA, Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright), James finds himself back in the action.

This time, the villain is Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), who has stolen a new and deadly weapon that allows the user to target specific individuals’ DNA for destruction. Safin has a past connection with Madeleine that he will exploit for his dirty deals.

There is a lot going on in this movie, and because of that, it feels as if Rami Malek got short changed in his role. As a villain, he does not stand out despite being visually appealing and having a potential back story that could make him one of the upper echelon Bond bad guys. There was just so much packed into the film that, even at 2 hours and 43 minutes, the screen time for Malek was at a minimum.

The action is beautifully directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga and the cinematography was excellent once again. The action is full out thrilling, from several cool car chases to the invasion of an island base (as much of a staple of a Bond film as you are going to find).

I’ve heard some people complain about the length, but I distinctly remember feeling that the film was flying by and I was never bored. There may be a few scenes here and there that could be cut for time, but I do not think there was anything obviously needing to go. I was fully engaged in the film all the way through.

Daniel Craig ends his run as James Bond in exceptional fashion. Although some of the Bond films may not be as strong as the others, Daniel Craig always gave his all every time. This one is no exception. He is the one actor playing Bond to create a feeling of anguish or melancholy in the super spy.

The great side cast continues to be awesome, with Ralph Fiennes as M, Ben Whishaw as Q, Naomie Harris as Moneypenny, Christoph Waltz as Blofeld, Jeffrey Wright as Felix, Lashana Lynch as Nomi, and Rory Kinnear as Tanner. There was also the debut of Ana de Armas as CIA operative Paloma.

The ending did become too much of a gunfight for my taste, but it was rescued by some real emotion in the final few scenes, unlike most Bond films before it.

While this movie may not reach the heights of Skyfall and Casino Royale, it is only a few steps behind. If Rami Malek was used better, you might be looking at one of the tops in the franchise. Still, it is a great watch and was certainly worth the extra wait.

4.5 stars

Muppet Haunted Mansion

Some of my absolutely favorite Muppet movies are the ones where they put the Muppets into a familiar story such as Muppet Treasure Island and Muppet Christmas Carol. Now on Disney +, we can add to this list with Muppet Haunted Mansion.

Gonzo the Great and Pepe the King Prawn skip out on the annual Muppet Halloween party to go instead to the mystery night at the mansion of The Great MacGuffin, a famous magician who disappeared without a trace. Once at the Haunted Mansion, Gonzo, who claimed to have no fears, was challenged to spend the night in the Haunted Mansion and, failing that, wind up spending all of eternity inside its walls.

This was such magic for me. I absolutely loved the film. It had so many of the bad puns, fun songs and corny jokes that make a Muppet movie what it is. Led by Gonzo and Pepe (one wonders why it was Pepe and not Gonzo’s usual sidekick, Rizzo the Rat), the jokes came flying fast through the whole 50 minute film. There were some nostalgic feels as well, especially the ghost version of Ballroom Dancing, one of the early bits on the Muppet Show.

The list of cameos is always impressive for a Muppet movie and here is no exception. We got Will Arnett, Yvette Nicole Brown, Darren Criss, Taraji P. Henson, John Stamos, Kim Irvine, Quinn McPherson, Danny Trejo, Pat Sajak, Craig Robinson, Chrissy Metz, Alfonzo Ribeiro, Sasheer Zamata and one of the final performances by legend Edward Asner, to whom the film is posthumously dedicated.

I am a little sad that the film only was about 50 minutes. I really wanted more.

I do not know much about the Haunted Mansion ride at Disneyworld so the links to characters involved in that went right over my head (I guess Tarija P. Henson’s Constance Hatchaway is one of those examples). I did not require that information. I just enjoyed this.

I want to see the Muppets in these kind of films more often. Disney has struggled with this franchise to find the right way to use them. Hopefully this step in the right direction gives them the clue.

4.3 stars

Venom: Let There Be Carnage

The Venom movie from 2018 was not one of my favorites. It was very successful however so it was clear that it was going to have a sequel in the middle of the Sony Spider-Man-verse. In fact, it might be their crown jewel.

I have to say, I really enjoyed this one. I enjoyed this much more than the 2018 version.

Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) and his symbiote Venom returned in San Francisco and Eddie was trying to keep Venom contained by feeding him chicken brains and chocolate. Venom wanted to eat human brains. Eddie was struggling to carry on with his life with his new roommate.

Meanwhile, serial killer Cletus Kasady (Woody Harrelson) wants to contact Eddie Brock because he feels a connection with him. He wanted Eddie to print a quote in his column and then he would give him his story. During the discussion, Venom spotted a clue that would lead Eddie to discover the location Cletus would dump his victim’s bodies. Cletus saw this as a betrayal.

Cletus is scheduled for an execution and he requested Eddie come and witness the execution. Seeing Cletus, Eddie gets bitten by Cletus which brings some bit of the symbiote into his body. As he is being executed, Cletus becomes Carnage.

This movie is strangely about relationships more than anything else. It is the story of the relationship between Eddie and Venom, Eddie, Venom and Anne (Michelle Williams), Cletus and Frances (Naomie Harris, playing Shriek), Cletus and Carnage, Cletus and Eddie, Anne and her fiancé Dan (Reid Scott) and Frances and the cop Detective Mulligan (Stephen Graham). They spend a good chunk of the film developing these character based elements of the story and the film is all the better for it.

Though there is a lot of character driven work, the film has some great action. In fact, the action is so much better than the first film that it is distinct. In 2018, the villain was so bland and dull (no offense to Riz Ahmed who did what he could) but he was such a bad character. Worse yet, when he was fighting Venom, you could not tell which one was which. I remember thinking that this was like the Transformers movies because I had no idea what was happening in the fights. In Venom: Let There Be carnage, the action is so much better because you could tell the difference. Carnage was red, Venom was black and there was some significant design difference. Major plus.

I love the work of Tom Hardy. He played these two characters, as he voiced Venom as well, The banter between the characters is a highlight of the film as Venom and Eddie feel like an old married couple. Woody Harrelson does a great job as Cletus and has a much better wig than he did in the post credit stinger in 2018.

Some of the humor does not hit completely, but there is no moment that the jokes pulled me out of the story. In fact, one of my least favorite moments, Venom in a dance club, has some sub-context which makes me want to rethink that scene.

I did not like the very end of the third act. The rest of the scene was excellent and really was emotional and seemingly smaller feeling than it could have been. That is a welcome change to this series and, again, so much better than the original film.

One of the controversial elements of this film on the Internet before its release was the run time, which turned out just around 1 hour and 37 minutes. That is considerably shorter than what we are used to for super hero movies. However, director Andy Serkis does a fantastic job running the pacing of this film and it does not feel too short. It feels just about perfect. It is a good example of why people on the Internet should not complain about something until after it happens.

The film does a great job of being very violent and brutal without having to be an R rated film. All that was really missing was gore/blood and I do not need to see that in a Venom movie.

And then… there is the mid credit scene.

SPOILERS

HOLY CRAP!!!!

END OF SPOILERS

Venom: Let There Be Carnage may not be a perfect film, but it is a lot of fun, features some great performances, is a remarkable improvement from the first film and is exciting, thrilling and funny. It is paced beautifully and is a great time in the theater.

4.2 stars

Black as Night

Amazon Prime has two new films in the Welcome to Blumhouse series. The first one I watched was Black as Night, taking place in New Orleans and fighting vampires.

Shawna (Asjha Cooper) is a 16 year old girl who, along with her best friend Pedro (Fabrizio Guido), the boy she was crushing on Chris (Mason Beauchamp) and a vampire ‘expert’ (Abbie Gayle), went on a mission of revenge one summer to kill vampires, in particular one who had killed her mother (Kenneisha Thompson).

This is one of those movies that was fun when initially viewed, but slips upon reflection. There were plenty of things that were silly or troublesome when you think back on it. Asjha Cooper is a 28-year old actress whose character is supposed to be 16. I never really bought her as a 16 year old as she always felt older. Another drawback was the inclusion of a second group of vampires who were wanting to help. That plot point came out of nowhere and did not pay off in any sufficient manner.

How these kids suddenly became these great vampire fighters was another surprise. I was not fond of the third act conclusion either.

Keith David is also in the movie and he is always a great addition to a cast.

The movie dealt with the fallout, even over a decade later, of Hurricane Katrina on the population of New Orleans. This bit of the story worked well, and I enjoyed Shawna and her father’s (Derek Roberts) relationship. They had a nice scene as they discussed the death of her mother.

Overall, the film can be fun, but thinking back on it, there are too many elements that simply do not work.

2.7 stars

The Many Saints of Newark

I have never seen even one episode of The Sopranos. When it was announced that they were making a full length movie prequel to the series, it was not something that excited me. Still, since it was being released on HBO Max as well as in theaters, I figured I would give it a chance. My guess is that there will be several Easter eggs that I will not recognize or characters that I have no idea who they are.

I was aware of Tony Soprano, as played by the late Joseph Gandolfini. I am aware of the series finale and generally what happened. In The Many Saints of Newark, young Anthony Soprano is being played by Joseph’s son Michael Gandolfini, which is an interesting casting and placed a lot of pressure on the young man. This is the reason why Anthony was not our main character in the movie. From what I saw of Michael, he was solid as a young Anthony Soprano.

However, the main character is Uncle Dickie (Alessandro Nivola) who Anthony looked up to a lot. The Soprano clan was filled with some oddball characters. Anthony’s mother Livia (Vera Farmiga) had several problems with her marriage to Johnny Soprano (Jon Bernthal). Ray Liotta was Uncle Dickie’s father ‘Hollywood Dick’ Moltisanti. The cast was very strong.

Set in the civil rights unrest of the late 1960s, we follow several of the family members and their constant outbursts and anger. The racial riots as a background for the movie was an interesting choice, but none of that felt important to the overall story. Leslie Odom Jr is excellent again, but I really did not know much about his character.

There were some brutal scenes of violence peppered through the film that show how these characters are on the edge of exploding at any moment.

Again, since I did not watch The Sopranos, I do not know if I missed some undercurrent of the story. I still found it an enjoyable watch falling into the gangster genre.

3.4 stars

The Addams Family 2

I was always a fan of the Addams Family in their other iterations. The TV show with John Astin, the two live action movies with Raul Julia, Anjelica Huston and Christopher Lloyd were some of my favorites. So I was very disappointed with how much I did not like the last animated movie in 2019, The Addams Family. When I heard that there would be a sequel to the film, I was hoping that it would lean toward the positive Addams Family that I enjoyed.

Nope.

If anything, this was even worse than the last one.

There is a great voice cast in the movie with Oscar Isaacs, Charlize Theron, Chloë Grace Moretz, Nick Kroll, Snoop Dogg, Bette Midler, Bill Hader, Wallace Shawn, Javon “Wanna” Walton, and Conrad Vernon, but the inane story and unfunny bits wasted this talented group of people.

The story includes a suddenly insecure Gomez trying to connect with Wednesday, though she is going through a teenage rebellion. They decide to go on a family vacation. It is a plot we have seen hundreds of times. There is also the old plot where Wednesday may not be biologically an Addams. We have played this out dozens of times.

The animation of the film is top notch and the character designs look good, but there needs to be more than appearance for an animated movie to be good. The Addams Family 2 was just a horrendous film.

There was a scene with “I Will Survive” that I did not hate, but was dumb.

This was a total waste of money. I am glad I did not go to the theater for it, though.

1.3 stars

The Guilty

Most of the time, Netflix movies do not pay off. They are typically poor or just cheap films that the streaming service loads on to give the public a quantity of potential watches. Most are not worth the time it takes to watch them. Though not as common, Netflix does have some good films to go with the quantity. Although the title of this weekend’s new release on Netflix is a dull and boring one, the film is anything but.

A demoted police officer Joe Baylor (Jake Gyllenhaal), who is awaiting trial on something he had done, was working the 9-1-1 calls when a dramatic call from a woman named Emily (Riley Keough) came into the switchboard. Emily implies to Joe that she had been kidnapped and was in a van being taken away from her children. Angry, frustrated and full of attitude, Joe, who was already on edge with his court case, his own failing marriage and being unable to see his own little daughter, bonds quickly with Emily and goes wild trying to do anything he could to help save her.

I do not think it is hyperbole to say that Jake Gyllenhaal is currently one of the best actors on the planet. He’s had a series of unbelievable performances in films like Nightcrawler, Nocturnal Animals, Prisoners, Donnie Darko, Spider-Man: Far From Home, Southpaw, End of Watch and Zodiac. Gyllenhaal absolute carries this film on his back as he is on screen almost every moment of The Guilty. His levels of performance from anger to grief is amazingly touching and makes you connect with this guy who was clearly being an asshole to everyone around him and who had committed a mysterious offense. Gyllenhaal was exceptional.

The film was difficult to watch and ended with a lot of emotion from me. All this was because Jake Gyllenhaal was masterful in his role. This was even after I guessed what was actually happening in the film. Even that, which many times disrupts the plot for me, did not detract from the emotion and the tension of the story.

There were several actors who only provided voices in the film and they were excellent too. Not only was there Riley Keough as Emily, but Peter Sarsgaard as her husband Henry, Eli Goree as Joe’s partner Rick, Ethan Hawke as Sgt. Bill Miller, and Da’Vine Joy Randolph as the CHP Dispatcher were all providing such fantastic voice over work.

This is one of the best Netflix movies in quite a while. Jake Gyllenhaal continues to show his Oscar-worthy work and the film is powerful.

4.3 stars

Nightbooks

Netflix has been doing a great deal of work to provide horror to a younger generation. Earlier this year, they brought us Fear Street, a trilogy of films released over a three week period, and now, they bring us Nightbooks. Netflix understands that in order to maintain a genre, you must create new fans, and these films are a great way to do just that.

This movie is based on a 2018 book by J.A. White.

Alex (Winslow Fegley) was a weird kid who loves writing scary stories. However, one night at his birthday party, Alex decided that he was going to burn his writings. Before he is able to do that, Alex gets snatched and wound up inside an apartment that he was unable to leave. Soon, he was approached by Natacha (Krysten Ritter), a witch who was ready to kill Alex unless he could provide something that was worthwhile. When she found out that Alex wrote scary stories, she allowed him to live, but only if he told her a story every night.

Alex meets another kid in the apartment, Yasmin (Lidya Jewett), whose attitude kept her at arms length at first, but they begin to come together in an effort to find a way to escape.

This is a fun film, which included some exceptional scares. The scares would be intense for the younger viewers and still provide good mood for adults. Nightbooks appeals to both adults and kids and that is very important to the success of the film.

I love Krysten Ritter. She was a fantastic Jessica Jones, the Netflix Marvel series, and she was wonderfully wicked in this movie. The kids in the movie are excellent as well. Winslow Fegley and Lidya Jewett had some great chemistry with each other and did an amazing job with the frightening moments of the story. Winslow Fegley does an admirable job as your lead protagonist and keeps everything working well.

One of my favorite parts of this film is the time when Alex was telling the stories from his nightbooks to Natacha and the story would be visualized on the screen with this cool background design and characters whose voices were all Alex. It felt as if it were an animated interlude, but without the actual animation. I thought these stories (titles included The Bindweed, The Playground) were remarkably well executed and provided a really engaging way to carry on the plot.

Nightbooks is a great deal of fun and features some enjoyable performances. The visuals are compelling and the story takes you in a way that you may not expect. It is a worthy addition to Netflix’s horror films for kids of 2021.

4.2 stars

Cry Macho

The latest Clint Eastwood directed film takes the former Western star back to his roots in a heart filled Western that has some moments, but suffers from one major problem.

Mike Milo was a former rodeo star and a broken down ranch hand/horse breeder. After he was fired by his boss Howard (Dwight Yoakam), Mike was not sure what was next. However, Howard approached Mike with a job. Go to Mexico and retrieve his 13-year old son, Rafo (Eduardo Minett), who was with his alcoholic mother. As Mike and Rafo traveled to the border, they bond and Mike tried to teach the young boy how to be a good man.

I’m not sure exactly how old Mike is supposed to be in the movie, but Clint Eastwood is 91 years old and shows every second of it. Meanwhile, the film keeps putting Mike into situations that a 91-year old man just can not handle. If this was 20 years earlier, or if the film starred an actor younger, it might not be as distracting, but the fact is, Eastwood just pulled me out of the film.

I mean, Rafo’s mother, Leta (Fernanda Urrejola) basically made a sexual advance on him. Mike met up with a younger Mexican woman Marta (Natalia Traven) who he started to have feeling for, though she looked about 40 years younger than him. He was breaking horses, in a hilarious scene where the camera is far away and then zooms in to see Clint slowly moving around as if he is on the horse. It always appeared as if he was driving 25 miles an hour. These were just a few of the moments that looked awkward because of the age of the actor not fitting what the plot needed him to do.

The idea that Howard would send this old man whom he had just fired off to Mexico to get his son, the main reason being that his son would respect him as a cowboy, made so little sense that it started off as a negative for the film.

It was funny how Eastwood would mumble under his breath out loud just like an old man would. There is a scene with him and some police where Eastwood just constantly mumbled insults out loud without any care of what it may do. Still, it did not matter in the end as that entire scene felt as if it had no purpose in the movie.

The film is directed well, and I really wish Clint would have decided to just be the director instead of directing himself, because I do believe that this film had something to it that could have been stronger with a new lead.

The story needed some refining too, as the character of Howard is either a big time jerk or a man who wanted his son back. But he wanted his son back so he could have some leverage in a business deal with Rafo’s mother. Mike discovered this, but he delivered the boy anyway. The film definitely implied that Howard was not a very good man and that his son may not be in a better situation.

Oh, and Leta had told us, before she was trying to seduce Mike, that Rafo was a huge troublemaker, who was nothing but a problem and someone Mike could have if he could find him. Yet, we never even saw one piece of evidence that this character was anything of the sort. He had a chicken, he named Macho, that he used in cockfights, and he did not have much of a positive opinion about his mother or father, but, again, that changed multiple times in the film.

The film does have heart, but the problems with the script and the lead actor brings the film down. I have seen worse film, but this had the chance to be much better than it is.

2.5 stars

Kate

Netflix continues to put out a slew of feature movies on their streaming service. Some are good, many are not so good. Their newest, Kate starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, is somewhere in-between.

Kate (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) was an assassin working with Varrick (Woody Harrelson) who recruited her as a young girl. She had developed herself into a finely tuned killer, with a set of skills unlike anyone, leading to her never failing in an attack.

However, after a botched assassination attempt of a Yakuza in Tokyo, Kate was poisoned and is dying. Having about 24 hours to live, Kate sets off on a mission of vengeance against the Yakuza family that she blamed for her poisoning. As she was executing her revenge, she meets and bonds with Ani (Miku Patricia Martineau), the daughter of the man she had killed during the botched assassination attempt, who feels rejected and isolated form her family.

Kate continued her brutal assault on the Yakuza and her race against the clock as she searched for the family head, Kijima (Jun Kunimura), whom she blamed for her eventual death from poison.

There is nothing especially original about Kate. In fact, the story is predictable and the ideas are very repetitive of other revenge movies. Easily the best part of Kate is Mary Elizabeth Winstead. She has a great screen presence and a ton of charisma as she battled through the pain of her injuries to become a figurative female Terminator. Winstead handled the action deftly and provided some surprisingly solid emotional beats in the film. She is clearly the standout. Kate’s relationship with Ani was intriguing too as we, as the audience, knew that Kate was not being honest with her about Ani’s father’s death and we could see that this was going to play a role in the plot.

The action was good. It was shot cleanly and could be seen, which is a problem for a lot of these action movies. My favorite moment was one with Kijima and a samurai sword near the end of the film.

SPOILER: Is there any movie around that Woody Harrelson does not turn out to be the traitorous ad guy? This seems to happen way too much and I saw this one coming a long time before. END OF SPOILER.

Kate has its entertaining moments and Mary Elizabeth Winstead is a star. There are plenty of negatives about the film, but if you approach it with the right attitude, you should have a decent viewing experience. However, Kate does not feel like a film that you will remember much about a few weeks later.

3 stars

Malignant

James Wan, director of Saw, Insidious and The Conjuring, has returned with a new horror film that takes the insanity to a new level. Malignant hit theaters and HBO Max today and brought with it a crazy tale of horror.

Madison (Annabelle Wallis) was pregnant, but she was in a relationship that was abusive. When her husband knocked her head against the wall, things began to become strange. A mysterious force invaded her home and brutally murdered her husband. What would become worse was this black cloaked figure would continue the murder spree with several other victims.

However, Madison was having visions of the murders as they happen. Petrified over the horrors she was witnessing, Madison and her sister Sydney (Maddie Hasson) went to the police where detectives Kekoa Shaw (George Young) and Regina Moss (Michole Briana White) were working the case.

I am not sure how to describe this one, to be honest. It does start a little slow, but the last half of the movie is just batshit crazy. There are a lot of original ideas in Malignant, and a few that were disturbing. None of them were boring though.

There was a bizarre twist that changed the tone of the movie. It was unexpected, and I may not have loved it, but I did not hate it either. I do like the fact that much of the film has ideas that you do not see much and that Wan clearly held back nothing.

The film looked great, as most of James Wan’s films are. There are some great images that helps build the tension and the mood of the time. The performances are fine, but not what I would say was the standout part of Malignant.

I could see this splitting the fandom down the middle. The audience score at Rotten Tomatoes is quite low early and I can understand why. I think the film is one worth seeing, but it does leave one wondering if the overall experience was worthwhile.

3.3 stars

Cinderella (2021)

Hey look, it is another version of Cinderella.

This one is a musical.

And Cinderella is a Feminist. Oh, the Internet is going to hate this one.

Amazon Prime’s Cinderella came out on the streaming service on September 3rd, but, unfortunately, there are a lot of problems with the 2021 version.

I’ll start with what I liked, because there were some parts that I thought were pretty decent. As a jukebox movie, I thought the music and the singing performances of the film were good, with a few being very strong. Camila Cabello was charming (no pun intended) as Ella. She has a beautiful voice and I did enjoy every song she sang. Nicholas Galitzine was Prince Robert and there was something different about him than other actors who played this role. He brought an odd feel to the part and I kind of dug it. Evil Step-mother Vivian was brought to life by Elsa herself, Idina Menzel, another great singer. The film did attempt to give Vivian a little more depth than she normally receives.

One of the major problems was that none of the characters, outside of Ella, received anything more than surface level development. Even Ella was not a well developed character as she was just basically a Feminist spouting the lines you would expect. She was inconsistent with even that. It stands out even more when you have so many other examples of Cinderella being done well.

The mice, played by James Cordon, James Acaster, and Romesh Ranganathan were terribly unfunny and truly brought every scene with them in it to a halt.

How does Pierce Brosnan keep getting cast in musicals? At least here his bad singing was played as a joke, but it was not a funny one. Brosnan overacted every time he was on screen.

There are worse movies and the music was entertaining, but there just lacks a reason for this film to exist, especially when there are so many great versions of the story out there already.

2.6 stars

Worth

Netflix debuted a new biopic this weekend starring Michael Keaton and Stanley Tucci which dealt with the aftermath of the people who lost loved ones in the September 11th attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001.

Michael Keaton played Ken Feinberg, a Washington, D.C. lawyer, who was assigned by Congress to head the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund and to ensure that the victims of the tragic events of 9-11 were taken care of monetarily. The biggest issue was trying to place a value, a worth on the lives lost on that terrible day. A formula was instituted to attempt to place a number on the human lives, a concept that did not set well with the families of those lost.

Spearheaded by community organizer Charles Wolf (Stanley Tucci), who lost his wife in the attack as well, many of the family members rejected Feinberg’s efforts and the formula he was pushing. Required to get 80% of the families to sign on to the plan, Feinberg, his firm’s head of operations, Camille Biros (Amy Ryan) and the rest of his team struggled to accomplish their task while trying to do what was right.

This felt very much like another Michael Keaton film, Spotlight, though the main topics could not be further apart. The film has a lot of different stories that felt very real. The recounts of the family members were one of the more powerful moments of the film.

We follow Feinstein as he desperately tried to do what he could do. By the time he finally accepted the fact that he needed to eliminate the formula, it was almost too late.

I love Michael Keaton. I have seen better performances from him. He is good here, but, to be honest, we spent a lot of time with Keaton hunched over and his head down. That was his go to move in this film. He was not as dynamic as he could have been. Now, that may have been a choice because of the real person that he was portraying, and, as I said, he was fine. When he finally made some adjustments, Feinberg became a better character.

The best part of the film was the stories and the side characters. There was an interesting story involving Karen Abate (Laura Benanti), a composite character of several different wives of firefighters who had given their lives on 9-11. He subplot was emotional and helped keep the power in the story.

With the anniversary of 9-11 coming up soon, Worth is a strong movie to help remember how that day affected the people of the country.

3.6 stars

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

I was always a fan of Shang-Chi, known as the Master of Kung Fu, in the comics, but it is clear that the character would require some loving care to transfer its troublesome background into the live action format of the MCU, not the least amount doing something with Shang-Chi’s father, the hugely racial stereotype Fu Manchu. Marvel Studios took up that challenge and have created a movie that should do for Asian culture what Black Panther did for black culture.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is a masterpiece as it seamlessly blended the Marvel franchise formula with plenty of parts that felt unlike any Marvel movie before it.

Instead of Fu Manchu, Shang-Chi’s (Simu Liu) father is Xu Wenwu (Tony Leung), the master of the mystical Ten Rings, the artifacts that the terrorist organization The Ten Rings, originally seen in the first Iron Man movie, use as control. Though Xu Wenwu makes one reference to The Mandarin, the character that he is clearly based upon, he does not use that name, instead poo-pooing it as a name chosen by the idiot actor Trevor Slattery (Sir Ben Kingsley) used in Iron Man 3.

After the death of his mother Jiang Li (Fala Chen), Shang-Chi ran away from his father, to the United States, changing his name and living out his life. Years living in San Francisco had seen Shang-Chi as a valet parking cars with his fellow under achieving best friend Katy (Awkwafina). When Shang-Chi received a post card from his sister Xialing (Meng’er Zhang), he began to believe she was in danger. When he is attacked on a bus in San Fran, Shang-Chi was certain of it.

Shang-Chi and Katy headed to confront his father and find out exactly what he was planning to do.

There is so much to this movie. It is one of the best origin stories Marvel has had in many years. The film exists squarely in the MCU, but it also feels as if it is in its own universe. The film does a masterful job of setting up the setting for the film and establishing the history and the rules of the locations.

The martial arts scenes, in particular in the first half of the movie, are the best fight scenes in the MCU and has some of the greatest martial arts action in many years. The fight on the bus, which you see some of in the trailer, is so amazing and breathtaking. You see only the very slightest bit of that fight in the trailers. Then, it gets topped by the fight in the scaffolding. The fight choreography is superb and really carries the first part of the movie.

The imagery is beautiful throughout the movie. While the third act leans a little too much on the CGI spectacle, there is no denying that the look of these scenes are special. It does an excellent job of highlighting Asian culture and history through several eras of the world.

The story of Shang-Chi and the Ten Rings was not what I expected it to be. The relationship between Shang-Chi and Xu Wenwu was so different, so deeper than what the trailers led us to believe that it felt as if the family dynamic was to become a tragedy. Xu Wenwu absolutely was more than just a villain. He was a deeply flawed, complex character whose actions had reason to him.

Flashbacks are used throughout the film to wonderfully deepen the connections between the characters, whether it be Shang-Chi and his parents, Xu Wenwu and Jiang Li or Shang Chi and his sister.

Simu Liu is a star in the making. He carried himself with such a gravitas that I would not have one bit of concern seeing him standing next to the powerhouses of the Avengers as this character progresses in the MCU. Awkwafina is used in a perfect amount of moments, as she was funny and expressed what the audience was thinking many times. She is given some very powerful moments during the film and does a lot to develop the character of Katy beyond just the comedic friend.

Ton Leung, one of the biggest stars of international movies (particularly China), is not as well known in the States, but his performance as the multi-dimensional Xu Wenwu is one of the best performances of the film. He shows his conflict and his pain so well, along with his striving for power. In the end, his goal is one that could be relatable for audiences even though his methods may not be.

Two post credit scenes and they are epic, especially the first one. You may not understand what’s happening, but it is apparent that it has serious repercussions for the MCU.

Great new hero. Great supporting cast. Amazing visuals and music. Several surprise cameos that fit beautifully. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings feels like its own thing while perfectly fitting into the MCU proper. This movie is a lot of fun and a thrilling action film with some of the best martial arts action in any MCU movie. Shang-Chi is he best comic book movie of the year so far.

5 stars