Welcome to another installment of Movies, Movies, Movies! Three of these have lots of special effects.
The Legend of Shang-Chi (2021)
Starring: Simu Liu, Tony Chiu-Wai Leung, Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Michelle Yeoh
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
Genres: action, adventure
Synopsis: Shaun, aka Shang-Chi (Liu) lives in a big Western city when he receives a letter from his sister, Xialing (Zhang) asking for help. Xialing is a club owner now. Their father still heads the Ten Rings Gang. The letter brings Shang-Chi, with his trusty sidekick, Katy (Awkwafina,) back to a life he ran away from years ago, to help his sister. Present clashes with past as the story of the ten rings are told; how the immortal father of the siblings, Xu Wenwu (Chiu-Wai Leung,) met their mother and how she was taken from them. It travels to the magical mountain village that protects humankind from evil being unleashed upon it. There are a plethora of relationship issues that are worked on during the plot. The heroes and the villagers must fight against not only the Ten Ring Gang, but from what emerges from the breached wall that holds evil back.
Impressions: It took me two viewings to grasp fully what was going on. There are lush landscapes and polished special effects. The cast is good, with decent chemistry. It felt like Ben Kingsley’s character was thrown in as filler/comedy relief and who was annoying more than anything. I like the setup of the magic village and also the villagers. One thing I really liked is how they showcased the Chinese dragon, which looks distinctly different than the usual Western dragon we see in movies. It is magnificent!
Etc.: from imdb: In the late 1980s Stan Lee had considered a film/TV series about Shang-Chi, and had in mind Brandon Lee, son of martial arts superstar Bruce Lee, for the role. Shang-Chi was visually based on Bruce Lee, so Brandon seemed a fitting choice, but the plan fell through.; filmed in New South Wales, Australia, San Francisco, CA, and Macau, China
Awards: 8 wins and 42 nominations
Starring: Daveed Diggs, Renee Elise Goldsberry, Chris Jackson, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom, Jr.
Director: Thomas Kail
Genres: biography, drama, musical
Synopsis: It’s the story of Alexander Hamilton (Miranda) and the other revolutionaries that helped win America’s independence from British rule. In the first half it builds up to the Revolutionary War and the second half it covers how the new country learns to rule itself. It’s a stage production that was filmed live, “on Broadway from the Richard Rodgers Theater with the original Broadway cast.”
Impressions: All are excellent: music, sets, cast, ease of understanding the story line, the passion of the cast. I like how the king was interjected every once in awhile to represent the attitude of England about what was happening. I enjoyed the first half of the production much more than the second half. I liked that most of the cast was not Caucasian.
Etc.: from imdb:
In his 2016 book “Hamilton: The Revolution,” Lin-Manuel Miranda says that the inspiration for the “Hamilton” song “You’ll Be Back” came from his friendship with Hugh Laurie, which in turn came from his time as an actor on “House”: “I was having a drink with Hugh Laurie, with whom I’d worked on his series House, and I told him I wanted to write a big breakup letter from King George to the colonies. Without blinking, he improvised at me, ‘Awwww, you’ll be back,’ wagging his finger. I laughed and filed it away. Thanks, Hugh Laurie. ”
Awards: 17 wins and 46 nominations
The Burnt Orange Heresy (2019)
Starring: Claes Bang, Elizabeth Debicki, Mick Jagger, Donald Sutherland, Rosalind Halstead
Director: Giuseppe Capotondi
Genres: action, drama
Synopsis: The story opens with James (Bang) teaching an art appreciation class when Berenice (Debicki) drops in and begins witty reparte with him, during and after the presentation. James, although not recognized for his artistic ability, has steadily risen in the art world as a skilled art critic who is also known as having a somewhat villainous reputation. Berenice is an American school teacher on vacation and has her own patchy history. As James and Berenice begin a torrid affair, he gets a call from mega-wealthy Joseph Cassidy (Jagger.) Cassidy has Jerome Debney (Sutherland) staying at a cottage on his rambling estate. Debney, a well-known artist, hasn’t let his work be seen in years and is getting on in age. Debney has read one of James’ reviews and agrees to be interviewed for a piece by him. What Cassidy wants James to do is not only interview Debney but to catch a glimpse of his art and maybe even wheedle a painting out of him for Cassidy. James agrees to try; he and Berenice travel to the Cassidy estate, and this is where the games begin.
Impressions: After being mesmerized by Claes Bang in, “The Last Vermeer,” I went looking for other films by him and found this. Where he played the dedicated believer in truth and justice in the other movie, he plays the pill-popping, womanizing, shady, yet brilliant-minded art critic with a similar glowing intensity. It’s just that he’s after other things. This is more of a high brow film, but the human themes of comedy, tragedy, joy, and sorrow shine through clearly. The casting is well-chosen for Bang and Jagger. Although I like Sutherland generally, he didn’t seem like a good fit for it. Likewise with Debicki. She’s a little too tentative in it. Not necessarily her fault; maybe that’s the way the director wanted her to play it. Also, in the opening scenes, where she is boldly flirting during a class session, the air goes right out of her balloon for the remainder of the film. The sets and locale are exquisite. I was surprised to read that the setting in the novel was Florida in the US. The shift to a lakeside paradise in Italy works. Warning: there are intense scenes of violence and other disturbing images as well as some nudity in the movie.
Etc.: from imdb: filmed in Italy, the UK, and the US; The charming and historic Villa Pizzo, located on Lake Como, doubles as the home of art collector Joseph Cassidy (Mick Jagger) in the film. The lakeside mansion is often used in real life for weddings and business events. Notably, it served as the location for singer-songwriter John Legend and Chrissy Teigen’s wedding in 2013. For the paintings of the fictional artist at the center of the movie, Jerome Debney (Donald Sutherland), production designer Totoi Santoro looked to Italian artist Claudio Verna, who he considers “one of the greatest exponents of analytic painting.” The paintings we see in the film were modeled from and inspired by his work. The fourth feature film adaptation of a Charles Willeford novel, after Cockfighter (1974), Miami Blues (1990), and The Woman Chaser (1999).
Awards: 1 win and 1 nomination
Jungle Cruise (2021)
Starring: Dwayne Johnson, Emily Blunt, Edgar Ramírez, Jack Whitehall, Jesse Plemons
Director: Jaume Collet-Serra
Genres: action, adventure
Synopsis: excellent synopsis found at imdb:
1916. Dreaming about saving countless lives and having another adventure, the feisty English feminist and doctor of botany, Dr Lily Houghton, embarks on a peril-laden mission to change the world. Along with her fashionable brother, MacGregor, Dr Houghton enlists the help of the arrogant, wisecracking riverboat skipper, Captain Frank Wolff, to guide them through the serpentine Amazon River in La Quila, his swift wooden boat. Now, as the intrepid trio ventures deeper and deeper into the heart of an impenetrable green maze, searching for something that cannot be found, a centuries-old curse and the ruthless aristocrat, Prince Joachim, threatens to put an end to their ambitious plans. And, sooner or later, the jungle always wins. Is it true that the Spanish conquistador, Don Aguirre, was lost in the same God-forsaken part of the world? Written by Nick Riganas
Impressions: I knew I was getting into a Disney-esque fantasy when I chose to watch the film. On the strength of my liking of Dwayne Johnson and Emily Blunt, I decided to give it a chance. I liked it way more than I thought I would. The pacing is good. The repartee between the know-it-all, determined Dr. Lily Houghton and the “wisecracking riverboat skipper,” Frank Wolff, was lively and humorous. There is a wealth of special effects in the film which I enjoyed for the most part; however the what I will call cursed ghosts that come after them are very poorly done in my opinion. The animation blobs together and ruins the scenes.
Etc.: from imdb: “One recurrent joke of Frank to Lily is nicknaming her “Pants” by her persistence to wear pants. It addresses not only the social norm at that time that women shouldn’t wear pants, but Katharine Hepburn, one of the first women in Hollywood who challenged the conventions of her time by wearing pants…” is given a nod with it. Hepburn co-starred with Humphrey Bogart in The African Queen and Jungle Cruise gives many nods to that film.
Awards: 1 win and 5 nominations
Starring: Sam Worthington, Zoe Saldana, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, Michelle Rodriguez
Director: James Cameron
Genres: action, adventure
Synopsis: Earthlings have been sent to a moon called Pandora, where a much-coveted energy source (e.g. like petroleum) is found in great quantities. A military and scientific base are established. The military personnel are remaining peaceful, yet are standing by for plan b, while the scientific community works on building peaceful relationships with the indigenous population. Science has found a way to merge the dna of humans and the indigenous people to grow living indigenous bodies and then also to transfer human consciousness into them temporarily. The test subjects are trained in language, customs, etc. of the indigenous people when one of the subjects dies. Jake (Worthington) a former Marine who is now paraplegic, is the twin brother of the dead scientist. Jake is brought from Earth to take over for his brother and is amazed he is fully functional as a Native Pandoran. He infiltrates the tribe and is accepted by them and begins training to be one of their warriors. The more Jake learns, the more he understands what his role will be and begins to question whether or not he wants to continue.
Impressions: I remember watching this in 3D when it first came out at the theater and being bowled over by the immersive special effects. The story is relevant as to large powerful forces invading small peaceful cultures and exploiting them at will, leaving death and decimated nature behind. The way the military objectifies the people and rationalizes why it’s ok to harm them and steal their natural resources is accurate. I love the belief system of the natives and how they worship nature in general and their mother trees in particular. There is so much to admire about how Avatar was put together. Highly recommended!
Etc.: mega amounts of trivia are at imdb:
The Na’vi language was created entirely from scratch by linguist Dr. Paul R. Frommer. James Cameron hired him to construct a language that would be easy for actors to pronounce but would not resemble any human language. Frommer created about 1,000 words.
Awards: 89 wins and 131 nominations