Review: ‘Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank,’ starring the voices of Michael Cera, Ricky Gervais, George Takei, Aasif Mandvi, Michelle Yeoh and Samuel L. Jackson

July 13, 2022

by Carla Hay

Hank (voiced by Michael Cera) and and Jimbo (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson) in “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank (Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon Movies, Align and Aniventure)

“Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank”

Directed by Rob Minkoff, Mark Koetsier and Chris Bailey

Culture Representation: Taking place primarily in the fictional town of Kakamucho, the animated film “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” features a racially diverse cast (white, black, Asian and Latino) portraying talking animals.

Culture Clash: Inspired by the 1974 comedy film “Blazing Saddles,” a dog named Hank is chosen to be a samurai to save a town of cats, but Hank doesn’t know not he’s been set up by villain who wants to rid the town of the cats and wants Hank to be killed.

Culture Audience: “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” will appeal primarily to fans of “Blazing Saddles” and people who enjoy family-oriented films with positive messages of self-confidence and not judging people by physical appearances.

Ika Chu (voiced by Ricky Gervais) and Ohga (voiced by George Takei) in “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” (Image courtesy of Paramount Pictures, Nickelodeon Movies, Align and Aniventure)

No one should expect “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” to be award-worthy. But as family entertainment with positive messages, memorable characters and an action-filled story (that sometimes gets jumbled), the movie delivers on a satisfactory level. Although “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” was inspired by the classic 1974 film “Blazing Saddles,” anyone expecting the dark comedy of “Blazing Saddles” will be sorely disappointed.

“Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” is an animated film geared to people of various ages (mostly underage kids), so the tone of the movie is lighthearted and lightweight. Because it’s an animated movie with talking animals and a theme of an underestimated animal training to be a protective fighter, “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” might also get some comparisons to the 2008 animated film “Kung Fu Panda.” “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” isn’t as good as “Kung Fu Panda” and is unlikely to have as large of a fan base that the “Kung Fu Panda” franchise has, but not all movies aspire to be classics.

Directed by Rob Minkoff, Mark Koetsier and Chris Bailey, “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” has the benefit of very talented voice cast members who give the movie’s characters unique personalities. This is not the type of animated film where it’s hard to tell the characters apart from each other. Ed Stone and Nate Hopper wrote the adapted screenplay for “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank,” which also gives screenwriting credit to “Blazing Saddles” screenwriters Mel Brooks, Norman Steinberg, Andrew Bergman, Richard Pryor and Alan Uger.

“Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” begins with showing a town called Kakamucho, which is populated entirely by cats. Although the town could exist anywhere, the Kakamucho residents follow ancient Japanese military traditions of shoguns and samurai. The town has recently been plagued by bandits. The shogun of Kakamucho will be arriving soon and will be asked by find samurai who can protect the town. “Blazing Saddles” director/co-writer Brooks is the voice of Shogun, a British shorthair cat.

However, the story’s villain wants to get rid of the residents of Kakamucho, so that he can use the land for greedy redevelopment purposes. The villain is a scheming Somali cat named Ika Chu (voiced by Ricky Gervais), a character that people might or might not enjoy watching, depending on how they feel about Gervais and his cutting British comedy that he brings to this cat’s personality. In movies like this, every villain has a sidekick. Ika Chu’s sidekick is Ohga (voiced by George Takei), a burly Manx cat who leads Ika Chu’s army.

Ika Chu has concocted a plan where he decides to fool a dog into thinking that the dog has been selected as a samurai to protect Kakamucho. Because cats and dogs have been enemies, Ika Chu is counting on the dog to be killed by the Kakamucho residents. Because it’s against the law to kill a samurai, Ika Chu will then have the entire town arrested, and then have the land to himself.

The dog who becomes the unwitting target of Ika Chu’s dastardly plan is Hank (voiced by Michael Cera), a socially awkward beagle who has recently been released from prison. It’s implied that Hank might have been unjustly imprisoned simply because he’s a dog in a cat’s town. Iku Chu summons Hank and lies to him by saying that Hank has been chosen as the samurai to protect Kakamucho. When Hank expresses skepticism, Ika Chu spontaneously scratches the word “samurai” on a coffee mug and gives it to Hank as an “official” memento that Hank is now an appointed samurai.

Hank has no idea how to be a samurai, so he enlists the help of tuxedo cat Jimbo (voiced by Samuel L. Jackson), a washed-up and cranky samurai, who spends a lot of time getting drunk on catnip. Jimbo is very reluctant to become a sensei mentor to Hank, but he eventually agrees. Jimbo isn’t entirely convinced that a dog will be accepted by the cats of Kakamucho.

Hank and Jimbo do a lot of arguing during this training, but they have somewhat of a emotional breakthrough when Hank finds out that he’s met Jimbo before. Hank tells Jimbo about a time several years earlier when an unidentified samurai cat rescued Hank from being bullied by some bad dogs. Jimbo reveals that he was that cat.

Jimbo eventually opens up to Hank about something painful from his past too. Years ago, Jimbo was head of security at the birthday party for his employer, an elite feline named Toshi. However, Jimbo accidentally caused a major disaster at the party. The accident resulted in Toshi’s in-laws to become sterile. This mishap embarrassed Jimbo so much, he quit being a samurai and became a bitter recluse.

Although this is a fictional animated film, “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” has a lot to say about prejudices that can negatively divide individuals. It’s a message that’s explicitly stated in the film, but one that’s still meaningful. The bigotry between the cats and dogs in “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” is obvious symbolism for bigotry in hate groups that teach people to hate others based on their identities or physical appearances.

Observant viewers will also notice how “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” shows something that often happens in real life: opinions and thoughts from young females are often dismissed just because they’re young females. In the movie, a young female Persian cat named Emiko (voiced by Kylie Kuioka), who wants to be a samurai, is intelligent and observant. However, her smart ideas are often ignored, or an older male in the community takes credit for her ideas. The way that Emiko handles this disrespect and what happens to her in the end are good lessons for people of any age.

“Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” gets a little messy with a tad too many subplots. One of these subplots involves a giant ginger cat named Sumo (voiced by Djimon Hounsou), who is at various times feared and adored. Sumo arrives in Kakamucho as a fighting enemy to Hank, but will Sumo ends up as a friend?

In “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank,” the female cats are often the calm voices of reason amid the chaos. Yuki (voiced by Michelle Yeoh) is a cheerful Persian cat who is Emiko’s mother. Little Mama (voiced by Cathy Shim) is a wise matriarch of Kakamucho. There’s also a clownish duo of friends: klutzy calico cat Chuck (voiced by Gabriel Iglesias) and tuxedo cat Ichiro (voiced by Aasif Mandvi), who are like the Laurel & Hardy of Kakamucho.

The movie has no shortage of action, with some scenes working better than others. The last third of the movie consists of a flurry of battles and chase sequences that should hold viewers’ interest, despite predictable outcomes. The visuals in “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” are good but not outstanding. The most striking visuals are the outdoor scenic shots and many of the action scenes.

“Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” makes some sarcastic self-referential comments on movie clichés that can be found in “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank.” When Hank begins training under Jimbo’s tutelage, Hank says, “This is the training montage.” Jimbo replies, “This is my favorite part—the part where you suffer.” A movie that can laugh at itself in this way can’t be taken too seriously.

Paramount Pictures will release “Paws of Fury: The Legend of Hank” in U.S. cinemas on July 15, 2022.

Review: ‘Minions: The Rise of Gru,’ starring the voices of Steve Carell, Pierre Coffin, Alan Arkin, Taraji P. Henson, Danny Trejo, Lucy Lawless and Michelle Yeoh

June 29, 2022

by Carla Hay

Pictured from left to right: Kevin, Otto, Gru (voiced by Steve Carell), Stuart and Bob in “Minions: The Rise of Gru” (Photo courtesy of Illumination Entertainment/Universal Pictures)

“Minions: The Rise of Gru”

Directed by Kyle Balda

Culture Representation: Taking place in the 1979, in San Francisco and in the fictional U.S. city of Springfield, California, the animated film “Minions: The Rise of Gru” features a predominantly white cast of characters (with a few African Americans, Asians and Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: In this origin story of “Despicable Me” supervillain Gru, he is an 11-year-old child who gets into conflicts with the Vicious 6, a gang of criminals that Gru admires.

Culture Audience: “Minions: The Rise of Gru” will appeal primarily to fans of the “Despicable Me” and “Minions” films, but others might be less charmed by the scattershot and uninspired plot of “Minions: The Rise of Gru.”

Stronghold (voiced by Danny Trejo), Belle Bottom (voiced by Taraji P. Henson), Wild Knuckles (voiced by Alan Arkin), Jean Clawed (voiced by Jean-Claude Van Damme), Sevengeance (voiced by Dolph Lungren) and Nun-Chuck (voiced by Lucy Lawless) in “Minions: The Rise of Gru” (Photo courtesy of Illumination Entertainment/Universal Pictures)

“Minions: The Rise of Gru” is an unfortunate example of how a villain origin story loses its edge when it’s about the villain’s childhood. This formulaic cartoon is nothing more than a hyper mishmash of uninspired scenes with stale jokes and very little suspense. The best movie villains are those who keep people guessing on what they’re going to do next. That’s not the case with any of the villains in “Minions: The Rise of Gru.”

Gru (voice by Steve Carell) is now just a predictable grouch, where all he really does to show his villainous side in “Minions: The Rise of Gru” is get annoyed with the Minions, the cutesy yellow mini-creatures that don’t talk like humans but spew noises that sound like a combination of chirping and computer blips. Pierre Coffin is the voice of the Minions in “Minions: The Rise of Gru.” Just as the name suggestions, the Minions are at the beck and call of Gru.

Gru (an easily agitated, on-again/off-again villain) was first seen in the 2010 animated film “Despicable Me,” which spawned the sequels “Despicable Me 2” (released in 2013), “Despicable Me 3” (released in 2017) and the spinoff-prequel “Minions,” which was released in 2015. “Despicable Me 4” is expected to be released in 2024. In all of the “Despicable Me” movies, Gru is an adult who is an ex-supervillain who doesn’t particularly like people. In “Minions: The Rise of Gru” (directed by Kyle Balda and written by Matthew Fogel), Gru (still voiced by Carell) is an 11-year-old brat. Brad Ableson and Jonathan del Val co-directed “Minions: The Rise of Gru.”

“Minions: The Rise of Gru” has a simple plot, but it’s so cluttered with disjointed scenes that it just becomes a hodgepodge of characters running around, sometimes while they’re being chased and occasionally cracking some very unfunny jokes. The child version of Gru is not someone who has any cunning wit or hilarious barbs that define who Gru is as an adult. He’s just a basic annoying kid that has been seen in numerous types of animated and non-animated movies aimed at families.

The essential plot of “Minions: The Rise of Gru” is that Gru steals something from a famous gang he wants to join, lot of chases ensue, and you can predict the end. Gru, who is an only child, lives with his unnamed single mother (voiced by Julie Andrews) in the fictional city of Springfield, California. People know that Springfield is in California because much of the action in the movie takes in San Francisco. The time period is circa 1979, based on the movie soundtrack’s overload of disco songs that were released in or a few years before 1979.

Don’t expect Gru’s mother to be big part of the story. She’s only in a few scenes, such as an early scene where Gru coms home to find his mother in a yoga session with a physically fit, young male yoga instructor. Later, when Gru gets kidnapped, he tells his abductors that it will be a waste of time to demand a ransom. “My mom will probably pay you to keep me.” It’s one of few barely funny lines in the movie.

Gru hangs out with lots of Minions, of course. The ones that get most screen time are named Otto, Kevin, Stuart and Bob. Otto, who wears teeth braces, is a people-pleasing new character introduced in this movie. Because Gru is such an unpleasant child, he has no friends. The Minions are the only beings that keep him company. Gru spends most of his time being bossy to the Minions.

Gru is a big fan of a famous criminal gang called the Vicious 6. They are led by a Wild Knuckles (voiced by Alan Arkin), a cantankerous senior citizen who is known for his fighting skills in several athletic disciplines, such as karate, boxing and jiu jitsu. The other members of the group have their own ways of fighting.

Belle Bottom (voiced by Taraji P. Henson) has a chain belt that she can make into a deadly disco ball of mace. Stronghold (voiced by Danny Trejo) has metal fists. Jean Clawed (voiced by Jean-Claude Van Damme) has a lobster claw for one of his hands. Sevengeance (voiced by Dolph Lungren) is a roller skating champ who uses his spiked skates as a weapon. Nun-Chuck (voiced by Lucy Lawless) is dressed as a traditional nun, which allows her to hide her signature weapon of nunchucks.

Through a series of events, Gru meets the Vicious 6 and asks to join their group. He’s emotionally crushed when they essentially dismiss Gru. Belle Bottom tells Gru during this rejection: “Evil is for adults, not tubby little punks who should be at school.”

Gru steals the Vicious 6’s most valuable possessions: the Zodiac Stone. Otto replaces it with a Pet Rock. And you know what that means: The Vicious 6 is out to get Gru and his Minions crew. Wild Knuckles is then ousted from the Vicious 6, which is just a lazy way for the movie to have two factions of villains instead of just one. And since Wild Knuckles is the Vicious 6 villain whom Gru admires the most, get ready for the predictable “grandfather figure to Gru” story arc that you can see coming long before it starts.

Along the way, the Minions end up in San Francisco to get karate lessons from a former karate champ named Master Chow (voiced by Michelle Yeoh), which lead to mildly entertaining but entirely formulaic scenes. An unnamed motorcycle rider (voiced by RZA) and a young Nefario (voiced by Russell Brand) have brief appearances that are mostly forgettable. Nefario is an evil inventor who is an elderly man in the “Despicable Me” movie, but his origin story is “Minions: The Rise of Gru” so weak and underdeveloped, Nefario might as well have not been in the movie.

There’s nothing wrong with any of the visuals or voice acting in this movie. The screenplay and overall direction just make everything so mind-numbingly trite. “Minions: The Rise of Gru” will make a lot of “Despicable Me” franchise fans want the adult Gru back. This child Gru needs to back to his room. Gru’s bratty pouting and whining are just one giant bore, making “Minions: The Rise of Gru” a step down for the “Despicable Me”/”Minions” series.

Universal Pictures will release “Minions: The Rise of Gru” in U.S. cinemas on July 1, 2022. The movie was first released in several other countries, beginning in Australia, on June 16, 2022.

Review: ‘Everything Everywhere All at Once,’ starring Michelle Yeoh, Ke Huy Quan, Stephanie Hsu, James Hong, Jamie Lee Curtis, Tallie Medel and Jenny Slate

March 23, 2022

by Carla Hay

Ke Huy Quan, Jamie Lee Curtis and Michelle Yeoh in “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (Photo by Allyson Riggs/A24)

“Everything Everywhere All at Once”

Directed by Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert

Some language in Mandarin and Cantonese with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in unnamed cities and various dimensions, the sci-fi action film “Everything Everywhere All at Once” features a cast of Asian and white characters (with a few Latinos) representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: A laundromat owner, who has troubled relationships with her husband and young adult daughter, finds out that she and other people she knows have different lives in other dimensions. 

Culture Audience: “Everything Everywhere All at Once” will appeal primarily to people who don’t mind watching very unique and sometimes deliberately confusing movies with a time-travel component.

Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, Michelle Yeoh and James Hong in “Everything Everywhere All at Once” (Photo by Allyson Riggs/A24)

The frenetic, genre-blurring “Everything Everywhere All at Once” sometimes tries too hard to be eccentric, but this highly innovative film stands out for refusing to play it safe. Get ready for a bumpy and bizarre ride. There’s so much hyperactive editing in the movie that speeds though different times and spaces, viewers might feel like they just went through the cinematic version of a psychedelic experiment after the movie is over.

Daniel “Dan” Kwan and Daniel Scheinert (also known as filmmaking duo Daniels) wrote and directed “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” which takes leaps and bounds across different genres, from sci-fi to action, in a mash-up of a comedic tone and a dramatic tone. At the core is the story of a family that is falling apart in the beginning of the film, and the family members find themselves gaining new perspectives when they discover what their lives would be like as other beings in different times and places. It’s not a film for people who want conventional structures in the movie. Underneath all the craziness in the movie is a story with a heartfelt message of love and acceptance.

“Everything Everywhere All at Once” starts off looking like it’s going to be a typical family drama. Evelyn Wang (played by Michelle Yeoh) is a domineering and stern matriarch who is trying to keep her family’s laundromat business afloat in the midst of some personal turmoil: Evelyn and her mild-mannered husband Waymond Wang (played by Ke Huy Quon) are at a breaking point in their marriage. Divorce papers have been drawn up, and the movie eventually reveals who was the one who filed for divorce.

Evelyn and Waymond live above the laundromat together. Evelyn’s father Gong Gong (played by James Hong), who has traditional Chinese views on life, has been staying with them for a visit. Evelyn and Waymond have a daughter in her early 20s named Diedre “Joy” Wang, who is an out-of-the-closet lesbian or queer woman. Joy (who tends to get easily irritated by her mother) has been happily dating laid-back Becky Sregor (played by Tallie Medel), who is accepted by Joy’s parents, even though Evelyn is afraid to tell Gong Gong that Becky is Joy’s girlfriend.

When Evelyn introduces Becky to Gong Gong, she describes Becky as Joy’s “good friend,” which upsets Joy. However, Joy doesn’t correct her mother about misleading Gong Gong about the true nature of Joy and Becky’s relationship. Evelyn and Joy have been having tensions over Joy thinking that Evelyn doesn’t completely accept who Joy is. And who can blame Joy for feeling this way? Evelyn is the type of mother who tells Joy: “You have to eat healthier. You’re getting fat.”

One day, the four members of the Wang family visit an IRS agent named Deirdre Beaubeirdra (played by Jamie Lee Curtis) in an audit meeting about their tax returns. Deirdre is a frumpy and grumpy accountant who becomes a little impatient at how the family doesn’t have some of the documents that she needs to complete her work. Evelyn is preoccupied with an upcoming party that she wants to have for the laundromat’s customers. One of the invited customers is someone whom Evelyn only calls Big Nose (played by Jenny Slate), who has a Pomeranian dog as her constant companion.

It’s at this IRS office that things start to get weird. Waymond takes Evelyn aside and tells her that he’s not really her husband but he’s really a being from another dimension who needs her help to save his world. Things happen with an umbrella; ear buds where people pick up various audio frequencies; giant black circles; and a slew of flat, plastic eyes (similar to rag doll eyes) that all take the story through various twists and turns. The being who says he’s not Waymond calls himself Alpha Waymond, and he comes from the Alphaverse.

Without giving away too much information, it’s enough to say that some of the various incarnations of the characters in the movie include two people who are live-in lovers and have hot dogs for fingers, so they have to do a lot of things with their feet; two people who become rocks and have silent conversations with each other; and a chef named Chad (played by Harry Shum Jr.), who has a raccoon living under his chef’s hat. There are fights involving martial arts, gun shootouts and some very strange rituals that might make some people squirm and/or laugh.

All of the cast members fully commit to the full range of wildly different characters that they have to portray in the film. Yeoh is the obvious standout because of Evelyn’s central story arc in the movie. Even for people with short attention spans, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” might be too much of a spectacle overload. But if you’re prepared for a unique cinematic experience and have the curiosity to absorb it all, “Everything Everywhere All at Once” might make you further appreciate filmmaking that takes bold risks.

A24 will release “Everything Everywhere All at Once” in select U.S. cinemas on March 25, 2022. A special one-night-only fan event will take place at select IMAX theaters in the U.S. (with cast members appearing in person at select locations) on March 30, 2022. The movie’s release expands to more U.S. cinemas on April 8. 2022.

Review: ‘Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,’ starring Simu Liu, Tony Leung, Awkwafina, Meng’er Zhang, Fala Chen, Michelle Yeoh and Florian Munteanu

August 23, 2021

by Carla Hay

Meng’er Zhang, Simu Liu and Awkwafina in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios)

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings”

Directed by Destin Daniel Cretton

Some language in Mandarin with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in China and in San Francisco, the superhero action film “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” features a predominantly Asian cast of characters (with some white people) representing heroes, villains and people who are in between.

Culture Clash: A Chinese man who ran away to the U.S. as a teenager, in order to get away from his ruthless overlord father, must confront his past and the power of 10 magical arm rings that are the source of the story’s conflict.

Culture Audience: “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” will appeal primarily to people who are fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) and are looking for an enjoyable origin story that is not a sequel or a prequel.

Tony Leung and Fala Chen in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” (Photo courtesy of Marvel Studios)

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of Ten Rings” has plenty of heart and adventurous spirit to satisfy superhero movie fans. It’s too bad that the title character has a personality that’s duller than the average Marvel superhero. Shang-Chi is frequently outshined by his wisecracking female best friend/sidekick. And there’s a long stretch in the middle of the film that drags the pace down considerably.

Directed by Daniel Destin Daniel Cretton, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Rings” is an origin story that doesn’t dazzle in a spectacular way, but it gets the job done in a crowd-pleasing way that serves the movie’s target audience well. Cretton co-wrote the movie’s screenplay with Dave Callaham and Andrew Lanham. It’s yet another Hollywood studio superhero story about a superhero with “daddy issues.” The big difference this time is that the majority of the cast is Asian, mostly of Chinese heritage.

One of the problems with the movie is that the climactic showdown scene doesn’t offer much that most movie and TV audiences haven’t already seen before. To put it bluntly: This movie needed better villains. In “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” there’s a villain named Razor Fist (played by Florian Munteanu) with a machete as an arm. That pales in comparison to a “Stars Wars: Rise of Skywalker” villainous henchman named Cardo that had a shotgun for an arm.

Battles with dragons? Yawn. It’s very “Game of Thrones” and not much different from any recent big-budget live-action movie where the dragons are the big monsters that have to be defeated. And a hero going in a one-on-one duel fight against his villain father? Ever hear of “The Empire Strikes Back” or “Return of the Jedi”?

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is literally an origin story, since viewers see how, in China, his parents met, fell in love, got married, and had Shang-Chi as their first child. The movie shows Shang-Chi as a baby, as a pre-teen child (played by Jayden Zhang), as a teenager (played by Arnold Sun) and as an adult (played by Simu Liu). Shang Chi’s father Xu Wenwu (played by Tony Leung) was a corrupt overlord who came into possession of 10 magical arm rings (because bracelets must not sound macho enough) that allowed him to have immense power. His heart softened when he met Ying Li (played by Fala Chen), who charmed him after a sword duel that she won against him. It was love at first sight, and they got together soon after that.

Shang-Chi spent his entire life training to be a fighter and to follow in his father’s footsteps. Shang-Chi’s mother Li also gave him a special green pendant that she said he must never lose or give away. But tragedy struck when Shang-Chi was a teenager: His mother died. Wracked with griedfand despair, widower Xu Wenwu went back to his corrupt ways. There’s a part of the movie that reveals that Xu Wenwu also might have lost his mind to insanity.

When Shang-Chi was 14 years old, Xu Wenwu ordered him to complete his first “assignment” assassination. At age 15, Shang-Chi ran away from China to the United States. He ended up settling in San Francisco, where in high school he befriended a smart-alecky girl named Katy, and they’ve been best pals ever since. The movie does not show Shang-Chi’s American life during the time that he was in high school or in his 20s, but he and Katy have a few discussions about their past together.

Now in their early 30s, Shang-Chi (who changed his first name to Shaun) and Katy (played by Awkwafina) work together as parking valets at a ritzy hotel. They’re very educated and over-qualified for the job. He can speak four languages, while she has a master’s degree from the University of California at Berkeley. Katy has a mischievous and rebellious streak, since she’s the type of valet driver who will take a car out on a joy ride instead of parking it. That’s what she does when she gets handed the keys to a red BMW, which she takes to speed through traffic, with Shaun/Shang-Chi along for the ride.

Katy doesn’t know about Shang-Chi’s past until it catches up to him in one of the movie’s best action scenes. It’s when Iron Fist and some other thugs attack Shang-Chi and Katy while they’re on a moving bus. Katy is shocked to find out that her friend Shaun has superhero-level fighting skills. Later, he tells her that his real name is Shang-Chi.

But the “fight on the bus” scene kicks off the movie in a very thrilling way. The martial arts and choreography are top-notch. And there are some heart-pounding moments when Katy has the take the wheel of the bus and navigate through San Francisco’s hilly, narrow and crowded streets. It makes her daredevil joyrides as a valet look like an easygoing holiday in comparison.

Why is Shang-Chi being targeted by these goons, who seemed to come from out of nowhere? As he explains to Katy about his secret past, it means that his father must be looking for him, because the assassins took Shang-Li’s pendant. And you know what that means: Shang-Chi and Katy are going to China—Macau, to be more specific.

If non-talking monsters or aliens aren’t the main villains in a superhero movie, the talking villains better have a memorable personality. Unfortunately, as talented as Leung is as an actor, this type of formulaic, power-hungry overlord has been done in movies and TV so many times already. After watching “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” for the first time, the average viewer will be hard-pressed to remember one line of dialogue that Xu Wenwu said, although Leung certainly gives it his all in depicting a once-loving father who has since gone in an evil direction.

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” does have moments of levity, mainly because of Katy’s sarcasm and the MCU re-appearance of Trevor Slattery (played by Ben Kingsley), a flamboyant British actor who was previously seen in 2013’s “Iron Man 3.” It won’t be revealed here what Trevor does in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” but it’s enough to say that a cute faceless and furry creature that Trevor has with him (about the size of a dog) will be one of the most remembered aspects about “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.”

Dr. Strange sidekick Wong (played by Benedict Wong) is another MCU character who’s in “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings,” although Wong’s screen time is a lot less than Trevor’s. New characters to the MCU include Shang-Chi’s estranged younger sister Xialing (played by Meng’er Zhang, making an impressive feature-film debut) and their aunt Ying Nan (played by Michelle Yeoh), who is the sister of Shang-Chi and Xialing’s late mother.

Before Shang-Chi and Katy go through predictable scenes of training for the big showdown battle that takes place at the end of the movie, there’s another standout fight scene that takes place on a skyscraper. In many ways, the skyscraper scene and the bus scenes are more unique and more thrilling fight than the final battle scene. This movie’s action definitely shines the most when it has martial arts between humans, rather than visual-effect-heavy battles with mythical creatures.

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is a big step forward for Hollywood-made superhero movies that do not have a predominantly white cast. There’s plenty to like about the movie. But as an origin story, it relies a little too much on over-used, basic tropes. Except some of the fight scenes, there wasn’t a lot of originality in how this story was structured. The good news for people unfamiliar with the MCU, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is one of the few MCU movies that’s a true stand-alone film that doesn’t have a lot of references to other MCU films that you would have to know about to understand these references.

However, it’s not a good sign when one of those past references from an MCU movie (Trevor) is more entertaining to watch than the main hero and the main villain in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.” Awkwafina might get mixed reactions in her role as Katy, since people seem to love or hate Awkafina’s off-screen personality. Liu is perfectly fine as Shang-Chi, but he doesn’t have the charisma to be in the upper echelon of beloved MCU characters. The rest of the cast is serviceable in their roles. This movie isn’t going to win any prestigious awards for any of the cast members.

“Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” also has disappointing mid-credits and end-credits scenes. People really won’t miss anything if they skip the credits. However, it’s enough to say that the mid-credits scene does show Shang-Chi, Katy, Wong and two other MCU characters. As far as escapist entertainment goes, “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” delivers enough to satisfy people who are fans of superhero movies or martial arts. But people who want more magnetic personalities in action heroes might have to look elsewhere.

Marvel Studios will release “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” in U.S. cinemas on September 3, 2021. A one-night-only sneak preview of the movie was screened in select IMAX cinemas in the U.S. and Canada on August 18, 2021.

2019 Academy Awards: performers and presenters announced

February 11, 2019

by Carla Hay

Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga
Bradley Cooper and Lady Gaga at the 76th Annual Golden Globe Awards on January 6, 2019. (Photo by Paul Drinkwater/NBC)

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has announced several entertainers who will be performers and presenters at the 91st Annual Academy Awards ceremony, which will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles. ABC will have the U.S. telecast of the show, which will not have a host. As previously reported, comedian/actor Kevin Hart was going to host the show, but he backed out after the show’s producers demanded that he make a public apology for homophobic remarks that he made several years ago. After getting a  firestorm of backlash for the homophobic remarks, Hart later made several public apologies but remained adamant that he would still not host the Oscars this year.

The celebrities who will be on stage at the Oscars this year are several of those whose songs are nominated for Best Original Song. Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper will perform their duet “Shallow” from their movie remake of “A Star Is Born.” Jennifer Hudson will perform “I’ll Fight” from the Ruth Bader Ginsburg documentary “RBG.” David Rawlings and Gillian Welch will team up for the duet “When a Cowboy Trades His Spurs for Wings” from the Western film “The Ballad of Buster Scruggs.” It has not yet been announced who will perform “The Place Where Lost Things Go” from the Disney musical sequel “Mary Poppins Returns.”** It also hasn’t been announced yet if Kendrick Lamar and SZA will take the stage for “All the Stars” from the superhero flick “Black Panther.”

Gustavo Dudamel and the L.A. Philharmonic do the music for the “In Memoriam” segment, which spotlights notable people in the film industry who have died in the year since the previous Oscar ceremony.

Meanwhile, the following celebrities have been announced as presenters at the ceremony: Whoopi Goldberg (who has hosted the Oscars twice in the past), Awkwafina, Daniel Craig, Chris Evans, Tina Fey, Jennifer Lopez, Amy Poehler, Maya Rudolph, Amandla Stenberg, Tessa Thompson Constance Wu, Javier Bardem, Angela Bassett, Chadwick Boseman, Emilia Clarke, Laura Dern, Samuel L. Jackson, Stephan James, Keegan-Michael Key, KiKi Layne, James McAvoy, Melissa McCarthy, Jason Momoa and Sarah Paulson. Goldberg and Bardem are previous Oscar winners.

Other previous Oscar winners taking the stage will be Gary Oldman, Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell and Allison Janney, who won the actor and actress prizes at the 2018 Academy Awards.

Donna Gigliotti (who won an Oscar for Best Picture for 1998’s “Shakespeare in Love) and Emmy-winning director Glenn Weiss are the producers of the 2019 Academy Awards. This will be the first time that Gigliotti is producing the Oscar ceremony. Weiss has directed several major award shows, including the Oscars and the Tonys. He will direct the Oscar ceremony again in 2019.

**February 18, 2019 UPDATE: Bette Midler will perform “The Place Where Los Things Go,” the Oscar-nominated song from “Mary Poppins Returns.” British rock band Queen, whose official biopic is the Oscar-nominated film “Bohemian Rhapsody,” will also perform on the show with lead singer Adam Lambert. It has not been revealed which song(s) Queen will perform at the Oscars.

February 19, 2019 UPDATE: These presenters have been added to the Oscar telecast: Elsie Fisher, Danai Gurira, Brian Tyree Henry, Michael B. Jordan, Michael Keaton, Helen Mirren, John Mulaney, Tyler Perry, Pharrell Williams, Krysten Ritter, Paul Rudd and Michelle Yeoh.

February 21, 2019 UPDATE: These celebrities will present the Best Picture nominees: José Andrés, Dana Carvey, Queen Latifah, Congressman John Lewis, Diego Luna, Tom Morello, Mike Myers, Trevor Noah, Amandla Stenberg, Barbra Streisand and Serena Williams.

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