REVIEW: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Marvel Studios started off strong at the beginning of 2021 with WandaVision, but quickly lost steam with Falcon and the Winter Soldier, Loki, and Black Widow. However, it seems that Marvel is picking up the pace again.

Out of the newer MCU solo origin stories, I would rank Shang-Chi above most. I would consider Shang-Chi above Doctor Strange; both films closely follow Marvel’s cookie-cutter formula, however Doctor Strange feels more like a copy-and-paste of Iron Man (rich genius is humbled through injury and learns to keep moving and channel their pain into a newfound ability). Doctor Strange does have the upper hand on visual effects, but Shang-Chi does not always feel like an MCU movie – it’s refreshing.

Perhaps the strongest element of Shang-Chi is its action sequences. The use of well-choreographed martial arts makes the film a thrilling watch, even with the knowledge that all MCU films end with a massive CGI battle scene. I prefer these close combat fight scenes because I find myself zoning out when watching hordes of CGI aliens run across the screen. I am all for the suspension of disbelief, especially in Marvel films, but I still feel a massive disconnect the more fantastical things get. Shang-Chi does fight masses of nameless villains, but he confronts smaller groups of antagonists, making the combat feel tighter and making the audience feel closer to the action. Furthermore, location adds a new dimension to the film’s action, specifically to an early fight sequence on a moving bus, which is synced so perfectly with the score. You realize that Shang-Chi is just some guy who happens to be really good at martial arts, and you are inclined to root for him. 

The side characters are also worth noting. Awkwafina plays an Awkwafina character, contrasted with Shang-Chi’s sister, Xu Xialing, who is arguably the same character as Evangeline Lilly’s Hope van Dyne in Ant-Man (the underestimated daughter who was never allowed to fight when she was young and has become hardened because her family who was never there for her). Nevertheless, it is clear that both Shang-Chi and Xialing have a lot of potential for future MCU projects, though it is slightly disappointing that they were not fully developed in their own film. However, the standouts are the parents, played by Tony Leung and Fala Chen. Tony Leung’s character, Wenwu, is a re-writing of his racist comic book counterpart as a character who is driven by human and more relatable motives, and is not the embodiment of yellow peril. And Ying Li is not simply a mother – she stands her ground and makes decisions for herself. She possesses a kind of grace that makes her presence known throughout the entire film.

Ultimately, Marvel knows how to make movies that will perform well at the box office. Perhaps it would have been too revolutionary for the MCU’s first East-Asian-led film to omit the CGI-Fest at the end in favor of diving deeper into its central character dynamic, but I am happy that Marvel believed in this film’s success.

PREVIEW: Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

The newest installment of the MCU, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings stars Simu Liu, Tony Leung, and Awkwafina. The film follows Shang-Chi (Liu) who is forced to reckon with his past with the introduction of the mysterious Ten Rings organization into his life. Shang-Chi premiered last weekend and shattered Labor Day weekend records, collecting $94.4 million. 

Disney CEO Bob Chapek had previously called the film’s release strategy an experiment, as it would be exclusively in theaters for a 45 day window rather than a joint release on Disney+ – which had been the case for Black Widow – the source for another theatrical release/streaming service controversy. Chapek called Shang-Chi’s release an experiment, which caused Liu to take to Twitter and declare “we are not an experiment,” rallying fans to make history on the film’s release date. Evidently the film has performed well – president of Marvel Studios clarified that Chapek’s statement was a misunderstanding – which is exciting that the MCU’s first Asian-led and Asian-directed film is receiving so much support. This potentially bodes well for Marvel’s next release, Eternals, directed by Oscar winner Chloé Zhao, who is also an Asian filmmaker. 

The film has received generally positive reviews, with praise for the performances from Liu and Leung as well as the film’s soundtrack, though the visual effects have received mixed reviews. I am keeping my hopes reasonably high that the film is not extremely MCU-formulaic, as over 20 of similar projects in the MCU have lowered my expectations. Nevertheless, I am always excited to be in an audience at a movie theater, especially to watch a big blockbuster film. 

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings is now playing at the State Theater. 


REVIEW: The Dig (2021)

The Dig focuses on excavator Basil Brown (Ralph Fiennes) as he works on a site in Britain in 1939, owned by Edith Pretty (Carey Mulligan). The driving force of the film becomes the people who are brought to the site as they unearth an ancient artifact. We’re given glimpses into the lives of incredibly complex individuals, all who have their own internal and external struggles, and the only thing that has brought them all together is the dig site in the countryside.

Without giving too much away, I’d like to praise this movie as much as possible. From the beginning you can see how beautiful the film is, the sprawling landscapes of grass and trees, slightly obscured by morning mist or shrouded in a thick fog, the billowing clouds full of rain allowing only the most brilliant sunbeams to pass through, and quite frankly the dirt which looks so rich and velvety that you want to be there, in the film, just to dig your own hands into the gorgeous earth. I was blown away again and again by the scenery, and if nothing else, the film is worth the watch just to look at how beautiful nature can be. On top of that, the performances given by Mulligan and Fiennes are spectacular, and both are able to make the audience feel the way the characters are feeling, sometimes incredibly excited, other times extremely frustrated or full of existential sorrow.

One thing that I absolutely loved about the film was its spirituality and how it reminds us of our place in the universe. Each character has to wrestle with the idea that they are impermanent, that in a thousand years they will be forgotten, and all that will remain of them are some fragments of their possessions. We can see characters greedily cling to things that will preserve their past, which creates a dynamic between some upper class individuals and some of the workers on the site. Some of the highly educated want the glory associated with making such a momentous discovery, but those who actually did the work learn to let go. The characters that we sympathize with are those who realize that they are playing their part in an intergenerational saga. They aren’t meant to live forever as a famous name in history, they’re meant to live their lives and create a history for all of us to learn about.

I would encourage everyone to watch this movie. While it is admittedly quite Eurocentric (which I think is to be expected from a period piece based on a true story which took place in Britain), it delivers justice to hardworking people and critiques the upper class’s desire for self preservation. I think you would be hard pressed not to be sucked into the storyline within the first fifteen minutes of watching, and until you’re invested, the imagery will keep you more than satisfied. If you like to see how brilliant actors can be, watch Fiennes in the first opening scenes, listen to his accent and recognize that this is the same person who played Voldemort in the Harry Potter franchise (what a range!). Stay for Mulligan’s beautiful transformation as she struggles with letting go of her son, and the drama that develops when Lily James’ character is introduced at the halfway point of the film. The more I think of this movie, the more I realize how brilliant it really was, the direction, writing, sound design, and acting are all phenomenal. If I were to keep writing I’m sure I would give too much away, so I’ll contain myself and stop for now. If you can, please watch this movie, I’m sure you won’t regret it. 10/10


Spoilers ahead.


Isolated in the basement of my house on a Saturday night, I try to tune out the pounding music that somehow manages to penetrate the two small windows separating me from fun. The rage of the closet light that won’t turn off is getting to me, so I waste no time in beginning my foray into the Ann Arbor Polish Film Festival, by way of Piotr Domalewski’s I Never Cry.

I Never Cry is a long awaited film for the “Euro-Orphans:” the kids whose parents left countries like Poland to work in the Western powers of the UK, Ireland, France, etc. The film’s protagonist, Ola (Zofia Stafiej), is one of these kids. When her father dies in a construction accident in Ireland, she must leave her mother and disabled brother behind in Poland to retrieve his body. With only a backpack and a dwindling pack of cigarettes, the 17-year old girl bounces around Dublin, doing her best to thwart the different levels of bureaucracy that stand in the way of her father. Ola’s story is one of amusing despair, as she drinks around Dublin and desperately clings to the few cigarettes she finds (12 euros for a pack of cigarettes? No thanks). In this search, Ola finds she knows very little about her father, and the mission gradually becomes about understanding him rather than finding him.

In stories about grief, by now it’s a cliché for the characters to spend the course of the narrative soothing their loss by trying to figure out who the deceased “really was;” if I’ve lost you already with my trite summary, I’m sorry.

But where Domalewski succeeds in this film is the subversion of that trope, because for Ola, she can’t seem to find out anything about her father. From the man at the hiring agency, to her father’s boss, to his roommates, Ola gets nearly nothing of significance about her father. The most she learns about her father is from his mistress, a hair-dresser scraping by who shows him a framed picture that Ola’s father drew of her—“he likes to draw.” And that’s it. That’s the most we learn of Ola’s father. Domalewski holds the man of the narrative’s longing at arm’s length, trapping us in Ola’s feeling of ignorance, of lostness.

The Euro-Orphan does not get a conventional redemption here. Instead, after discovering that her father’s mistress is pregnant, Ola gives the mistress the money that her father left Ola for a car, with the hope that she uses it to go to makeup school and get a better job. Her dreams of a car mean an escape—but realizing there is no escape from her cycle of poverty, she defers her dreams to the next generation. Like Ola, the viewer isn’t left with much hope with regard to the story at hand. But we must hope with Ola that her gift to her father’s future child pays off. At best, we hope with Ola for a do-over, for a kid that has a better life in a better place.

Psych 101 tells us that between ages 40 and 65 is the stage of development in which we worry about our contribution to society, to the next generation, to the things that will outlast us. But, with our legacy ever-present in the social media era of recording everything we do, I think it’s easy to find ourselves wondering at younger and younger ages, “what world do I leave my kids?” For the generation of “savers,” I Never Cry is a brutally realistic picture of what we have to sacrifice for the rest of humankind.


Between online classes, meetings, schoolwork, and arts events, most of us are beginning to resent our forced bond with technology. Still, somehow, staring lovingly at our screens on Netflix remains our go-to pastime (or procrastination habit, if we’re being honest here). Lucky for us all, I have a movie suggestion that might just marry the two conflicting sentiments: A.M.I.

It’s about a gal mourning the loss of her mother, then happening upon a new app with customizable artificial intelligence personalities. She forms a deeply emotional relationship with the voice, but it soon turns much more sinister than sweet mother-daughter talks…

This sounds like an interesting concept, but still an easily consumable slasher flick perfect for the Halloween season and our stressed brains decaying from midterms.


REVIEW: The Killing of a Sacred Deer

I always try to go into movies (and, well, most other events in my life) completely blind–I hate to watch trailers or read plots; just knowing basic facts ahead of time, like which actors are in the cast, upsets me. This has become a self-enforced law in virtually all areas of my life. So it wasn’t until a few minutes in that I realized that Colin Farrell, the very man who enchanted me in The Lobster played a main character (I found out later that the director was also the same in both movies). Exactly what I didn’t want to happen happened then: based on this new knowledge gained early in the movie, I began forming expectations. When I first watched The Lobster last year, alone in my dorm room in early spring just before the sun went down, I was floored. After it ended, I walked outside and hung onto a stop sign to keep from blowing away, though the air was still.

The result of comparisons like these is almost always disappointment. To regard a piece only as a continuation of a body of work, rather than its own autonomous thing which works in cooperation with itself, is a mistake that typically cannot be undone. This is probably why I didn’t exit my house at the end to clutch at a telephone pole or something. In fact, I forgot how it made me feel almost directly after, which is completely different from my relationship with other movies. 

Still, at some parts I was taken back to the old feeling, that sick gut high-pitched thing stuck somewhere in a nasal or orbital cavity when your mind bends a little painfully. I got this towards the end, as the children begin competing to be spared. Nothing else was starkly shocking in the same way. Not when Steven forces donuts down his son’s throat, or Anna flatly suggests it’s only rational to kill one of the children. When nothing really strikes, there is nothing to grab onto, nothing that connects us to the story.

Nicole Kidman, despite her brilliance in drama, was out of place in this movie. She thrives in hard-hitting, emotional film, not parts where she needs to seem totally unfeeling. Similarly, the presence of Alicia Silverstone got my goat at first, until I separated her from her Clueless days: as she’s grown up, her glazed-eye stare has shifted from strangely flirtatious boredom to something closer to slightly-conscious paralysis. The way her face moves can be disconcerting, bringing about an inexplicable sense of panic in my chest. And all three of the kids were perfect for this kind of acting, as all children are.

It was also clear the crew put thought into how they played with lighting. Much of the time, scenes were engulfed in golden light, sometimes artificial, but warm all the same. Maybe it was just the presence of Kidman, but it gave me some Eyes Wide Shut sensations. Rather than acting as a contrast to the coldness of the characters, it invited me into readily accepting the social norms of the world Lanthimos creates.

The movie wasn’t bad, but it was forgettable. Instead of still thinking of the questions it raises (it is morally wrong to have a favorite child? Who is most responsible in medical malpractice situations? What kinds of guilt can we handle, and how much?), I’m just flashing back to Martin messily eating spaghetti with a white shirt on. Unfortunate, maybe, but it’s the truth.