TUCSON, Ariz. -- A pair of major movies are opening this week. "Cinderella" is launching on Prime Video and Marvel's "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" opens in theaters. Here are my reviews:
If you're going to make yet another "Cinderella" adaption, you'd better be ready to add something fresh to the mix.
That's just what director Kay Cannon ("Blockers") does. Her vision of a pop musical version of the fairy tale pops with effervescent panache.
Fresh and brash -- while only occasionally over-the-top and groan-inducing -- the film is filled with exciting touches that revitalize the well-worn story for current times.
Of all the bold choices in the movie, the one that paid off the most was the casting of Camila Cabello in the lead role. The chanteuse, who rode her 2018 hit "Havana" to international fame, takes a major step into cinematic stardom, effortlessly holding court with a superb cast that includes Idina Menzel, Pierce Brosnan, and Minnie Driver.
A whirlwind of charisma, Cabello embraces the underdog dynamic with breezy ease reminiscent of Amy Adams in "Enchanted."
The writing is nearly as smart as that film, filled with touches that update the tired, rampantly sexist story. This new "Cinderella" emerges as a fable of empowerment and self-determination. Not the sort to wait around to be "saved" as the ultimate trophy wife, Cabello's character is rich in personality and drive. A driven fashion designer who isn't sure she's cut out for the royal life, Cinderella is certain to maintain her power dynamic rather than devolve into a nobody longing for validation.
Superb performances of the likes of "Rhythm Nation," "Material Girl," "Am I Wrong," and a finale of "Let's Get Loud" whip the momentum up into a joyous frenzy. It's all you can do not to leap to your feet and cheer for an encore.
RATING: 3.5 stars out of 4.
"Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings"
Disney's choice to make the latest Marvel Cinematic Universe exclusive to theaters makes sense. Bolstered with stunning effects and booming set pieces, "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" is a film that wouldn't quite have the same impact on a TV or phone.
Director Destin Daniel Cretton ("Just Mercy") shows a touch for interweaving light touches with the heavier material, keeping the momentum flowing. Simu Liu stars as the title character, a scion of a magical martial arts family who is thrust into an interdimensional battle. At the start, he's grinding away as a valet with his bestie, Katy -- played by the wisecracking Awkwafina in an inspired piece of casting.
The screenplay cleverly connects the film with the larger MCU saga, particularly as a companion piece to "Iron Man 3."
Reuniting with his long-lost sister, Xu (Meng'er Zhang), the trio joins oddball actor Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley) to face off against their sinister father, Xu (Tony Leung), who wields ten rings that grant him godlike powers. In his obsession with resurrecting his lost wife by forging a portal into a mystical realm pulsing with war-hungry monsters, Xu is putting everyone around him at risk.
Geeky subtext aside, the film manages to connect with non-MCU obsessives by offering thrills, chills, and laughs. It helps that the cast is so skilled. Liu, a trained stuntman, is thoroughly convincing in the action scenes and shows a smooth command of his emotional range, letting down his intense exterior to show an easy, self-deprecating mood that goes miles toward making him likable.
As the MCU builds its next generation of heroes -- with the "Eternals" and its roster of new characters looming on the horizon -- "Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings" steps to the forefront with panache. It will be fascinating to the ways valets-turned heroes Shang-Chi and Katy take the wheel moving forward.
RATING: 3 stars out of 4.
Viewed Thursday at Harkins Arizona Pavilions.