5 Marvel titles to watch if you want to go deeper into the world of ‘Shang-Chi’
Welcome to Screen Gab, the newsletter for everyone who spent so much time doomscrolling this week that they’d already forgotten Mike Richards was ousted as executive producer of “Jeopardy!”
With Hurricane Ida and its remnants carving a dangerous path from New Orleans to New York, the Caldor fire crossing the Sierra, the war in Afghanistan coming to an end, abortion rights under attack in Texas, and the 20th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks just more than a week away, the “Jeopardy!” saga already feels like it’s been lost to the mists of time. But Richards was indeed removed from his leadership position at the game show Tuesday after a host handoff gone awry. And though we don’t know who’ll assume a permanent post at the lectern next, we do know Sony Pictures Television, which produces the show, is planning to air the week’s worth of episodes Richards taped before stepping down when the new season of “Jeopardy!” premieres later this month. [Insert eyes emoji here.]
In the meantime, if you’re eager to escape from the apocalyptic news cycle this holiday weekend, there are plenty of options: Attend a ball with “Cinderella,” prepare yourself for “Shang-Chi,” or hit the spa with “Nine Perfect Strangers.” Just keep an eye on what the guru puts in your smoothie.
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“The Mysterious Benedict Society” (Disney+) is an excellent, suspenseful translation of Trenton Lee Stewart’s young adult adventure novel. Here again we find children with special talents (Mystic Inscho, Seth B. Carr, Emmy DeOliveira and Marta Kessler) on whose shoulders rests the fate of the world. Formed by Mr. Benedict (Tony Hale, heroic for a change) into a kind of junior spy team, they are sent to infiltrate an island academy for exceptional students whose headmaster (Hale, again) has some dark plans. Kristen Schaal plays Benedict’s far more practical assistant, Number Two. The formal, frontal design and narrative style recall Barry Sonnenfeld’s Netflix adaptation of “A Series of Unfortunate Events” and any number of films by Wes Anderson, an aesthetic at once widescreen-epic and storybook-intimate. Themes of dissolving social fabric, the death of trust and subliminal media manipulation make it timely — but you don’t have to tell the kids that part’s for real. —Robert Lloyd
I have a well-established weakness for shows about British people and their ambitious home renovations, so it’s not exactly surprising that I am currently devouring “Escape to the Chateau” (Peacock), but the show manages to make the installation of a septic tank into riveting television. The reality series follows Dick Strawbridge, a former military officer with a bushy walrus mustache, and Angel Adoree, his flame-haired, vintage-loving partner, as they move from a cramped two-bedroom apartment in England to a crumbling chateau in the French countryside inhabited by several dozen bats. Initially their dream of renovating the sprawling estate on a shoestring budget and turning it into an event space/family home seems utterly delusional: the doors are covered in lead paint, the toilets flush into a moat and the attic is filled with bird poop. But Dick and Angel prove to be as resourceful as they are eccentric. —Meredith Blake
The latest adaptation of “Cinderella” (Amazon Prime Video), starring Camila Cabello, Idina Menzel, Billy Porter, Minnie Driver and Pierce Brosnan, was written and directed by Kay Cannon, who wrote all three “Pitch Perfect” movies and directed the comedy “Blockers.” Although the movie has come in for ridicule from a number of critics, with contemporary songs like Janet Jackson’s “Rhythm Nation” and Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect” it’s widely accessible and anything but precious — honestly, a fun film to watch with your loved ones/tasty edibles/strong cocktails. Be sure to check The Times site on Friday afternoon for a guide to the tweaked fairy tale and an honest chat with Cannon. —Ashley Lee
It’s been a treat in recent years to watch actor Michael Greyeyes flex his versatile chops, exploring genres from Jeff Barnaby’s zombie flick “Blood Quantum” to this year’s breakout Peacock sitcom “Rutherford Falls.” His latest starring role, in Lyle Mitchell Corbine Jr.'s debut thriller “Wild Indian” (VOD) is a searing addition to his repertoire and a leap from his “Rutherford Falls” casino boss Terry Thomas, although the distance between the characters is arguably shorter than it seems. Greyeyes plays a haunted man inextricably tied to his estranged cousin (Chaske Spencer) by a shocking act of violence from their childhood. Between Spencer’s devastating performance and Greyeyes’ chilling turn — some of the best acting of this year’s Sundance Film Festival — “Wild Indian” charts the deeply cyclical wounds of generational trauma that bring these two figures hurtling back toward an inescapable confrontation. —Jen Yamato
Critic’s pick: “Only Murders in the Building” (Hulu)
The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been making its biggest waves in the television space lately, with must-see Disney+ series like “WandaVision,” “The Falcon and the Winter Soldier” and “Loki,” but “Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings” is looking to change that.
An origin story for Shang-Chi, the movie is the MCU’s first standalone feature about an Asian American superhero, boasting a cast that is predominantly Asian and Asian North American. And since “Shang-Chi’s” characters and lands are mostly new to the MCU, viewers are not required to have exhaustive knowledge of all 24 films that came before it.
But if you want to take your preparation for “Shang-Chi” to the next level, you should start at the beginning with “Iron Man” (2008), which introduced the Ten Rings as a terrorist organization, and then “Iron Man 3" (2013), which revisited the group to introduce its dangerous leader, the Mandarin. The home-release bonus short “All Hail the King” (2013) picks up after “Iron Man 3" to further tease the influence of Mandarin and the Ten Rings. (All three titles are available to stream on Disney+.)
Familiarity with the world of 2016’s “Doctor Strange” (also on Disney+) will also come in handy. But beyond connections to past plot lines, it’s among the titles in the MCU catalog that can also help put “Shang-Chi’s” Asian representation in context: “Doctor Strange” was rightly called out for whitewashing when it reimagined the Ancient One — a Tibetan comic-book character created in the ’60s — as a Celtic mystic to avoid Orientalist clichés about wise Asian masters.
Created in the ’70s, Shang-Chi’s comic book history is similarly steeped in racist tropes and stereotypes, with ties to the infamous Fu Manchu. Plus, MCU characters of Asian descent have generally been relegated to roles as sidekicks or comic relief up to this point. Then there are TV shows like “Iron Fist” (Netflix), technically an MCU title, which relies on the Orientalist premise of a chosen, white martial arts expert taking on a villainous Asian organization, among other problematic tropes.
And if you’d rather not study up on the cultural stakes around “Shang-Chi”? You could always stay on Disney+, skip ahead to “Avengers: End Game” (2019) to get caught up about the “blip,” and call it a day. —Tracy Brown
September has turned out to be the month to release a movie-musical. “Everybody’s Talking About Jamie,” in theaters Sept. 10 and streaming Sept. 17 on Amazon Prime, follows a teenager with dreams of being a drag queen, to the dismay of some of his family and friends. The feel-good film, based on a true story that was turned into a West End stage musical, co-stars Richard E. Grant as a local legend who mentors Jamie through his debut performance. Grant recently told us what he watched to prepare for the role, and which movie trilogy continues to fascinate him. —Ashley Lee
What movie or TV show have you been recommending to friends lately?
I had never seen drag before. So in preparation for “Jamie,” I watched 11 series of “RuPaul’s Drag Race” in three weeks. I’m still watching it because, Oh my god, when they have to lip sync to fight for their lives and then one of them has to sashay away — can I hear an amen to that? I think it is absolutely brilliant.
What have you wanted to catch up on but haven’t gotten a chance?
“The White Lotus.” I’ve heard such great things about it ... [and] we’re finally getting it [in the U.K.]. I’m reading about it and so want to see it.
What movie or TV show do you revisit frequently?
I watch “The Godfather” trilogy every five, six months. I think they’re just absolutely brilliant. I watch them in strict order. The genius of Francis Ford Coppola, how they’ve translated Mario Puzo’s novel into this epic family saga of love, revenge, death — everything, I love it. And the cast is unbeatable, I think, in movie history.
Hulu’s star-studded new miniseries, “Nine Perfect Strangers,” sets a slow-burn mystery at an ultra-exclusive California retreat. But is it trippy fun with a sick sense of humor or just a form of Peak TV quackery? Times TV critics Lorraine Ali and Robert Lloyd debate the merits so you can judge for yourself.
Ali: The promise of healing and transformation at an upscale wellness resort takes an ominous turn in “Nine Perfect Strangers” — at least, that’s what we were promised in ads from Hulu ahead of the eight-part drama starring Nicole Kidman. I wasn’t so sure about this one when it premiered last month, especially since all the guests were so hateful on arrival — from Melissa McCarthy as a lonely romance novelist to Bobby Cannavale as a drug-addicted football legend. But now that we’re five episodes in, I’m hooked. Is guru/spa owner Masha (Kidman) using her guests as lab rats for her own gain or truly trying to heal them? And while she’s encouraging them to open up, she’s clearly harboring much deeper, darker secrets... but what are they?! Regardless, the spiked smoothies look delicious and I could use a break, so sign me up.
Lloyd: I’ll grant you that the guests — if you can call someone paying a heap of money for the mish-mash of goodies and therapies and various invented dubious forms of psychic torture, I mean enlightenment, a guest — have grown less obnoxious. (I’ll take my smoothie straight, please.) Everyone is suffering, quite volubly — even the repression is conspicuous — and yet I don’t feel their pain. It all reminds me of an Agatha Christie novel, with the suspects, each with hidden business, gathered in the luxury spa-cation version of a country house weekend, or perhaps, with its cultish elements, an episode of “Midsomer Murders” — except that it lacks a body, so far, and takes itself so seriously, where satire might be in order.
Ali: It certainly does have the potential to become a cult murder mystery dressed in overpriced yoga pants. There’s already nine, or is it 11, freshly dug graves out in one of the resort’s meadows (remember that early emotional exercise they did?), so an “And Then There Were None” outcome is entirely possible. I get what you’re saying about not connecting with the characters’ pain, but since I didn’t expect anything too meaningful in the first place, I’m surprised at the amount of vulnerability its guests have shown with each ensuing episode. But the big draw for me is the sheer creepiness of the surrounds and getting to the unhealthy truth behind the wellness facade — and I do find it funny that they’re playing top-dollar to be miserable, unwitting guinea pigs. Or does that speak more to my sick sense of humor than the series?
Lloyd: I wouldn’t want to underestimate your sick sense of humor, Lorraine. It’s definitely creepy, and not just Kidman’s eyes, which seem to be doing all the acting for her face. That it makes her look a little crazy feels both appropriate and distracting. But let me end with a nod to Manny Jacinto — emblazoned in my mind as Jason Mendoza from “The Good Place,” a more interesting show on some of the same themes — as Masha’s right hand, Yao. I was just happy to see him, and to remember that actors are more than a single role. There’s my positive take!
Fri., Sept. 3
“The D’Amelio Show” (Hulu). Docuseries following a Tik-Tok star and her family looks every bit as horrifying or exciting as you might imagine.
“Happier Than Ever: A Love Letter to Los Angeles” (Disney+). Billie Eilish promotes her new album with the help of Gustavo Dudamel and the L.A. Philharmonic, from the Hollywood Bowl, like you do.
“Worth” (Netflix). Feature film stars Michael Keaton as a lawyer assigned to make sense in dollars of the 9/11 attacks with a view to compensation. The math proves complicated.
Sunday, Sept. 5
Tuesday, Sept. 7
“Impeachment: American Crime Story” (FX). Ryan Murphy and the White House Adultery Mystery. Billy Eichner as Matt Drudge.
“On the Verge” (Netflix). Julie Delpy in an L.A.-set series about late-life new motherhood.
“Queen Sugar” (OWN). Ava DuVernay’s Louisiana-set Black family epic — like “Giant,” but with sugar cane — enters its sixth season on the heels of Ida.
Wednesday, Sept. 8
“Doogie Kamealoha, M.D.” (Disney+). Now relocated to Hawaii and gender-switched, with Peyton Elizabeth Lee in for Neil Patrick Harris (keeping the three-name standard) as a teenage doctor.
“Wu-Tang: An American Saga” (Hulu). Aspirational hip-hop group biographical drama drops a sophomore season.
Thursday, Sept. 9
“Kin” (AMC+). Crime family drama set in the city that makes Ireland rich. (Because its capital is always Dublin. Thank you, Highlights for Children.)
“Frogger” (Peacock). The arcade classic made flesh.
Want to know more about one of the filmmakers we’ve interviewed? Need a new show to binge now that your fave is done for the season? If you have a question about TV or streaming movies for the pop culture obsessives at The Times, send it to us at email@example.com and you may find the answer in next week’s edition.
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