Double Feature: Astro Boy (2009) & When in Rome (2010)

And we’re back with another double feature!

In the neverending quest to catch up with Netflix and diminish the outstanding titles on my Netflix list before they vanish from selection, I’ve decided to choose movies primarily already on the list whenever I watch something which lead me to trying out a new way than the normal alphabetical approach and that’s to choose a common factor between films, mostly director or actor/actress in whichever role. I honestly don’t know how long this can go for but from the preliminary test, I have at least 20 movies drafted in so we’re in for a ride. I’m liking this new way as it gives variety.

This time will be a lovely Kristen Bell double feature with Astro Boy and When in Rome!

Astro Boy (2009)

Astro Boy

Director: David Bowers

Voice Cast: Freddie Highmore, Charlize Theron, Nicolas Cage, Donald Sutherland, Bill Nighy, Kristen Bell

When an android replica of a boy is rejected by his aggrieved creator, he goes off to find his own identity in an adventure that would make him the greatest hero of his time. –IMDB

While I can’t hate on animated films. Astro Boy really is quite average. Back when this was announced, I had my doubts and I was also travelling when it came out so I never caught it in theatres. A lot of the story here is quite generic and its not very exciting. However, the art is quite nice plus the world is very pretty with lots of colors. The characters are brought alive by its immense talent behind the voices. Kristen Bell does a great job but we also have Bill Nighy as the scientist and Nicolas Cage as the dad and of course, Donald Sutherland as the villain. During that time, Freddie Highmore had a lot of these kid roles and he does a fantastic job as Astro Boy. It may be average but in all its generic and predictable moments, it still has a few decent fun and funny moments.

 

With that said, Astro Boy could be a fun movie for a younger audience. It has a lot of science-y fun and brave kids and takes in the parents angle. Plus, its not terribly long running at about 90 minutes which is always nice because it keeps the pacing decent.

When in Rome (2010)

When in Rome

Director: Mark Steven Johnson

Cast: Kristen Bell, Josh Duhamel, Anjelica Huston, Danny DeVito, Dax Shepherd, Will Arnett, Jon Heder, Alexis Dziena, Kate Micucci

Beth is a young, ambitious New Yorker who is completely unlucky in love. However, on a whirlwind trip to Rome, she impulsively steals some coins from a reputed fountain of love, and is then aggressively pursued by a band of suitors. – IMDB

I’m pretty forgiving with romantic comedies. They are really just silly and funny sometimes. There has been widely a shortage of good ones and When in Rome honestly doesn’t do much for itself. Its quite ridiculous in parts and I spent a lot of time rolling my eyes at everything. However, When in Rome has some charming characters. Kristen Bell and Josh Duhamel are incredibly fun to watch together and separate. The premise is really where things are a little odd and shaky. Just take a look at the cast, Danny DeVito, Dax Shepherd, Will Arnett are all fantastic as the enchanted lovers chasing after Kristen Bell and they offer some pretty comedic moments. Its always a good time to watch Dax Shepherd and Kristen Bell as they always do these roles and can get the whole not into each other thing really well. When in Rome just seems like it doesn’t have anything special about it other than its charming cast. But then, you can always watch this charming cast in other movies they’ve done better roles for making this one seem not so appealing.

Overall, Astro Boy and When in Rome fall in the very average range. I’m still a fan of Kristen Bell and its definitely not her issues that makes for the downfalls of these two selections.

Have you seen Astro Boy and/or When in Rome?
What is your favorite Kristen Bell film?

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Short Film: Morning After (2017)

Morning After (2017)

Morning After

Director: Patricia Chica

Cast: Thomas Vallieres, Kristian Hodko, Jordana Lajoie, Joey Scarpellino, Zoe De Grand Maison

Michael is faced with a dilemma, when a night of drinking with friends, turns into a sensual exploration of sexual identity. – IMDB

Morning After is the prequel for a full length feature film that is currently in the works. In the fifteen minutes runtime of Morning After, there is so much to love. The shots are framed well and being from the beautiful city of Montreal, it makes for a great setting for the story it wants to tell as well. As for the story, Morning After aims to tell one that evolves into a sexual fluidity and have the freedom from having labels. Its quite an accomplishment to achieve that simply from a short film but this short film does it very well especially when centering around a friendly gathering that takes a turn for a much more sensual and eye-opening experience.

Morning After

I love watching films that explore these open-minded relationships. There is something about watching someone grow from learning/embrace their nature and their sexuality that is very intriguing. The best example is Spanish romance drama, The Sex of the Angels (review here) which takes a similar approach to the characters embracing or accepting a functional relationship with more than two people. We watch films to not only entertain but broaden our views of the world around us and films that break away from the norm offer unique feelings and angles to the traditional romance.

With that said, Morning After is a short film that carries its message very well. Other than some awkward monologues, the film itself shows off a liberating feeling. Perhaps a little simple in the sense of just friends talking and then it starts raining and they all dance in the rain but standing in the rain is a cooling experience and one that works well when people enjoy nature. An example from Morning After of how it does a truly liberating feeling. Its a journey for the main character here in this short film to acknowledge this new view and mindset. It will be interesting to see what the full feature will offer and the story they choose to tell.

Radius (2017)

Radius (2017)

Radius

Director: Caroline Lebrèche & Steeve Léonard

Cast: Diego Klattenhoff, Charlotte Sullivan, Brett Donahue

Liam wakes from a car crash with no memory of who he is. As he makes his way into town to look for help, he finds only dead bodies, all with strange pale eyes. Liam’s first assessment is that a virus is present in the air, but he soon discovers the horrible truth: anyone who comes within a 50-foot radius of him dies instantly. – IMDB

Car crashes and memory losses are a common occurrence in film. Radius however takes a different approach by adding extra element to the familiar, an unknown danger. From that point on, Radius sets up a thriller that starts off in its opening scene setting up the mysterious and suspenseful scenario and following through with a tense and well-paced thriller to the finish. There are only a few key characters and while the foundation of the movie sometimes falls into a familiar formula, the radius of death for Liam and his reliance on this unknown girl who is the only one mysteriously immune to it is what keeps the audience on their toes. There is a danger here and yet, the characters don’t seem to deserve any of it because they are hurt and confused.

Radius

The cast mainly revolves around the two main characters. The first is a man we soon learn to be Liam. He is portrayed by Diego Klattenhoff who pulls off a strong performance. A lot of the opening scenes are solo and quiet moments and he manages to show the confusion and desperation as he realizes fairly early in the film that he has this mysterious danger to others. As the first act wraps up, Liam has learned his name and meets this other girl who also lost her memory and doesn’t remember her name so is referred to as Jane (short for Jane Doe), who is played by Charlotte Sullivan. Her role here is also done well as she seems even more of a blank slate than Liam and because of that, she is more suspicious of the situation and this man who initially hides information from her. Their bond is one that is intriguing to watch evolve as their journey to follow each  memory that flashes by them to uncover what actually happened takes us through the course of the film up until the big reveal. Other than this bond, these characters constantly remind us of their innocence in this situation and the despair makes them the victims. With no apparent villain other than their predicament, the audience can bond with these two characters.

 

Radius

Radius is a well-paced thriller. It creates a balance of mystery and humanity. Its story has the elements that raises it above the cliched initial scenario, setting it apart in a unique way. The dangers of being able to kill with proximity alienates these two characters, making their bond more intriguing to watch develop. Radius does an intriguing set up in its first act and a tense fast-paced second act but slightly stumbles in its third act during its ramp to the final reveal. Despite its small stumbles, the third act is still shocking. Radius relies on the audiences bond with the characters. The bottomline is that Radius is a competent thriller that does well with great pacing and good characters.

Radius is an official selection for FrightFest, Fantastic Fest and Fantasia Film Festival. It is available on VOD on November 10, 2017.

Daguerrotype (2016)

Daguerrotype (2016)

Daguerrotype

(original title: Le secret de la chambre noire)

Director (and screenplay): Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Cast: Tahar Rahim, Constance Rousseau, Olivier Gourmet

When an assistant to a daguerreotypy photographer falls in love with the latter’s daughter the relationship mirrors the art form as love and pain combine. – IMDB

Even though I have only seen Pulse from Kiyoshi Kurosawa, its safe to say that he is a director who takes his time to build atmosphere. Daguerrotype takes on quite the same style as Pulse to be honest which is a good thing. For his first film outside of Japan, Daguerrotype is safe as it plays with a ghost story, slow pacing and builds on the atmosphere to create an uneasiness in this fantasy drama with horror elements. As an indie film, it does a lot of things right especially using a classic photography theme as its main focus. Some cultures believe that photography snaps away your soul and it uses this point as a centre of making his subject immortal, (at least that is what I make of it). Perhaps that is where the inspiration comes from. Classic photography and building the big contraption is definitely the eerier parts of Daguerrotype and adds this older style and mystery.

daguerrotype
The outstanding elements of Daguerrotype is its atmosphere and the setting. It uses a dark and gloomy setting. This matches well with its characters which seem torn in their will to each break free in their own way. The camera does a great job at panning out and zooming in whenever necessary to capture and reveal what it wants to show. There was especially one part where it follows a character that is particularly immersive. It uses lighting very well to create the uneasy moments. The soundtrack is used appropriately  with a beautiful orchestral piece in various parts however still uses a mix of subtle and abrupt sounds to immerse its viewers during quieter scenes. While it may seem a little cliche and overdone, Daguerrotype uses the classic creaky doors opening slowly to create uneasy moments.

daguerrotype
Daguerrotype also has a pretty decent cast. Tahar Rahim plays Jean, the young man here who gets the job as a photographer assistant because of his inexperience and a general interest for photography. He is the main character and the script writes him quite in depth as we see many personality qualities of his. The story only does have about six roles aside from the small cameos roles with three being the leads. Playing opposite Jean is his photography obsessed boss, Stephane who has an unusual love for Daguerrotype photography which requires its models to stand for a long time motionless and uses a contraption to aid them. Stephane is played by Olivier Gourmet and he does a great job at capturing the grumpy perfection seeking artist with his own secrets. Stephane’s only perfect subject is his daughter Marie, played by Constance Rouseeau, who is a shy and quiet girl with a love for botany and struggles between going to pursue her dreams or staying to accompany her father and being his model.

The bottomline is that Daguerrotype does many things right however it is for the most patient of viewers. At over two hours run time, the story moves very slowly and sometimes might feel like the plot is lost in the little details and sidetracks making it feel fragmented and doesn’t come together however, it is also these fragments that may give this story something to think about after its finished. For horror fans, this might not fit the bill as it doesn’t have a lot of scares but more uneasy atmospheres and is more of a fantasy drama. However, Kurosawa’s skills of atmosphere, setting and tone along with the decent cast here that carries their role well are all good reasons to give Daguerrotype a watch.

Opening on VOD Nationwide on Tuesday, November 7 on all major platforms including iTunes, Sony, Google Play, Amazon, Microsoft, Vudu, Comcast, Charter, Cox, Vimeo, and various other cable operators.

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

Aren’t we feeling like the youngsters? Haha! It seems Jigsaw was given up and Les Affames was also given up for this month’s movie at the theatres and I ended up heading out to see Thor: Ragnarok with my friend. I’ve mostly been on track with the MCU films with a few exceptions like Doctor Strange and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

Let’s check it out!

Thor: Ragnarok (2017)

thor ragnarok

Director: Taika Waititi

Cast: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Cate Blanchett, Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins

Imprisoned, the mighty Thor finds himself in a lethal gladiatorial contest against the Hulk, his former ally. Thor must fight for survival and race against time to prevent the all-powerful Hela from destroying his home and the Asgardian civilization. – IMDB

The MCU timeline has only gone through 2 years since the last we’ve seen Thor however, the previous movie, Thor: The Dark World has been four years. It is perhaps one of the first Marvel movies that I’ve gone in very blind. While Thor movies aren’t exactly very strong to the Marvel films, its always a fun time and its a very important factor of why I feel Marvel has been successful. Finding humor and blending it with a right amount of action helps form these characters and in Thor: Ragnarok, it is no different. The humor is fantastic especially with a lot of familiar faces and a few new ones. These blockbuster superhero movies have grown to be a norm to have incredibly long run times and it still is one of the criticisms I tend to have because it drags on in some parts however, Thor is also full of laugh out loud moments that it never falls flat for too long before it gets you immersed or simply having fun again.

Thor: Ragnarok

One of the best things about Marvel is that it knows that the fun in the movie, particularly in a blockbuster superhero film is simplicity. Sure, it takes a few turns here and there but everything works when its straightforward. There’s an issue then a dilemma then the superhero hits a snag that he or she needs to come back from and figure out a saving the planet or world or city solution. Nothing wrong with a little formula when you can get the tone right and the characters to be charming and engaging to watch. Thor: Ragnarok does all of that right and part it goes to having those engaging characters. Thor is always a joy to watch and with Loki being there as well, its always a fun time to watch their brotherly bickering even as they mock each other on their predictable characters. Being self aware is so important sometimes and that is the charm of it all.

Thor: Ragnarok

With that said, aside from Thor and Loki that Chris Hemsworth and Tom Hiddleston are so fantastic as, the other characters all have their parts. Familiar faces go to Anthony Hopkins as Odin and Idris Elba as Heimdall. Making an appearance here and some very odd funny moments is The Hulk and of course, his human counterpart, Mark Ruffalo. All delivering on their roles very well. However, its great to see some other faces here as we learn a little more about Thor and Asgard’s history and of course the little sidetrack they make into The Grandmaster’s wastelands. The Grandmaster is played by Jeff Goldblum. Its been so long since I’ve seen Goldblum in anything but he takes on The Grandmaster with so much character in the most eccentric way. The awkward moments were the centre of a lot of the comedy here. A little younger in the cast was Tessa Thompson joining into the cast as Valkyrie who was a very different type of role than what she’s done in the past and I mean it in the best way. She’s a bad-ass lady and can definitely carry her own.

Thor Ragnarok

Its impossible to get through superhero movies without a mention of the villain. Except, Marvel movies have the fault of making incompetent villains who lack depth. Point exactly is that I can’t remember for the life of me what the name of the villain in The Dark World is. I think it starts with a “M” but all I remember was that he wasn’t really key to anything. Thor: Ragnarok is a little better mostly because Hella is the sister of Thor. She’s the secret of Asgard when Odin was much more ruthless. Nothing like sibling rivalry to get things heated up. Hella is played by Cate Blanchett and while a lot of her scenes were truly just amplifying how incredibly powerful she is, leaving it a little empty, its still Cate Blanchett and she is a fantastic actress that adds a little something to the role. Now, I’d be lying if her get-up didn’t remind me a little of Maleficent however, Hella is a dangerous villain all on her own, especially with a right hand man played by Karl Urban who never quite gets the depth in his character.

Overall, I have my criticisms about this movie but they feel a little like I’m nitpicking because Thor: Ragnarok is downright fun and packed with some cool action and awkward humor. Its villain is more competent and its humor is spot on and the characters are versatile and awesome. Thor: Ragnarok has its little issues and a lengthy runtime but it is my favorite Thor movie so far.

Have you seen Thor: Ragnarok?
Talking about lists, I’m definitely thinking of putting together a list of best to worst for the Marvel movies. Good idea?

Double Feature: The Precipice Game (2016) & The Loft (2014)

And we are back to regular programming!

I have a few outstanding movies to review. Lets just hope I still remember them enough to write about them. First up is a double for two thriller-esque movies, a Chinese thriller set on a cruise ship The Precipice Game and a thriller with some well-known actors that I like called The Loft.

Lets check it out!

The Precipice Game (2016)

precipice game

Director: Zao Wang

Cast: Ruby Lin, Peter Ho, Mr. Black, Scar Kim, Wang Ji, Li Lin, Li Shangyi, Gai Yuexi

Liu Chenchen, a free-spirited young woman, rebels against her wealthy family and elopes with her boyfriend to join a cruise-bond treasure hunt. But what began as an innocent game with promises of great reward soon turns into a battle for survival when the contestants are thrown into a mysterious world of intrigue and chaos in the middle of the sea.-IMDB

The Precipice Game can really only be categorized as a thriller because of its twisty ending which while doesn’t seem to hint at it too much, you start somewhat suspecting the possibility of it all no matter how extremely ridiculous it seems. Now may be a good time to emphasize for those unfamiliar that the term Chinese films differ from Hong Kong films and I make that difference not because I particularly emphasize on my love for Hong Kong but because the film industry was established and progressed differently before the handover in 1997 and the themes and styles still differ immensely. It also goes to say that I’m still fairly new to the Chinese movies that are not from Hong Kong and therefore am frequently unfamiliar with the cast, this movie being somewhat of an exception because the actor and actress here is the reason I even gave The Precipice Game a chance.

the precipice game

The Precipice Game isn’t  all bad. They draw inspiration on different Hollywood films perhaps and while it all seems ambitious, it does try the best to get the tone down. The Precipice Game also has a decent cast however, suffers from having too many characters and really giving time for 2 or 3 characters to have the spotlight. Adding on the fact that some do overact a little on a film that is really quite serious makes it all the more frustrating to watch. There are scenes that will remind you of Saw a little (without the extreme body horror) and it gets the whole playing the game thing going on. Perhaps its strength is the cruise ship setting, giving it the tight corridors and similar paths easily making it claustrophobic and hard to maneuver.

The Precipice Game didn’t give me any thrills but the I did like some of the characters and wished they had more time to drive the suspense than  just keep a death tally on people that we didn’t particularly care about. It may be the bitterness I have after watching Saw and being fed up of the “lets play a game” except these people were dumb enough to join into a vague game to win a big prize but my common sense took over where if I saw it was a weird host and an empty cruise ship, my danger receptors would sound off and I would choose to just leave. However, I am aware that people, especially in movies, make a lot of dumb choices.

Fairly average and quite predictable, even its decent cast couldn’t quite save it. It does have a twist ending so maybe you want to see this to see if you can figure it out.

The Loft (2014)

the loft

Director: Erik Van Looy

Cast: Karl Urban, James Marsden, Wentworth Miller, Eric Stonestreet, Matthias Schoenaerts, Isabel Lucas, Rachael Taylor

Five married guys conspire to secretly share a penthouse loft in the city–a place where they can carry out hidden affairs and indulge in their deepest fantasies. But the fantasy becomes a nightmare when they discover the dead body of an unknown woman in the loft, and they realize one of the group must be involved. – IMDB

I wanted to like The Loft so much. I’m not a fan of the premise to begin with. I mean, married men who believe they need a place to have their affairs. Suffice to say, The Loft should have been a character study of these different men. However, the cast here is amazing. If we didn’t have this cast, I might have turned off the movie and never finished it. Really what falls apart is the story and the dialogue. It seems this was a remake of a European thriller and I’ll probably try to hunt that one down one day since I do think there’s something interesting here.

the loft

There isn’t much to say about this one. I’m fairly indifferent to it. There are some pacing issues and it tries to mesh the investigation afterwards with what happened and then doing flashback and current and the story does seem to jump around quite a bit. To be fair, some of the characters here aren’t really bad in nature however, this is one of those stories where you don’t really want to cheer for anyone but its really wondering who did it, who is lying and what secrets do they have all hidden away.

The Loft didn’t offer any thrills. It never hit the erotic part of what it seemed to want to do either and then it never has compelling enough characters and dialogue to keep it suspenseful. Its fall short in so many ways that its quite below average. 

This wraps up the lackluster thriller double feature of The Loft and The Precipice Game.
Both have things they do right and they have the potential to be good but for various reasons, it just falls flat making them both average and  forgettable.

Have you seen these two? 

Horror Marathon: Pulse/Kairo (2001)

And we’re here! The final review of the horror marathon! This year’s definitely been a much better success than last year even if we hit a little bumpy patch the last few days! I’ll do a recap on the changes and such for tomorrow. I have a little new thing lately and this opened up a whole new trove of horror movies to check out which means I’m not really taking a horror movie break after the marathon ends as you’ll still see them scattered about. For the last movie was the original of a remake movie that I like quite a bit (even if others don’t), Pulse. I’ve never seen the original Japanese version of Pulse before so I’m pretty excited to check it out especially when I have quite the treat for you  in about a week related to the director, Kiyoshi Kurosawa. It just seems like everything is aligning to work out perfectly.

Let’s check it out!

Pulse (original title: Kairo) (2001)

Pulse 2001

Director & writer: Kiyoshi Kurosawa

Cast: Haruhiko Kato, Kumiko Aso, Koyuki, Kurume Arisaka, Masatoshi Matsuo

Two groups of people discover evidence that suggests spirits may be trying to invade the human world through the Internet. – IMDB

I guess its important to mention that we are big fans of the remake of Pulse. Perhaps it has its issues but we like it because it does have a nice creep factor and there are some scenes that truly do get us. However, Pulse was also one of those first horror films that I watched eons ago and haven’t revisited so maybe after being exposed more to other horror films, I’m like it less now. I’ll have to review it one day for here. However, from what I remember of the remake and this one, it does take the same story and uses a different approach. There are some scenes that seem to reflect each other however, it still sends off a different vibe. For those who like slower, psychological and a building suspense and creepy atmosphere, the original Pulse does it so well. I didn’t even know I was scared until after the movie ended and I was scared to go into dark rooms (I’m already afraid of the dark so it doesn’t help) and then looking deep into dark corners and the whole thing. I’m writing this piece up at night so the images of the movies are scaring the heck out of me, by the way. Excuse me if there are no images. I just can’t… I guess that is a testament on how I feel about the movie, which is that it is done pretty great.

With that said, I do think the idea of reading subtitles (which usually doesn’t bother me) did hinder the experience because the translation was a little odd. I also thought that some of the story was pretty slow and a little predictable. So slow movies and subtitle reading can sometimes have its issues. Pulse does keep you engaged as you try to figure out what is going on. You might know the story a little or not but from our memories of the remake, this does shed a different angle to that story. If anything, this one has a more mysterious vibe to it. It gives you less of a back story but more like some scientific stuff and spiritual talk and images to piece what the whole deal that these people dragged into the mix make their own conclusions. I like movies that don’t shove everything in your face and let you decipher the story.

Perhaps what I like the most about Pulse is the atmosphere and just how it portrayed the spirits. Everything feels so uneasy. It keeps teasing you to expect something to show up or happen and it may or may not. It plays around with your anticipations and expectations and I love that so much. Talking about the spirits (just a little), the introduction of the first one is feels a little weird but I’m telling you, perhaps its the weirdness that has it stuck on my mind right now and whenever I think about it, it just downright creeps me out and makes me incredibly uneasy.

With that said, quick review for Pulse, see it if you haven’t. If you hated the remake and have no interest in the original, I’d say to give it a go anyways. Its pretty neat and takes on a different angle from the remake. It is a tad slow and there’s some scientific talk and its rather dated, but there are some effective creepy moments and the whole tone of the film and atmosphere works really well.