Fear Street: Part Three -1666 (2021)

Fear Street: Part Three – 1666 (2021)

Director (and co-writer): Leigh Janiak

Cast: Kiana Madeira, Ashley Zukerman, Gillian Jacobs, Olivia Scott Welch, Elizabeth Scopel, Benjamin Flores Jr., Julia Rehwald, Matthew Zuk, Fred Hechinger, Michael Chandler, McCabe Slye

The origins of Sarah Fier’s curse are finally revealed as history comes full circle on a night that changes the lives of Shadysiders forever. IMDB

Picking up right after Part Two, Part Three takes a turn as it changes its tone and style from the slasher genre (at least the first part) into a more slow-paced 17th century superstitious supernatural setting. In some ways, it takes a similar approach to films like The Witch where it plays a lot on its characters and the sudden bad omens that bestow what used to be Shadyside. This last part of the trilogy takes it back to the beginning and origin of how this Sarah Fier curse all started before heading into Part 2 of 1994 as its big finale as the current day situation tries to be solved. Part Three is structured to build up the big reveal of what this curse is all about and how it started and then the big finale so it really does complete a full circle of events. The contrast between the first half set in 1666 and the second half where its the continuation of the Part One in 1994 is very apparent but also what makes this one rather intriguing as well.

Looking at the 1666 origin story, Part Three takes a rather different route in both tone and atmosphere and it has to do with the setting in time. That’s of course a given. Plus, in contrast with the previous two parts, it does take a turn. The soundtrack also changes to something more of an orchestral soundtrack with more classical sounding music to match the times. The dialogue also shifts over while the story switches to a small town mentality towards the suspicions of witchcraft causing the town to be cursed because Sarah Fier does things against the religious teachings.

There’s some familiar character structures even for these types of films and they are introduced using the familiar faces from the previous parts and even perhaps how characters in their past lives are very similar to how they are in their other lives. Its a pretty nice character building in that level to be able to callback to these characters in their different times. Stories that start off more slow paced and reserve do usually boost up very well in its peak of events and reveal as this comes to a nice twist of who is cause of this Sarah Fier curse and giving clues to Deena who had been embodied in Sarah Fier in 1666 to figure out a way to end all this.

What makes the 1666 stand out is how its paired up with the 1994 continuation which brings to a very fun and fast-paced finale as not only the characters come together, giving Gillian Jacobs grown-up Ziggy from Part Two more screen time, but also a visual contrast dialing back to a neon color palette from its earthy tons in the past setting while also using its setting from Part Two and Part Three to all link back together from all the knowledge from travelling through to 1978 and 1666 and then finally bringing that back to 1994 as its big finale where all the elements piece everything back together.

Fear Street Part Three is a definite treat. The first part set in 1666 might not land as well for some due to its setting and the general tone those horror movies tend to have. Plus, the horror is still mostly not there except for the gore levels. However, the story does make up for a lot of this in its story and style to make it a lot of fun. Part Three brings it to a satisfying high point for its finale which is executed really well.

As a final thought on Fear Street trilogy event as a whole, it does work together really well. Plus, expanding a story into three weeks is also a good idea. Its almost like watching a TV series or mini-series but this one, each film wraps itself up well enough but still manages to leave some room for intrigue for the next film. If anything, Fear Street demonstrated the diversity of Leigh Janiak as a horror director as she moves through various styles of horror films but builds up the atmosphere to match up each element and keeps pretty well-rounded whether its as a teen Scream homage or a summer camp slasher or a old-time supernatural. The three films do piece together really well and it all dials down to execution and the events moving backwards to reveal its beginning in order to get to its end. Hopefully this is a start to Netflix building more stories around this sort of film event.

Fear Street: Part Two – 1978 (2021)

Fear Street: Part Two – 1978 (2021)

Director (and co-writer): Leigh Janiak

Cast: Sadie Sink, Emily Rudd, Ryan Simpkins, McCabe Slye, Gillian Jacobs, Matthew Zuk, Kiana Madeira, Benjamin Flores Jr., Olivia Scott Welsh, Brandon Spink, Chiara Aurelia, Ted Sutherland

Shadyside, 1978. School’s out for summer and the activities at Camp Nightwing are about to begin. But when another Shadysider is possessed with the urge to kill, the fun in the sun becomes a gruesome fight for survival. – IMDB

Fear Street Part Two continues the first part as they seek out the one person who survived the 1978 Camp Nightwing situation. As she recounts the situation, the story plays out throughout the film following the Berman sisters, Ziggy and Cindy who are at summer camp and Cindy’s boyfriend Tommy ends up being possessed. Paying homage to movies like Friday the 13th, summer camp slashers are always a little campy and yet after the foundation building from Part One, Part Two steps it up a little. There’s more gore and the kills are done rather well, with some moments leaving the aftermath than the actual deed. There is a little more of a hunt and the areas range more as the Sarah Fier possession side (aka what I call the lore) dives deeper as the sisters learn quite a bit about it. They explore some nooks and cranny areas that really have quite the horror film aesthetic. The atmosphere and settings does give space for a little more tension to build up perhaps some anticipated fear even though, overall the film isn’t scary either but its a lot more heart pumping fun than the previous with more chase scenes and plays more like how you’d expect a summer camp massacre to play out.

Looking at Part Two, a lot of its credit goes into its characters. For one, how the 1994 ones who survived the Camp Nightwing situation was back in 1978 and gives their characters a background and development. On the other hand, the Berman sisters are shown with enough character development from the start to the finish that they make you want to cheer for them especially as they start off being such opposite characters. While their backstory isn’t a lot, its also not exactly necessary. Plus, it doesn’t sit around trying to hash out problems, they are more about the action. Their actions prove that while they differ in opinions on certain things and the changes that Cindy made that has also thrown Ziggy off, when push comes to the shove and the dangers appear, they are trying their best to get each other out of the mess even if it means making sacrifices for each other. A lot of the credit has to go to the female actresses Sadie Sink and Emily Rudd, who plays respectively Ziggy and Cindy. Part Two builds up a lot of the other characters, perhaps the most notable being the backstory of Nick Goode (as he is in Part One) and in part also how the Nightwing killer comes to be how he appears in 1994.

For the most part, Part Two is a pretty solid slasher but in reality, its a lot more than that. It dives further into the Sarah Fier story and from what we’ve seen, its playing out as an evil spirit and possession sort of story. The cuts between the two sisters explores those two dangers completely and they each piece together a different side of the puzzle. This one also takes a step further and adds more killers to the equation from the ones seen in the first part which is always fun. Part Two essentially sets the stage for Part Three so that when it ends in the 1994 continuation, they are able to put together the missing pieces from Part One and hopefully break this Shadyside curse and save whoever needs to be saved. Talking about 1994, I really do love seeing Gillian Jacobs even if this role is fairly little in this part.

Overall, Part Two is pretty much what you would expect from watching a trilogy going backward in events to piece things together as Part One is the end result and we get to see the progression of events that leads to it. Of course, that might also lead to some predictable moments and knowing the result of things might make it less intriguing to watch but Part Two does such a good job in execution that it isn’t really an issue here for the most part. Of course (for those that didn’t see the Part One review), I haven’t read the source material so maybe its less of a surprise of those who are more knowledgeable of the story. While the tone of the film doesn’t seem to change too much from the first to the second, it does focus much heavier on the violent slasher side and turns it up plus, the new decade setting also means the soundtrack changes to fun 70s music which also works well with its scenes. Part Two is definitely a fun one and a decent step up from its previous part.

Fear Street: Part One – 1994 (2021)

Fear Street: Part One – 1994 (2021)

Director: Leigh Janiak

Cast: Kiana Madeira, Olivia Scott Welch, Benjamin Flores Jr., Julia Rehwald, Fred Hechinger, Ashley Zukerman, Maya Hawke, David W. Thompson

A circle of teenage friends accidentally encounter the ancient evil responsible for a series of brutal murders that have plagued their town for over 300 years. Welcome to Shadyside. – IMDB

Based on teenage book series by R.L. Stine, Fear Street is adapted as a film trilogy to be released over 3 weeks. The first one is set in the story in 1994 and oddly the trilogy goes backwards to part 2 in 1978 and part 2 in 1666. At first glance, it looks like a unique way to approach story telling and execution especially as its about diving into a lore looming over this town for centuries. While I do love Goosebumps, I have never read the source material or any of the Fear Street novels so this review is solely based on the film.

As the first film of a trilogy, 1994 sets the stage for the present scenario of how Shadyside is towards this evil presence and what brings it to life and whether it is possible to break out of the curse and how as the film follows the teens as they discover with a little trial and error. In the process it refers back to 1978 and 1666 which are the next two films in the trilogy, giving it both a link but also leaving anticipation for the mystery ahead. In some ways, it feels a little backwards and yet, it might work. Being a R.L. Stine adaptation though, it has a more horror comedy feeling to it and even for the killer itself feels almost like a parody or a homage. I’m not sure which its meant to be. With that said, the film isn’t too scary but has decent amount of blood considering it is a slasher film. The film score is full of 90s music which not only matches to the setting but also is a great fit for the different scenes.

The cinematography also deserves a mention. All the settings that the teens move through are great. The opening scene sets the tone and style of the film immediately using both the setting, the lighting and colors to create suspense and tension. The film moves through a good few locations from shopping mall to the school to outdoor areas. It moves rather quickly through its scene keeping it quick-paced and engaging.

However, Fear Street 1994 has some issues as well. Well, I guess one of the bigger problems might be the acting. There’s nothing wrong with the whole teen thing and in reality, playing teens gives a lot of forgiveness for saying weird and awkward stuff or even saying and doing things that don’t logically make sense. But, I do offer a lot of lenience personally on silly decisions in teen-focused films especially slasher.

Overall, Fear Street Part One is a decent start. If anything, it lays out the intrigue for the horror/mystery on hand, whatever you want to call it. However, for hardcore horror fans, I feel like the scary elements a little low but there is some gore. Plus, the setting and atmosphere is done really well along with the fantastic soundtrack, it really boosts the film up in enjoyability. As an ending thought, while I don’t have anything bad to say about it for the most part and I do look forward to the next part. I can’t help but feel like the film is a slightly forgettable in plot as it feels very familiar like a mesh of a few other popular things around (maybe that’s why it feels like a homage or parody either/or…I don’t watch enough parody to be able to tell).

Good on Paper (2021)

Good on Paper (2021)

Director: Kimmy Gatewood

Cast: Iliza Shlesinger, Ryan Hansen, Margaret Cho, Rebecca Rittenhouse, Beth Dover, Kimia Behpoornia

After years of putting her career first, a stand-up comic meets a guy who seems perfect: smart, nice, successful and possibly too good to be true. – IMDB

When you go into a romantic comedy where its cast is full of comedians, its easy to assume that comedy will be probably prevail over its romance. Good On Paper is pretty much like that. Of course, comedy is subjective so its probably best to decide on the style based on how much you enjoy Iliza Shlesinger’s stand-up comedy. The story is a little ridiculous but considering that its inspired from something that actually happened to Iliza Shlesinger, the whole piece feels a lot like a comedy skit which also means that (in my limited understanding of comedy skits and stand-up comedy) that there’s bound to be bits that work and bits that don’t. Plus, its hard to not feel like there’s a little over the top element to the acting which definitely feels deliberate and also works for some parts and doesn’t really land for others. That being said, the overall feeling is a little average however, I do have to say that the approach and end-game is definitely different from the usual romantic comedy, which does make it refreshing to watch.

Being a film filled with some familiar faces, its hard to not look at the acting element. Iliza Shlesinger is a decent actress as she plays Andrea. A part of the execution is paralleled with a stand-up comedy performance that runs throughout the film which pretty much uses the situation on hand as her reflection of it and turning it into content for her show. The other part is the movie itself which still feels a lot like herself when she is in this role. Its very genuine and believable for her character itself even if some of the situations might not feel as believable but this is “mostly true love story” so I’m sure some bits are exaggerated to be the way that it is. Paired up with her is the male lead played by Ryan Hansen. A lot of the interaction is meant to be laid on really heavy so that its obvious that she’s falling into a trap (at least to me). I guess proving the point that when something is too good to be true, it most likely is. Perhaps even something of a cautionary tale about catfishes…maybe? That’s actually a tangent to talk about Ryan Hansen who was pretty convincing in this role since there were some pretty good shifts in the little details in his reactions and stuff that built his character up to be pretty sketchy.

Its hard to not talk about the female comedians and cast here that definitely steals the show and arguably, this film is its best when its their interaction. Iliza Shlesinger’s best friend is a bar owner called Margot played by Margaret Cho who is absolutely hilarious and absolutely is the highlight of this film. Plus, Margot and Andrea’s friendship is pretty fun especially when you add in the other ladies here whether its one of the guy’s roommates played by Beth Dover and the fake competition between a more successful actress Serrena played by Rebecca Rittenhouse. The three end up having a hilarious ride around town tracking down the lies of Andrea’s beau.

When its all said and done, Good on Paper is okay. It works much better as a comedy, if you like this sort of comedy style than as a romantic comedy. However, the fact that it is mostly based on a true story, it feels like a fun way to share a cautionary story and even with how they choose to end it is a lot different from how a normal romantic comedy would do it which makes this one that I can appreciate.

Double Feature: Teeth (2007) & The First Purge (2018)

Time for the next double feature! Horror seems to be my recent phase as I pair two horror films together although The First Purge isn’t really a horror and Teeth is a fairly mild horror so nothing too wild.

Teeth (2007)

Director (and writer): Mitchell Lichtenstein

Cast: Jess Weixler, John Hensley, Hale Appleman, Lenny von Dohlen, Vivienne Benesch, Ashley Springer, Laila Liliana Garro

Still a stranger to her own body, a high school student discovers she has a physical advantage when she becomes the object of male violence. – IMDB

When you think about a horror movie based around a girl with a vagina with teeth, it sounds like a ridiculous idea and probably a horror movie that isn’t meant to be taken seriously. I mean, the closest example is with Piranha 3DD where the girl had a baby piranha in her vagina that had the same concept..kind of. And that wasn’t exactly a good movie.

However, the premise here works and doesn’t in terms of a full-length movie. It works because what the girl has is a vagina with a defense mechanism which literally activates when boys or men are taking advantage of her or against her will. I would say its nifty to have although perhaps a tad extreme in terms of consequences for the boys/men in question. This film is classified as a horror comedy but the comedy at times is put in at some odd moments. Perhaps a little bit of sarcastic and dark humor. Some parts of it just felt like it was well-deserved or the reaction itself that was fairly entertaining.

The film doesn’t work so well because essentially the premise of this whole thing has one way to attack and its pretty much hidden so the mystery is the reveal of how and when it attacks where the events slowly reveal the whole concept. The attacks itself actually makes for some “funny” moments mostly because the reactions are rather over the top to say the least. However, there’s only so many bad guys she can meet in her life before she realizes the purpose of the whole thing. It doesn’t help that as viewers, its almost easy to spot the bad guys a mile away and those trying to use her and some of the plot points that feel a little far-fetched.

Teeth is a good premise. It works on my hand but doesn’t on some other ones. Its mostly that the way the danger happens in this one is wrapped up in a little bit of the unknown and partially our imagination of how it all looks however, the straight forward vagina with teeth does feel a little repetitive over the course of a full-length film although some of the kills did feel pretty entertaining to watch.

The First Purge (2018)

Director: Gerard McMurray

Cast: Y’lan Noel, Lex Scott Davis, Joivan Wade, Mugga, Patch Darragh, Marisa Tomei, Luna Lauren Velez

America’s third political party, the New Founding Fathers of America, comes to power and conducts an experiment: no laws for 12 hours on Staten Island. No one has to stay on the island, but $5,000 is given to anyone who does. – IMDB

The First Purge is the fourth film in the franchise. Suffice to say, its fine time to bring back the origins of the The First Purge which highlights a lot of the reasoning behind this as well as the original concept and test run which actually turned out to be something a little more of a government scheme. The setting and the execution is pretty decent. The Purge series at this point has broken out of the horror genre for the most part and leans towards action as it has a lot of weapons and fighting and such.

The story revolves around not only the different groups of civilians and their reactions to the introduction of this Purge concept to Staten Island but also the incentives for participation and to even stay on the island but also the government’s stance from the differences between the public stance, the need for its success and the “secret” agenda. Because this is set back to the origins, there is no doubt about the end game that The Purge experiment will be a success at the end and how it goes about isn’t exactly unpredictable considering the future of The Purge in the previous films. Not to mention, these characters and their respective arcs aren’t exactly anything too exciting.

However, while I’m sounding rather negative about the whole thing, the story does move pretty fast thanks to the action. Its executed pretty smoothly and rather quick-paced. While the different elements aren’t explored very deep, its enough to get a grasp of what’s going on on all fronts and perspectives but still be able to put together an entertaining film. Its nothing exceptionally deep but still a decent addition to the whole franchise. The cinematography on how the action and the hunt for The First Purge actually looks pretty good whether its the technology or using the colorful neon lit eye contacts which appear and how the masks came to be: it not only builds on how things originated but also has a good setup for some of the hunt to have the creepy vibes, especially when it builds up on the danger element bit by bit as more people seem to be buying into the concept and the streets get crazier with the different groups.

While The First Purge isn’t anything too unique or different, the origin story angle is a good one at this point of the franchise. Its not too deep in most of its premise however, it still manages to be pretty fun and entertaining to watch thanks to the decent progression of events.

Double Feature: The Eye (2002) & The Eye 2 (2004)

Next double feature is here as we revisit 2002’s The Eye and check out its sequel, The Eye 2.

The Eye (2002)

Director: Pang Brothers (Oxide Chun Pang & Danny Pang)

Cast: Angelica Lee, Lawrence Chou, Candy Lo, Edmund Chen, Pierre Png, Yut Lai So

A blind girl gets a cornea transplant so that she will be able to see again. She gets more than she bargained for upon realizing she can also see ghosts. – IMDB

I saw The Eye in the mid 2000s before I had any real knowledge or experience watching horror films. Being one of the first films, it was one that I remembered profoundly as it scared me a lot back then. Revisiting in 2012 for the first Halloween Marathon for the blog, still fairly inexperienced with horror, it still managed to scare me despite knowing the twist and the scares. Since 2012, I have never gone back to watch it and its been almost a decade and here we are, revisiting what in my mind was a tense horror film. Will the past few years of horror desensitize me to the film? Will it no longer be as impressive as I remember it? The answer is yes and no.

The Eye as a premise is a pretty good as it is both a horror and a thriller/mystery where the main character needs to adjust after getting her vision after a cornea transplant which shifts her life from being blind since she was 2 until the present where everything is unfamiliar in appearance to her. It leaves room for mystery and suspense and to play to whether what she’s seeing is real or supernatural. Using vision (or any sort of sense or lack of it) in a horror movie usually can create some interesting atmosphere (much like Hush did). The Eye uses this and manages to create some atmospheric tension playing with a unfamiliar setting like her grandmother’s home and creating some supernatural encounters. While the effects in general haven’t aged well considering it is a 2002 horror film, when I first saw it, it was fairly decent. There are of course some horror tropes since Chinese horror isn’t exactly their forte but thanks to The Pang Brothers’ storytelling they do manage to add in some unexpected twists which are rather well-executed.

Angelica Lee is pretty good in her role. Psychological or supernatural horror/thrillers tend to be her forte as she has been in other films of similar genre. There’s something rather good about her acting that is quite enjoyable and believable. Playing as the blind girl that finally sees and has to accept that abnormal things that she sees, the role itself is constructed well. However, the other characters sometimes feels a little less even if its the doctor who ends up helping her through track down what is going on. Most of the other characters are mostly done as supporting roles as a means to an end.

Overall, The Eye is a pretty straight-forward horror film. It moves between its horror elements and the psychological thriller elements pretty well. There are some really good visual elements specifically one where it plays with the visuals of shifting between the actual location and one the one from her vision which creates a cool effect. It also brings in some of the Chinese culture when it comes to death and unfulfilled wishes.

The Eye 2 (2004)

Director: Pang Brothers

Cast: Shu Qi, Eugenia Yuan, Jesdaporn Pholdee, Yuan Yuan Ren

After a failed suicide attempt, a pregnant woman gains the ability to see ghosts. – IMDB

The Eye 2 is a completely story from the first one. Sequels are usually a little iffy overall however Shu Qi takes on a lead role as she moves through this film mostly on her own with the few other characters. This time, it takes on the supernatural belief that attempted suicide will bring on the ability to see ghosts which is what happens after she does that in a foreign country without success. When she comes back to Hong Kong, it essentially is for nothing as she tries to cope with her break-up and realizing that she can now see random abnormal people around her and experience other odd things that come up while eventually realizing that she is pregnant and must go through it alone. Taking this supernatural story of reincarnation as a foundation for the story as well as suicide being pretty much a “sin” but of course, in Chinese beliefs more as an opening for letting the supernatural in as a bad omen.

Shu Qi does a pretty decent role here. Her character Joey is faced with quite a lot of drama. The character shifts through a lot of different phases whether its from the dramatic attempted suicide (which almost feels like she doesn’t mean for it to succeed) to the obsessive stalking of her ex-boyfriend to the adaptation to the supernatural events she starts to face right down to the end when she decides to take some extreme actions in the final goal of protecting her baby. Its all a little crazy but she manages to capture that character fairly well even if it doesn’t feel completely logical sometimes, she still holds up the character in a believable enough way. Much like the first film, the supporting characters are all very much a means to an end and even less people involved. The final deduction of how they pull the reincarnation element to the story makes sense overall but her reaction to it seems a little intense.

As a sequel, The Eye 2 still carries a lot of the good elements. While the horror is a little more obvious this time, its not as atmospheric and actually leans more along the lines of cheap jumpscares. It even has a scene which is pretty disgusting to watch, maybe a little bit of a warning against committing suicide via overdosing. However, its a decent story overall using a mental instability and suicide and pregnancy to carry the supernatural elements. In reality, the end game is less scary when you realize what the twist of the story arrives. . Its not quite as shocking as the first film however, it still is a tad clever.

Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir (2021)

Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir (2021)

Director: James Redford

A look at the life and work of author Amy Tan. – IMDB

Being best known as the author of 1989’s novel The Joy Luck Club, Amy Tan has grown to become a fiction novelist who writes stories about Chinese immigrant stories and Chinese mother-daughter relationships along with their different experiences. This documentary recounts her biography as well as her writing career and how she came into writing and the inspirations behind the novels that she’s written. Using both old photos and videos as well as interviews with family members and other authors and publishers and interviews with Amy Tan herself, it forms a look at how her career started as well the inspirations from her real life as she learned more about her mother over the years of their dramatic relationship together as well as her past that crafted her into that the author that she is today. At the same time, it also pulls footage from The Joy Luck Club movie to draw certain relatable scenes.

Its hard to say whether a documentary like this is more appealing for those familiar with Amy Tan’s work and yet for myself, I’ve only ever read The Joy Luck Club and watched the film adaptation, making me not exactly knowledgeable about Amy Tan’s work either but doesn’t detract from the fact that her debut fiction novel which were quite revolutionary as a reading experience as it was relatable to a certain extent in terms of being a Chinese daughter and the relationship as well as having a family history that might seem like it was crafted as a film but actually may have been the reality for some people from the previous generations. That didn’t hinder the fact that this documentary shared much more than just her biography but through it also shared a person who found herself as an author and the consequences of her fame and the controversy of how people viewed her portrayal of both Chinese people, culture and how much of it felt like stereotypes that stemmed over the years.

What makes Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir quite a great watching experience perhaps is that Amy Tan herself is a fascinating person to watch. Her life experiences and her recounts of her relationship with her family to the discoveries that she makes as she dives into her mother’s recollection of her own experiences all opens up something new. She feels like such a down to earth person whether its her approach of how she started writing or being clear on how to not deviate from her path as an author and what she is writing. As the documentary dives between her family history and how each of these life elements come into play and how each of her published books come to view, its a great reminder that Amy Tan is much more than just her debut fiction novel The Joy Luck Club and that there’s so much more to discover.

Overall, Amy Tan: Unintended Memoir is quite a decent watch whether or not you are familiar to her work (in my opinion). Her experiences and her life is one that is full of drama and once the realization that a lot of her work is inspired by her mother’s life, it brings on a whole different meaning as she shares a bit of her own family’s history and experiences. A well-rounded documentary taking it on a biographical angle but also look at writing and the point of view of an author.

Double Feature: Come To Daddy (2019) & Secrets In The Hot Spring (2018)

Its been a while since we’ve done a double feature but we’re back! Movie watching has really taken a big hit this year somehow (in comparison to previous years..at least with the first few months). This time’s pair-up is a horror comedy double as I look at 2019’s Come To Daddy and 2018’s Taiwanese film Secrets In The Hot Spring.

Let’s check it out!

Come To Daddy (2019)

Director: Ant Timpson

Cast: Elijah Wood, Stephen McHattie, Garfield Wilson, Madeleine Sami, Martin Donovan, Michael Smiley

A man in his thirties travels to a remote cabin to reconnect with his estranged father. – IMDB

Suffice to say that in recent years, Elijah Wood has been getting involved in some interesting independent horror films especially with his company SpectreVision that has also put out some awesome horror films (psychedelic for the most part). Its hard to not be intrigued by anything that has his name attached to it. Come To Daddy was one that I avoided during the festival circuit because it would be accessible and no doubt, Come To Daddy is another intriguing one. The tone and pacing is a little odd at times with the first half being landing a lot better than the second half but always playing with some horror and slipping in some comedy breaks in between. The second half definitely seems like it loses a little steam after the “twist” is revealed which causes quite the change in atmosphere.

The cast and performances here are really great. Elijah Wood is fitting in this role Norval as a man in his thirties which has been with some privilege that ends up trying to get some kind of resolution from his estranged father who is not a very appealing person played incredibly well by Stephen McHattie. The dynamic and dialogue between these two characters creates this very entertaining and unsettling sort of atmosphere. Not to mention the whole character design of Elijah Wood’s character The side characters also have some weird moments and have little character reference points whether its a cop who believes that criminals have a certain type of eyes for example. However, there isn’t a big cast here so its not hard to follow.

To be fair, its hard to really talk about this too much without giving the twist away as that lays out a lot of the purpose of the film and the reason of why his estranged father reaches out to him years later, a question that the character also asks as a pivoting point despite everything that happens surrounding him. There are some minor illogical moments as well. Overall, its a fun little movie which was both odd and intriguing

Secrets in the Hot Spring (2018)

Director (and writer): Kuan-Hui Lin

Cast: Ting-hu Zhang, Sing Hom, He-Hsuan Lin, Mimi Chu, Kar-Ying Law, Chin Chi, Kai-Wei Chiu, Shu-yao Kuo

Three youngsters meet by accident at a mysterious hot springs hotel. There, they fall into an unforgettable adventure. It starts off scary but soon turns funny when they have to try and save a family. – IMDB

Secrets in the Hot Spring probably isn’t going to stand-out to anyone as they browse the horror or comedy or international films section however it is something of a fun little hidden gem. Diving into a part horror and part comedy balance for the most part, this Taiwanese film is downright silly and yet fittingly so. Of course, I must yet again reiterate that comedy is very suggestive and I feel like this type of humor might not be for everyone. The best way to probably determine for familiar Asian film viewers is the type of humor that Hong Kong veteran actor & actress, Kar-Ying Law and Mimi Chu brings as they are part of this film as the grandparents running the hot springs hotel. They really pull together the film with their performance. The three youngsters are played by less familiar faces (at least to myself as the current scene of Taiwanese actors in the recent decade is one that I have yet to dive into). The contrast in each of the youngster’s characters also balance out the their performances whether in dialogue or reaction. It’s pretty good choice in casting.

Perhaps what makes Secrets in the Hot Spring fun is that its conscious about how silly it is and embraces it using both horror tropes and some ridiculous reactions from the characters to make it work on many levels and be just a very simple entertainment. However the writing is fairly clever as it uses its horror and comedy blend to create the twist as well. There are some little jump scare moments but overall, its not a very scary experience so hardcore horror fans might be disappointed. What also adds to the simplicity is the small cast of 5 (or maybe 7) characters and a good use of the hot spring hotel setting as it uses the location really well bringing together the past for the main youngster character who is meant to be the future heir and slowly reveals his past and his reluctance. The big finale is a little cheesy but then its arguable that the story itself not taking itself seriously being the tone actually works together in general.

Another one where the twist is one that is well-executed and makes it rather fun and elevates itself from a bit of the Asian film melodrama. There is no doubt a little considering it has a portion of the family back story shared here. In some ways, I can’t say that this movie is particularly sophisticated but it sure was a fun time making it a little hard to evaluate whether its a good movie but it is an entertaining one that’s not completely mindless but the humor also is more physical and interaction between the characters than in its dialogue which doesn’t have as many translation issues also. Overall, Secrets in the Hot Spring is a fun film. Hardcore horror isn’t really a forte in Taiwanese films (in my limited experience) so its nice that they approach it with humor.

Army of the Dead (2021)

Army of the Dead (2021)

Director (and writer): Zack Snyder

Cast: Dave Bautista, Ella Purnell, Omari Hardwick, Ana de la Reguera, Matthias Schweighofer, Nora Arnezeder, Garret Dillahunt, Tig Notaro, Raul Castillo, Theo Rossi, Hiroyuki Sanada

Following a zombie outbreak in Las Vegas, a group of mercenaries take the ultimate gamble, venturing into the quarantine zone to pull off the greatest heist ever attempted. – IMDB

After years of making DC Universe movies and a multitude of genres in film, both good and bad in my opinion, Zack Snyder’s latest offering held some high anticipation as he goes back to his roots as his directorial debut 2004’s Dawn of the Dead (review) was a highlight in his filmography. Running at 2 hours and 28 minutes, Army of the Dead is a long zombie movie. It has a few angles to the film as a heist film and zombie film. It packs in action instead of scares. In some ways, the best comparison at the beginning section would be comparing it to the Train to Busan sequel Peninsula (review) however, the films takes a rather different trajectory past gathering a team to pick up goods in a zombie infested land. What deserves a mention is that Snyder takes on not only the director’s seat but also wrote the story and also is the cinematographer. With that said, Army of the Dead’s biggest issue, among a few other issues, is mostly pacing-related, which is expected with the runtime. Some other issues are related to sequence of events that are fairly familiar and doesn’t offer enough uniqueness to make it stand out more.

Army of the Dead does have some good points. There are some individual elements that do work. The first is the introduction of the zombie tiger design which shows up a few times as a threat and also giving mention to a famous Las Vegas reference relating to Seigfried and Roy’s tigers. Both the design and the story of the tiger does add to the story especially as it mostly acts as an additional threat that paces through the outside areas whenever the team needs to go there. Along the lines of visuals, Snyder does offer some good cinematography. The best ones coming from the overhead shots of Las Vegas as the camera pans through the area from above. The wide shots create a good atmosphere of the wasteland that Las Vegas has become and the area that the team needs to trek and survive through. Aside from that, the most satisfying part of the film is the opening 20 minutes or so when the scenario is set by how the zombie is released and where its from and how the city gets infected and followed through right away with a montage of the key characters during the apocalypse and how they help create the blocked off city that they currently reside in before hitting things off to where the characters are and they job that they are being offered. With that said, a big part of the opening sequence is the soundtrack which carries throughout the film as a good cue on creating somewhat of a comedic break here and there.

With that said, Army of the Dead is the most engaging in its first 30 minutes as everything gets set into place with both the characters and the zombie apocalypse. However, once the heist mission starts, things start slowing down in pacing quite a bit. The story jumps between the heist and the smart zombie lore. These two portions have both its pros and cons. In terms of the heist, it does have some action and as with a wide array of characters making up this somewhat ragtag team, it creates both comedy and hidden agendas, most of which are fairly predictable and outlined fairly early on what’s to happen. However, the safecracker Dieter (Matthias Schweighofer), helicopter pilot Peters (Tig Notaro) and former mercenary Vanderohe (Omari Hardwick) are probably the main highlights of the story as they add whether in humor or awkward moments. While these are exactly the main character as Dave Bautista is the main person, there are just so many characters that sometimes his character, adding into the drama with his daughter and the other members all seem to lose the charm or depth. On the other hand, the smart zombie lore isn’t exactly unseen as the Living Dead series also features smart zombies and the angle they take here with the alpha and queen is a decent angle and yet, it seems to lose its direction very quickly as it turns more into a revenge hunt down which loses the depth into expanding on that side of the lore, even the “twist” was fairly easy to figure out from one of the earlier scenes.

Overall, Army of the Dead is a fairly lackluster film. The pacing does it in a lot where the length doesn’t add to the story but does more harm. It becomes a tiring sort of watch that doesn’t seem to give enough to create the foundation of building up both the world or the zombies or even the characters. It seems harsh but the best part of the movie was the first 30 minutes which probably created disappointment when it becomes a realization that the tone shifts from that opening sequence drastically once the heist actually starts. With that said, I do have a love/hate relationship with Snyder’s films where a few of his early films work for me while his newer films have had the same issues of pacing and plot. Army of the Dead falls in line as Snyder’s director trademarks are very apparent here and done well and yet, the sum of those parts aren’t enough to make up for the rest of it.

Double Feature: My Beautiful Broken Brain (2014) & Why Did You Kill Me? (2021)

Welcome to the next documentary double feature! Documentaries are definitely a little more frequently showing up here as I’ve been interested in checking out more of these especially the ones related to crimes and such. The first is 2014’s The Beautiful Broken Brain is not crime-related but a personal journey and the second is this year’s Why Did You Kill Me about a family’s journey to hunt down the killer of their family member after her death in a drive-by shooting.

Let’s check it out!

My Beautiful Broken Brain (2014)

Director: Sophie Robinson & Lotje Sodderland

MY BEAUTIFUL BROKEN BRAIN is 34 year old Lotje Sodderland’s personal voyage into the complexity, fragility and wonder of her own brain following a life changing hemorrhagic stroke. Regaining consciousness to an alien world – Lotje was thrown into a new existence of distorted reality where words held no meaning and where her sensory perception had changed beyond recognition. This a story of pioneering scientific research to see if her brain might recover – with outcomes that no one could have predicted. It is a film about hope, transformation and the limitless power of the human mind. – IMDB

Documentaries like My Beautiful Broken Brain is not usually my go to however, the premise of this documentary is quite fascinating to watch as it shows the sudden changes that can happen in terms of health to anyone and how her journey is different as she has to embrace a changed world and her path of recovery. For a documentary about a girl who loses quite a bit due to the hemorrhagic stroke, its actually executed in a fairly positive way and sends out a positive message about how we should view our own life whether its about hope or not taking things for granted.

The execution of the film is done a good portion with videos filmed by Lotje Sodderland which builds up on her personal journey through her own recovery from her own feelings and the different steps she takes in order to embrace this “distorted reality”. Its truly hard to imagine what she went through especially when the most basic abilities are striped away through on incident. The execution builds from the start of how Sodderland ends up the way she is described from herself and her family and the reality that she now faces, outlining the effects the stroke had on her brain. As she moves forward, she compares her world to David Lynch’s work and hence her will to document what has happened to her and the journey of her recovery to eventually meet him. In the world of medicine and science, there isn’t really a lot of guarantees especially facing anything with the brain and perhaps that’s the takeaway here as this is a never seen before (or at least rarely seen) especially hard to watch when it gets into the neurological experiment bit.

In some ways, My Beautiful Broken Brain reminded me in premise of 2005’s Japanese TV series 1 Litre of Tears that was based on the true story of Aya Kito who suffered a rare brain degenerative disease and had documented it in her own diary. Where that one brings forth a lot of sorrow, My Beautiful Broken Brain has a lot of heart-wrenching moments but it makes the supposedly successes truly shine through. Its a little scary to watch that the senses and abilities that we use everyday is diminished to being unrecognizable. Overall, The Beautiful Broken Brain is decently executed and offers up a lot of information and a very personal journey that shares both a positive message about hope but also reminds us how lucky we all are to be able to do everyday things like reading and writing.

Why Did You Kill Me? (2021)

Director: Fredrick Munk

The line between justice and revenge blurs when a devastated family uses social media to track down the people who killed 24-year-old Crystal Theobald. – IMDB

Social media and technology has been a huge basis on how crimes are solved on a lot of the recent Netflix crime documentaries. In some ways, perhaps Why Did You Kill Me feels a little lesser in terms of the depth of the case itself as it somehow loses the depth of the topics that it can go. This one focuses primarily on the case on hand and following the footsteps of finding who is involved and why it happened. It also is one of the few where for the most part, the ending is relatively resolved and not exactly some form of call for action.

Why Did You Kill Me takes the angle of a family that wants to find the killer and using the help of a young cousin on Myspace to reach out to different gang members of the suspected gang involved and finding the clues to narrow down who it is and what happened after showing signs of not trusting the police. As much as the documentary is about solving the crime, its more about the line between justice and revenge.

Between interviews and crime scene restructures with minimized scenes, the whole crime is shown in a good detail as it goes from its suspect to exploring the involvement of family members and their own backstory. The crime documentary starts off rather solid because it focuses on the whole early days of Myspace and how eventually it turned into a very extreme way of using the victim’s picture to build the online profile which does end up attracting the person involved. The whole investigation circles around a lot of the same motions and that’s where the pacing of the documentary does feel sometimes like it lacks the content as a full length feature. Its not saying that this case isn’t worth shining light on as the final note on justice and revenge is pretty decent.