Double Feature: Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel (2021) & Don’t F*ck With Cats (2019)

Welcome to the next double feature! This time is a little different as I get the reviews for documentary mini-series out of the way. Being mini-series, it technically should be in its own segment as TV binges but Letterboxd categorized them as movies so here we are! The first is Crime Scene: The Vanishing at Cecil Hotel which is rather new as its a 2021 Netflix documentary and the other is Don’t F*ck With Cats: Hunting Down an Internet Killer from 2019, also a Netflix documentary. Let’s check it out!

Crime Scene: The Vanishing at The Cecil Hotel (Mini-series, 2021)

College student and tourist Elisa Lam vanishes, leaving behind all of her possessions in her hotel room. The Cecil Hotel grows in infamy. – IMDB

*Originally posted on Friday Film Club on Movies and Tea*

Crime Scene: The Vanishing At The Cecil Hotel is a 2021 American docu-series about the vanishing and death of Elisa Lam at the Cecil Hotel. Separated into 4 episodes, it takes a look at the beginning, progression and finale of Elisa Lam’s vanishing and what happens. At the same time, its not only about the mystery but also about the investigation process and the involvement of web sleuths after the elevator surveillance tape was released online as well as the history of the Cecil Hotel from its early days until the present.

The documentary itself definitely has some good and bad elements. On one hand, the history of the Cecil Hotel and the area that it resides it adds a lot of knowledge. As the case builds from the one event, it digs up the horrors of the hotel and the dangerous people that lived there and how the hotel ended up with these residents. Through the interviews of the past manager, the past residents and the investigators of the case, it adds in a lot of perspective that feels like tangents to the mystery the the documentary focuses around but actually gives it a lot of foundation.

The mystery itself is done well enough. In some ways, it actually feels like the historical information about the hotel actually sometimes outshines the case itself mostly because the case itself uses a narrator as a voice-over reading Elisa Lam’s online entries and thoughts and plays it out in a blurry image while also adding in some of the real footage from the news and the investigation. The case is rather mysterious especially with the elevator surveillance tape that gets released and web sleuths who try to decipher this footage and all the questions that it raises. Ever since Don’t F*ck With Cats docu-series was released, web sleuths seems to be a hot commodity to add into mysteries, perhaps more pushed forward by the fact that Unsolved Mysteries have been revived on Netflix as well.

For this docu-series, where it does falls short is that it never really pinpoints a solid direction in execution and sometimes feels like it wants to touch on too many different issues from online bullying, mental illness, Cecil Hotel, who is at fault, etc. All these issues are big things to talk about and yet, the big points of mental illness, which should have been the focus didn’t have as much time to dive into, since that should have been the big takeaway from this one. However, at the end of the day, for those unfamiliar with Elisa Lam’s case and the Cecil Hotel, it is a rather fascinating one in terms of the information that it offers.

Don’t F*ck With Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer (Mini-series, 2019)

A group of online justice seekers track down a guy who posted a video of himself killing kittens. – IMDB

Don’t F*ck With Cats: Hunting an Internet Killer is a 4 episode mini docu-series on Netflix that highlights the trek of web sleuths tracing down a kitten killer after releasing a brutal video which leads to a bigger case which involved the killing of young man filmed and released to the public as well. Its hard to talk about Don’t F*ck With Cats being the main reason that it follows a case that is tracked down to a killer located in Montreal, a city that I personally grew up in. The places this killer frequented and lived are areas familiar to myself and for that, its one of the reasons that makes this documentary probably one that hits a lot harder especially the unsettling feeling that unspeakable things could be happening all around us and no one ever really knows. I’m not naive to believe that that isn’t that case, but watching something like this definitely brings that out.

With that said, Don’t F*ck With Cats on one hand is well-executed as a documentary. It starts off focusing heavily on web sleuths and the power of the Internet that pretty much using the right avenues, you can probably track down anything. Other than the very disturbing video of the kitten killings, the web sleuths part actually is an entertaining and intriguing as the community comes together but also leads up to a conclusive thought at the end that gives the viewers a final question to ponder on whether they were the push that caused the killer to elevate to bigger crimes. I’m getting ahead of myself but the idea of this hunt moving between the Internet killers and how it tracks from a single video to eventually being able to pinpoint a location by the end and eventually provide information to the police to hopefully help with their investigation is a fascinating sort of journey as it also parallels with the inevitable focus on the crimes of Luka Magnotta. There are also uses of videos from when the investigation was going on and such which always adds to documentaries.

To be honest, Don’t F*ck With Cats is a really good documentary. On one hand, its one to definitely watch as its focus on web sleuths and the power of Internet is quite intriguing and triumphant for the most part for what they were able to discover however, on the other hand, its also a disturbing case and one that should be highlighted but then as Luka Magnotta is still alive, it almost seems unfair to bring him that spotlight given the information even though the show does make a good point to give space for friends of his human victim to talk about this person whose life was ended so young. In some ways, while the case revolves around the killer and proves how the Internet is a powerful tool when used correctly. The biggest takeaway is that the Internet is great in some ways and also horrible in other ways. The openness of it brings on its own consequences and in the end, that message is shown clearly giving the documentary a good amount to ponder on.

Better Days (少年的你, 2019)

Better Days (少年的你, 2019)

Director: Derek Tsang

Cast: Dongyu Zhou, Jackson Yee, Fang Yin, Ye Zhou, Yue Wu, Jue Huang, Yifan Zhang, Xinyi Zhang, Xuanming Gao, Xintong Xie

A bullied teenage girl forms an unlikely friendship with a mysterious young man who protects her from her assailants, all while she copes with the pressures of her final examinations. – IMDB

*Originally posted on Movies and Tea for Friday Film Club*

Perhaps one of the more surprising titles to be nominated in the best International feature category at the upcoming Oscars is 2019’s Chinese romantic crime film, Better Days. Better Days is based on a Chinese YA novel called In His Youth, In Her Beauty. Faced with difficulty to release due to censorship in China, Better Days focuses on school bullying while looking at the stressful and demanding environment of preparing for the National Exam which determines the future of a student and where they end up in university while also looking at the reality of family situations in China. It takes a snapshot of Chinese society, call it a social commentary if you will but the movie does end with a discussion of the progress that’s been made with the different ministry departments of creating laws to protect against school bullying. With that said, the movie rather lengthy running at 2 hours 15 minutes, which is structured fairly well as it starts off right away highlighting the school issue and building up those tensions while moving to a second act which is focused on the relationship between Chen Nian and Xiao Bei as he protects her in the shadows. A lot of their relationship is built through actions more than words which thanks to a good direction of director Derek Tsang makes it work. Making the third act one that tugs at heartstrings despite all that’s happening and question the morals of who is right and wrong as well as bringing up how much teens believe in the adults surrounding them and how much they can help.

Talking about the director, Derek Tsang brings in some interesting direction choices whether its how he uses the lighting or moving through a montage of how time passes or just how he chooses to use the cinematography and camera pans to structure the scene to create a great effect and capture what he wants and leaving some mystery, its done pretty well. Of course, the other surprise for most familiar with Chinese pop culture is seeing Jackson Yee do rather well in his role as Xiao Bei especially since he started out at a young age in a youth boy band TF Boys. Taking up this powerful role and delivering on a decent level and especially being able to act at the pace of Dongyu Zhou who is a much more seasoned actress with a lot of great and diverse roles under her belt, a few of them previously Friday Film Club picks, Us and Them and This Is Not What I Expected. Being the central role here, Chen Nian under Dongyu Zhou is done incredibly well. She is able to bring it to a good level of tension and connection especially with a character that doesn’t say a lot and the ability to play a high school senior while being in her mid-20s and making it believable to follow her devastating experience but still in all the bad still wanting to “protect the world” and points out how no one’s taught them about how to be an adult. The most touching line in the movie between Chen Nian and Xiao Bei when he says: “It’s a deal. You protect the world. I’ll protect you.”

Sure, Better Days has its issues especially for those not too familiar with Chinese films, it might bring in the elements of losing traction and shifting focus of the film and having some melodramatic moments as it loves to bring romance in any type of film. However, what Better Days does remind me a lot of is a 2004 Taiwanese series called The Outsiders (currently on Netflix if you want to check it out) which has a similar romantic arc. While it might not be for everyone, Better Days has its heart at the right place, shares an important topic of teen bullying in China and what has been done so far while also having a decent crime story to wrap up the whole thing. Definitely one to check out if you get a chance!

A Week Away (2021)

A Week Away (2021)

Director: Roman White

Cast: Kevin Quinn, Bailee Madison, Jahbril Cook, Kat Conner Sterling, Sherri Shepherd, David Koechner, Iain Tucker

Nowhere left to go, Will Hawkins finds himself at camp for the first time. His instinct is to run, but he finds a friend, a father figure and even a girl who awakens his heart. Most of all, he finally finds a home. – IMDB

It sure seems like Netflix has been getting in on the musicals sort of film and TV. Whether we talk about The Prom (review) or Julie and the Phantoms, its been releasing some decent ones. A Week Away is a Christian musical which sets its story a week away at church camp for a runaway guy who has landed in his latest foster home after stealing a police car and faces with possibly juvenile prison if it doesn’t pan out. As he finds more friends and a sense of belonging and guidance, he starts to reconnect with himself and with his faith.

Having not known beforehand that this is considered a Christian musical and not exactly the religious type myself, A Week Away actually was better than I expected as the addition of its religion and faith wasn’t pushing too hard and the story and music does blend into the scenario, making it feel more like a coming of age teen story very similar to High School Musical right down to the music. Plus, the story gets right down to the plot and kicking off both the camp and the characters with an musical number. The music and the choreography is pretty good overall. The story is a tad predictable and very basic and straightforwars but still acceptable.

Where A Week Away starts to have most of its issues are with the script and acting. While musicals do tend to have a level of overacting, the script here sometimes feels a tad choppy. It focuses a lot on the different activities at this camp and the different teams as well as the different friendships and relationships which is unfolding over the course of one week only. On one side, its fun because of the different activities but it sometimes feels like its missing some depth as well. The younger cast definitely is missing a little something in their roles where sometimes it seems to fit with their character and sometimes, its still not quite there.

Overall, A Week Away is an okay musical. There are some fun moments and the whole musical elements are done well enough however the story itself is a little lacking and familiar. The story itself falls into formulaic territory even though the story does have a heartwarming message in the end especially when it doesn’t push the religion and faith part too hard and actually does have a decent flow.

Despite all this, on a personal level, this worked probably better because it reminded myself of a summer when I did join church fellowship with my cousin when I was younger and that was pretty fun. It was able to bring the themes of friendships and sense of belonging alive which is something that I do like about the film.

Double Feature: Bigfoot Family (2020) & Flushed Away (2006)

Time for the next double feature! This time its an animated film double with a 2020 sequel Bigfoot Family and a 2006’s Flushed Away! Let’s check it out!

Bigfoot Family (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Jeremy Degruson & Ben Stassen

Voice Cast: Jules Wojciechowski, Roger Craig Smith, Grant George, David Lodge, Lindsey Alena, Sandy Fox, Joey Lotsko

Follow up to Son of Bigfoot: Father uses his new fame to fight against an Alaska oil company but when he disappears the son, the mother, a raccoon and a bear head North to rescue him. – IMDB

Having no idea that it was a sequel when started up Bigfoot Family, the good thing is that it didn’t really need the first movie to understand what was going on however, I also never heard of the first film so I guess that’s why I didn’t draw the connection. With that said, Bigfoot Family is rather straightforward and fun type of animated adventure film. It is a bit wild and imaginative especially since it starts off with Bigfoot being quite the man of fame and in the spotlight and decides in his busy schedule to use his popularity to do some good and decides to head to Alaska to protest against some oil company for doing harm to the environment leading him to get caught. His family finds it odd and heads up on a road trip with the two of the animals, a raccoon and a bear to go with them. Like I said, imaginative and fun.

The premise is pretty fun and definitely geared towards a younger audience however, the sense of adventure is there as it jumps between the different members of the family and what’s going on. The only issue with it probably would be that the beginning is more exciting to watching than the ending which felt a little predictable but then this is a family film and most of the time, it is pretty easy to figure out which is I’d expect is great for kids as its more straight-forward in plot. The ending is pretty fast-paced and action-packed but the plot feels a little empty even if it does highlight family and environment messages.

There’s not a whole lot to say about this one. Overall, the voice acting and premise is pretty good. It also delivers a decent message. I’m going to look out to see whether the first film, Son of Bigfoot gets added on Netflix at some point so that I can check it out.

Flushed Away (2006)

Directors: David Bowers & Sam Fell

Voice Cast: Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Ian McKellan, Jean Reno, Bill Nighy, Andy Serkis, Shane Richie

The story of an uptown rat that gets flushed down the toilet from his penthouse apartment, ending in the sewers of London, where he has to learn a whole new and different way of life. – IMDB

*Originally posted on Movies and Tea for Friday Film Club*

Following two stop-motion projects for Chicken Run and Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit between Aardman Animations and Dreamworks Animations, their third and final project together was Flushed Away, an all-CGI animated film due to the story being focused around water which would affect the stop-motion elements.

Flushed Away tells the story of a pet rat, Roddy St-James (Hugh Jackman) living in a high-end Kensington home when he gets flushed down the toilet by a sewer rat Sid who decides to live his luxurious life especially with the World Cup Finals around the corner. Following the sewers and pipes, he ends up at Ratropolis which resembles a sewer version of the city of London where he meets Rita (Kate Winslet), a rat being chased down by Toad (Ian McKellan) for stealing a ruby and in the getaway runs off with an important cable which leads Toad and his French cousin Le Frog (Jean Reno) to go in a chase to retrieve it before the World Cup Finals in order to undergo a plan. Between going back to his luxurious life and protecting these new friends that he’s made, Roddy has to make a decision about whether being on the surface is better than the sewers while also trying to save Ratropolis for Toad’s plans.

Flushed Away is a charming film. Very much so when it was first released and still manages to keep its charm in this rewatch especially as it has a lot of pun jokes and movie puns added into the script which makes for quite an entertaining viewing. At the same time, there’s also a decent soundtrack which cues up in certain scenarios with the slugs that are all over the place singing which is both cute and very fitting. Plus, the art is really nice even if it does resemble the design of Wallace & Gromit character styling but the story keeps these characters in check especially with the actors involved doing the voices.

With that said, the cast is pretty good. Probably not as famous for some as they are now since they’ve moved on bigger projects since 2006 which gained them a lot more fame however, they are deliver pretty great voice acting. With Hugh Jackman as Roddy and Kate Winslet as Rita, two actor and actress that are really great in their own regard especially Kate Winslet which makes such a wonderful Rita (but then I do like Kate Winslet a lot). Toad and Le Frog, as the villains are voiced by Ian McKellan and Jean Reno respectively which are also veteran actors while Toad’s henchmen are voiced by Andy Serkis and Bill Nighy also two known names. Its a great cast of actors put together for this animated film that makes these characters so dynamic and fun to watch come to life even if some of the moments are both ridiculous but still very entertaining to watch.

In some ways, Flushed Away almost feels like a hidden gem. Not a lot of talk about it in general and yet there’s a lot of greatness to it both in cast and the animation as a whole. The story is pretty simple and straightforward and rather suitable for kids especially with the cute slugs and their singing however the dialogue is pretty clever overall. Lots of things done right in this one that makes it worth a watch!

Double Feature: Beyond The Lights (2014) & Yes God Yes (2019)

Welcome to the next double feature! This time, we’re looking at two films that feel like they don’t really have anything to do with each other except perhaps that they both feature a female lead as its main character and both also has female directors. The first is a 2014 romance-drama called Beyond the Lights and the second is 2019’s teen comedy-drama Yes God Yes.

Let’s check it out!

Beyond The Lights (2014)

Director (and writer): Gina Prince-Bythewood

Cast: Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Nate Parker, Minnie Driver, Machine Gun Kelly, Danny Glover

The pressures of fame have superstar singer Noni on the edge, until she meets Kaz, a young cop who works to help her find the courage to develop her own voice and break free to become the artist she was meant to be. – IMDB

Movies about singers who are trying to break out their set path to follow their own voice and setting it as a romantic drama isn’t exactly a unique premise. Beyond The Lights is very similar in that it sets out with a popular singer who goes back to her hotel room and ends up being found by a cop who is hired security sitting on the ledge of her balcony, seeming like she wants to jump. A cry for help that ends up being ignored except for the cop who reaches out to her and as they get closer, starts to give her to courage to be herself. In fact, Beyond The Lights is rather formulaic in the way that the whole story is executed. However, the whole beginning kickstarts the issue very quickly and is paced rather well to keep the two main characters to build in friendship and chemistry. At the same time also adding some more characters that are opposing to her new affections or choices like her manager and mother and a PR arranged relationship with a popular rapper. It creates enough conflict to pull the pieces together and build up a decent story.

Its really hard to discuss Beyond The Lights, mostly because this type of film is rather simplistic for the most part. The premise is rather formulaic and there is no doubt that the same formula is applied here. However, the standout point here is that they have a decent cast. The best one that holds the film together is the main actress playing Noni, the star of the show played by Gugu Mbatha-Raw who delivers a great performance. Playing opposite her is the cop Kaz played by Nate Parker, whom I haven’t seen anywhere before but has a decent chemistry with Noni even if his character does feel a little hollow in comparison. His main purpose is to be the motivation for Noni that sets her out of this breaking point and have the courage to set out on the path that she wants. Aside from that, playing manager mom is Minnie Driver who delivers a good performance as well. I sometimes feel that Minnie Driver is rather underrated especially as she shows up in some of the most unexpected movies every once in a while (at least on my watch list).

To be fair, I watched this movie because of Gugu Mbatha-Raw and because she delivers a strong performance, Beyond The Lights was a decent watch. It is a fairly predictable type of film and didn’t exactly feel like it landed in terms of being as touching as it should be but the movie does start off on the right foot especially on a scene so strong as being pushed to wanting to commit suicide despite all the attention around her but having no one really notice it. Because of that overall, the film is decent but the beginning is much stronger then the rest of the film. While there is some good chemistry and decent acting, it still feels familiar. Bottomline: if you like these types of movies, this one does a great job and is well worth of a watch and if you don’t, then just skip it as it probably won’t offer you anything too different in terms of premise.

Yes God Yes (2019)

Director (and writer): Karen Maine

Cast: Natalia Dyer, Timothy Simons, Wolfgang Novogratz, Francesca Reale, Susan Blackwell, Alisha Boe, Donna Lynne Champlin, Parker Wierling, Allison Shrum, Matt Lewis

After an innocent AOL chat turns racy, a Catholic teenager in the early 00s discovers masturbating and struggles to suppress her new urges in the face of eternal damnation. – IMDB

Yes God Yes is a fun comedy movie with a coming to age angle to it when a Catholic teenager is torn between her religious upbringings and her newly discovered sexual urges. From a good girl that everyone seems to blend in, she starts off being caught in a rumor that is a complete lie but tears apart some of her friendships before heading to church camp where she gets attracted to one of the camp counselors while being told how she should act in light of the religious belief. The whole concept is a lot of fun and a really great premise especially since it shows the shock of the first online encounter of someone sharing racy pictures as a teenager while at the same time, having that as a first step into something that no one around her talks about or when is talked about is considered to be wrong. However, the whole journey of the movie reveals that perhaps the people around her is rather hypocritical especially the people who emphasizes that sexual acts are wrong. Its a good end-game and message for the whole story that it wants to tell here.

There’s quite a lot to like about Yes God Yes. The first is, of course, the main actress who does carry a good part of the movie as it follows her character Alice and is from her point of view from the things she sees and showing the feelings that she has as well as the confusion of the things she encounters plus the dilemma of what is right and wrong when it comes to being faithful to her religious practice while following her own newly discovered urges. In that sense, Natalia Dyer does a fantastic job. To be fair, I did watch this movie because I wanted to see Natalia Dyer in something other than Nancy on Stranger Things (review) and it being a really different character from I Believe in Unicorns (review). The role feels really natural for her. There are some rather awkward moments but it is fittingly and believable for her character as well especially in her reactions and facial expressions.

Aside from her character, the other character of focus would be the character of Father Murphy, played by Timothy Simons who pretty much tries to constantly lecture and nudge Alice onto the right path especially as he tiptoes around the whole rumor that he’s heard of. His character is really on point as it does have a turning point and the dialogue between Father Murphy and Alice does shift and develop over the course of the film. There are some other characters of note that come along and add to the same effect but some of them feel not as important or worth a mention.

Overall, Yes God Yes is a really fun movie. The overall message is great and the take it uses and execution works pretty well. The movie isn’t long so is well-paced also. There are some little issues especially with the interaction with some other characters but whether you find it comedic or not is going to depend on what type of humor you’re into. For myself, some of the comedic parts landed and some of it wasn’t so much that it was funny but the part still felt relevant to the whole story. I’d say that this one is definitely a fun one to watch.

Run (2020)

Run (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Aneesh Chaganty

Cast: Sarah Paulson, Kiera Allen, Pat Healy, Erik Athavale, Sara Sohn, BJ Harrison

A homeschooled teenager begins to suspect her mother is keeping a dark secret from her. – IMDB

There always seems to be this focus on mother-daughter relationships and a fascination on these movies being chosen by Netflix (thinking back to the sci-fi Netflix film, I Am Mother (review)). Run focuses its main premise around a teenager, Chloe and her mom, Diane. Chloe is a girl that survived at birth but is ridden with a full bill of medical issues from asthma to being paralyzed in her legs. Despite that, she looks forward to her freedom when she gets to finally leave home and go to college however, its then that she starts something suspicious of her mom and starts to look deeper into it.

The movies focus on the two main characters and the build-up of how their relationship evolves over the course of the film is done fairly well. Plus, it also sees each of these characters’ development. All these are definitely strengths of the film especially when it gives the mom character played by the talented Sarah Paulson, who showed us how creepy she can be when she was in Netflix show, Ratched. Paired up with a younger actress Keira Allen, who does hold her own. The two play well off of each other. The scope of the film really is a focus on 2 characters and their confined life and routine that it actually makes it all the more engaging to watch how Chloe will react when she realizes the secrets and the changes she goes through.

The script isn’t exactly completely original as the twist doesn’t feel as shocking as it probably could be. There are some subtle creepy moments which was probably given away if you saw the trailer, and that’s something that I dislike about Netflix when its a highlighted film and just plays the trailer on its own. The trailer gives a lot of the movie away perhaps that’s why it feels not as exciting as it should be. However, thanks to these two characters and how they are scripted, the movie does have its own tension especially as things do ramp up in a decently-paced manner. Actually the movie sets up the norm of this family rather quickly and then sets up the suspicion and kicks things off from that point on rather quickly. It all comes to a rather intense ending especially when we look at the final ending which is one that is pretty good and has decent shock value.

Overall, as I think back to Run, the movie is at its best when the characters are playing off each other. There is no doubt that Sarah Paulson’s acting and grasp of her character is fantastic. It creates this dreading feeling that she is always watching which makes everything Chloe does to figure out the mystery feel even more tense especially with all her medical issues. Despite some of these ideas feeling slightly familiar, Run is still a decent well-paced psychological thriller that is still well worth a watch.

Double Feature: Eighth Grade (2018) & Tramps (2016)

Welcome to the next double feature! This time, I’ve paired up the 2018 coming of age teen movie Eighth Grade and the 2016 romance/comedy Netflix film, Tramps. Let’s check it out!

Eighth Grade (2018)

Director (and writer): Bo Burnham

Cast: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson, Jake Ryan, Daniel Zolghadri, Fred Hechinger, Luke Prael, Catherine Oliviere

An introverted teenage girl tries to survive the last week of her disastrous eighth grade year before leaving to start high school. – IMDB

Being in high school is hard. Between feeling invisible and trying to fit in and still being yourself, Kayla (Elsie Fisher) runs her own Youtube channel where there aren’t a lot of viewers but she talks about how to fit in and the many issues of being a teenager in high school without actually really knowing what she’s talking about as her persona in her Youtube is rather opposite from her real life situation as the film fits those parallels rather well. Its how the story is executed using her real life and how she shares her thoughts on almost a textbook version of how to face issues in high school or teenager that builds up her character really well. Adding in the relationship that she has with her dad where she’s rather annoyed at times or reluctant to share her thoughts with him, the teenage girl character is very believable. What also works well is the subtlety of the teenage girl’s change as she encounters different situations that as a coming of age story, gives her a revelation but not before having some kind of emotional “meltdown”. That scene being probably one of the most powerful in the film.

With that said, Elsie Fisher delivers a wonderful role. Being able to carry a lot of the movie especially since her introverted personality does make this film centered a lot around her actions and decisions plus what she says to those around her in order to try to be more accepted or noticed. As she moves through being forced to go to parties that is invited by a parent or trying to get the attention of the boy that she likes by pretending or trying to open herself up more to the other girls in the grade to hopefully earn their friendship, her story is a lot more sad as the whole movie almost feels like not much happens and yet while nothing happens, Kayla goes through a lot of change from her reaction or her emotions and the way she talks or ever communicates with her dad. Its such a well-crafted character that I really connected with (especially since I was also an introverted teenage girl once).

Prior to this film, I’ve only seen a couple of Bo Burnham’s stand-up comedy show which I do enjoy his humor especially since he is younger so the bits are more related to a younger perspective. With Eighth Grade, the script and directing is pretty good overall. In many ways, it does capture the teenage life and to have it unravel over a week as Kayla gets ready to end eighth grade for high school, it almost is relatable to moving from high school to college for us as our middle school to high school didn’t include a graduation ceremony. It does have a rather satisfying ending especially as she starts being able to face up to those who don’t respect her and befriend those who seem to be more worth her time. In some ways, Eighth Grade does feel a little different to how a lot of coming of age films are and yet perhaps because it feels almost a little more subtle and quiet that the moments at the end do pack a punch.

Tramps (2016)

Director (and writer): Adam Leon

Cast: Callum Turner, Grace Van Patten, Michal Vondel, Mike Birbiglia, Margaret Colin, Louis Cancelmi

A young man and woman find love in an unlikely place while carrying out a shady deal. – IMDB

One day adventures (or even compact in a weekend) between two characters are probably one of my favorite types of films. The best example would be movies like Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist which takes that concept and gives a great film that takes the audience for an adventure through a city. On one hand , it creates a simple human relationship and focuses on the “chemistry” between the two characters and doesn’t overcomplicate with too many side characters other than through other dialogue or quick scenes. On the other hand, it usually has a certain “travel” through a city element as it quickly moves from one location to the next.

The premise has these two characters, Danny and Ellie being caught chasing after a wrongly swapped briefcase after an unfamiliar task goes wrong when Danny helps his brother when he held at the police station. There are some scenes with the other characters which pads out the backstory of the importance of the briefcase. The areas they explore isn’t exactly a travel heavy premise as its not landmarks (or at least I’m unfamiliar with it). Of course, it does highlight the difference of lifestyles that these two are used to versus the person they followed to find back the suitcase which is in a more upper class suburban neighborhood.

Danny and Ellie couldn’t be more different however, they both learn about their “trapped” life and how this job means for them and slowly builds trust and coordination for each other as they face each obstacle.The way these two work together are actually quite funny especially Danny’s reaction when he realizes he swapped the wrong briefcase. The interaction between the two really being a big highlight in the film. There are some comedic points that land rather well which also helps the story plus the whole execution is decently paced.

Overall, Tramps is a feel-good movie. Its simple in story, characters and execution but the two characters are charming to follow along and they do have their own sort of adventure which brings them closer together. Danny and Ellie played by Callum Turner and Grace Van Patten respectively, are definitely enjoyable. I’d definitely say that this is a hidden gem in terms of Netflix films.

Double Feature: Down A Dark Hall (2018) & The Dark and the Wicked (2020)

Welcome to the next double feature with a horror double with 2018’s Down A Dark Hall and 2020’s The Dark and the Wicked! Let’s check it out!

Down A Dark Hall (2018)

Director: Rodrigo Cortés

Cast: AnnaSophia Robb, Uma Thurman, Isabelle Fuhrman, Victoria Moroles, Noah Silver, Taylor Russell, Rosie Day, Rebecca Front, Jodhi May, Pip Torrens, Kirsty Mitchell, Jim Sturgeon

A troubled teen named Kit Gordy is forced to join the exclusive Blackwood Boarding School, just to find herself trapped by dark forces around its mysterious headmistress, Madame Duret. – IMDB

As I look at Down The Dark Hall, the general outline reminds me of Paradise Hills (review), a movie that I think is a hidden gem as it also has the parallels of young girls in one closed setting under surveillance with a headmistress that has their own scheme. Of course, this twist is different and the boarding school is this mansion setting works well since the mysteries and dark hallways definitely meet the expectations of the title of the film. Down A Dark Hall is considered a horror thriller and in some ways, the premise does work but the execution misses a little.

What works here is the atmosphere: dark and mysterious. Some shots are so dark and yet it teases a little of what could be hidden in this darkness. At the same time, the Boarding School is very basic so a lot of dim lighting is set by this environment. Adding to that is the idea that each of the girls fall into a different obsession with a subject which makes their characters all change in a suspenseful way. This really counting on which actress manages to portray it well. Pairing them with the dynamic of Uma Thurman’s headmistress as Madame Duret which is probably the better part of the movie as a whole.

Aside from Uma Thurman, the cast also include AnnaSophia Robb which I had previously seen in some Disney movies (along with The Reaping and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and do remember her for her child roles so its nice to see her here which she does a decent enough job. Just like seeing Isabelle Fuhrman who I had previously seen in Orphan and I kind of did like her role here as well. The other cast members while having some interesting characters felt like it all felt a little oddly paced making some of their roles also feel a little unbalanced in execution.

Overall, Down The Dark Hall is a horror fantasy film which definitely embraces its title and has a decent twist to it. There are some creepy moments but nothing way too scary other than the dark setting that probably helps with creating the atmosphere and mystery. While some characters were done well, there is some odd execution choices as well as how a lot of the characters that play the boarding school staff feels so strange that its obvious that something’s not right.

The Dark and the Wicked (2020)

Director (and writer): Bryan Bertino

Cast: Marin Ireland, Michael Abbott Jr., Julie Oliver-Touchstone, Lynn Andrews, Tom Nowicki, Michael Zagst, Xander Berkeley, Charles Jonathan Trott, Ella Ballentine

On a secluded farm in a nondescript rural town, a man is slowly dying. His family gathers to mourn, and soon a darkness grows, marked by waking nightmares and a growing sense that something evil is taking over the family. – IMDB

The Dark and The Wicked is a slow-burn horror film set in the isolated rural farm where siblings return to visit their parents. The movie starts off right away setting up the unknown horror before the siblings arrive and build upon that throughout as most of the horror is in the unknown and what happens off screen. As with many slow-burn horror, a lot of the movie is based on the atmosphere and tension as well as the subtle sort of horror. There is a vagueness to the whole situation as a lot of it is rather quiet as a whole and in the moments as different situations occur to each of the characters in the story. Its also where it will draw the differences of those who will appreciate it for that or find it more boring.

Its hard to dive too deep into The Dark and The Wicked as a lot of it is revolving about the subtlety and the mystery that seems to be going on this home. Is it supernatural or evil or something else? The unknown makes up the horror of the film as a whole plus some of the horror effects and the characters as they get pulled into whatever “evil” seems to be hanging over this home. With that said, the atmosphere is on point especially with the sound design and playing with the quiet moments, there’s a good balance of using that to build horror as well as the setting itself.

The characters also play a part here. There is a fairly small cast as a whole but they all do a decent job as well. The characters also have a rather subtle change and development throughout as the situation changes and they get pulled into figuring out what is going on. Between the parents, the visiting siblings as well as the nurse and neighbors, the story does manage to find a way to make this uneasy whether in dialogue and such. There are some moments where its a little over but most of it does manage to get under the skin.

Overall, The Dark and The Wicked is a well-executed slow-burn indie horror film. The setting, the characters and the atmosphere combined together creates a good balance to bring out the creepy unknown horror vibe.

Double Feature: Lila & Eve (2015) & Hustlers (2019)

Next up for Double Feature, we take a look at a Jennifer Lopez double feature as we look at 2015’s crime drama thriller Lila & Eve and 2019’s Hustlers. Two films that feature also are about crime and female duo as their main characters. Let’s check it out!

Lila & Eve (2015)

Director: Charles Stone III

Cast: Viola Davis, Jennifer Lopez, Aml Ameen, Ron Caldwell, Yolonda Ross, Elisa Perry, Shea Whigham, Andre Royo

Two distraught mothers, whose children were gunned down in a drive-by, team up to avenge their deaths after local authorities fail to take action. – IMDB

Considering this one as a spontaneous watch as I only found it as it was about to leave Netflix but it has Viola Davis who is a fantastic actress so it was a great selling point. This is a pretty decent thriller overall. It does pull a Fight Club sort of twist but the overall execution is pretty good. The devastation of two mothers bonding together over a grief group with opposite personalities creates a nice contrast between the two as they decide to follow the clues to figure out who is responsible for their children being gunned down in a drive-by, making this into a revenge crime thriller.

There is some things to like about this film. For one, Viola Davis is as usual very good in her role of Lila and the friendship that she has with Jennifer Lopez’s Eve is done really well also. There’s a good build-up of their friendship from how they meet to their views and conversations about what has happened to their own children and not being able to just accept the grief and move on but rather find out what really happened. Also, Jennifer Lopez delivers a decent performance here. I give a lot of grief about watching lackluster Jennifer Lopez performances mostly because the movies itself usually aren’t anything to call home about. Lila & Eve might not be perfect as it does have some issues of its own but Jennifer Lopez’s role is fitting for the character that has been written here.

With that said, there are some faults to this movie. The script and pacing might be a little off. The script is alright however it might have to do with some of the supporting roles that aren’t delivered well enough which makes some lackluster dialogue and such. However, the finale is well worth a note as it does deliver fairly well and did take me a little by surprise. Overall, Lila & Eve is an alright thriller with some good and some bad elements but has two good performances from Viola Davis and Jennifer Lopez that could be worth a watch.

Hustlers (2019)

Director (and co-writer): Lorene Scafaria

Cast: Constance Wu, Jennifer Lopez, Julia Stiles, Mette Towley, Wai Ching Ho, Vanessa Aspillaga, Trace Lysette, Marcy Richardson, Keke Palmer, Lili Reinhart, Mercedes Ruehl, Cardi B

Inspired by the viral New York Magazine article, Hustlers follows a crew of savvy former strip club employees who band together to turn the tables on their Wall Street clients. – IMDB

With a good amount of decent reviews and a group of female cast, Hustlers is inspired by a true story which feels a bit like the situation of The Bling Ring and has a little bit of pacing almost like Pain & Gain. In some ways, it takes a look at the world of strip club employees whether its the change with the economy, the survival and even the sexy moves and shows that comes along with the territory. The whole crime that goes down from how its structured to the execution has some fun elements to it. The atmosphere, environment as well as the narration of an interview that looks back at the past which eventually tests the friendship between Destiny and Ramona becomes a highlight that frames these characters into who they are gradually.

The female cast here has a few familiar faces. Jennifer Lopez being the experienced and dynamic character Ramona to prove that she not only has the body and physical ability to carry out the role but also bring in a fairly deep character that plays like a mentor and leader to this crew who moves forward to make money when the economy changes. On the other hand, she carries along a new member of this business Destiny played by Constance Wu, previously known for her role in Crazy Rich Asians which is definitely a change of pace and character. There’s no doubt that Hustlers is at its best when Ramona and Destiny. Their mentorship, friendship and partnership moves from one step to the next that creates a good dynamic between the two. . With them are some other familiar faces like Julia Stiles, Lili Reinhart, Keke Palmer and Cardi B as some of the girls while also having Wai Ching Ho as Destiny’s grandmother, they all add a little something as well. Perhaps for myself is seeing Lili Reinhart in something aside from Riverside where she also has an interesting character but also different from this one.

Being unfamiliar with the article or the inspiration of the true story, Hustlers plays out like a movie and yet, most of it doesn’t get as far-fetched as say, The Bling Ring however, the whole dive into the story that spans over years and through the different economic setting of US plays into the shift in the industry does bring out an interesting angle to how this is executed. Plus, Jennifer Lopez yet again delivers a great performance and probably the stand-out of the crew especially with her eye-catching fur coat outfit. The execution isn’t perfect but overall, Hustlers is an entertaining watch.

Double Feature: The Land of Steady Habits (2018) & Edge of Fear (2018)

Its been a while since the last double feature! I do apologize for the tardiness. Writing time has been limited but I do have a lot of double features backlogged that will be going up soon. The first two is Netflix drama film The Land of Steady Habits and a home invasion thriller Edge of Fear.

Let’s check it out!

The Land of Steady Habits (2018)

Director (and co-writer): Nicole Holofcener

Cast: Ben Mendelsohn, Elizabeth Marvel, Connie Britton, Bill Camp, Charlie Tahan, Edie Falco, Thomas Mann

After leaving his wife and his job to find happiness, Anders befriends a drug-addicted teen, sending him down a path of reckless and shameful behavior. – IMDB

The Land of Steady Habits is a film about a man struggling with the new norms after retirement. Anders is by far an character that is very unlikable, by his own self-destructive nature and the way that he doesn’t hold by what he says. From the the start, its a character that is meant to be flawed and feeling more realistic and closer as a regular person and its because of Ben Mendohlsohn’s portrayal of this character that truly gives this story a lot of depth into this man’s change from the old ways: divorce, moving to a new home, early retirement and yet giving up all the things of old hasn’t really brought him a lot of joy as he tries to find companionship in sleeping with strangers but having issues there as well. Because of the character almost unable to find happiness in this new norm and yet constantly barging unreasonably into his old life aka his wife’s house, it almost gives this character a lot of deeper moments about the dilemma he is in.

The father-son relationship that portrays as well as the “friendship” that he has with the family friend’s seemingly delinquent kid ends up being a big focal as it portrays a growth of a man to slowly become more responsible especially in the face of what happens at the end. It helps question the character about who he is both as a parent and as a person in reflection of his choices.

Overall, The Land of Steady Habits feels a lot like a trip down a complex character study. Its a bit out of my league as its far from where I am in life. However, the character’s development and depth is rather depressing at parts especially on the twist of situations. Plus, as with movies with this, its rather quiet and subtle especially how the movie starts following through this routine of this man. It probably isn’t for everybody but as a drama film, it definitely does deliver on some levels especially in this flawed character.

Edge of Fear (2018)

Director: Bobby Roth

Cast: Rockmond Dunbar, Zhu Zhu, Shen Lin, Robert Knepper, Dean Cudworth, Robert Crayton, Robert Patrick, Amaury Nolasco, Andy Mackenzie, Jodi Lyn O’Keefe

After being stabbed in the heart by ruthless home invaders, a man is left for dead. Now weak, outnumbered, and knife sticking from his chest, he attempts to do the impossible: save his wife from these murderers before he bleeds to death. – IMDB

I think I watched Edge of Fear because it was going to leave Netflix or maybe I just did because it seemed like a movie that was good as background noise. In some ways, Edge of Fear has a good idea with its setting in the middle of the woods isolated and with no form of transportation to exit if anything happens. Not sure why anyone does that, but sure, I can buy that since no one expects to have their home invaded by criminals. Part mystery, part thriller and kind of an home invasion film, Edge of Fear lacks a lot of each of those things. The main reason being that its all very generic from the characters to the crew that takes over the cabin to the turn of events. Nothing is very unpredictable. Plus, the dialogue itself leaves a lot of space to be elevated.

In reality, the characters here aren’t too bad. The main characters going to the victims who are the Chinese doctors who were invited out. The fight to survive is definitely there except they are also faced with a bunch of fairly all brute and no brains (or at least it feels that way) minions who are doing the wrong things at the wrong times. Leading these two is the character portrayed by Robert Patrick who is obviously the better actor of the cast especially since he seems to really be great at these darker characters and can be rather menacing. The other would be the man that this crew helped escape from prison played by Robert Knepper who had an interesting sort of character design which all comes into play for the big finale.

Overall, Edge of Fear is a rather lackluster film. I didn’t have particularly high expectations for it seeing as I went into this film not knowing much about it.

That’s it for this double feature!