Double Feature: Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016) & Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017)

Welcome to the next double feature! Its been at least a month since the last one and I’m slowly feeling up to writing reviews after a 2 week (or so) break after Fantasia! I did watch these two around the beginning of Fantasia Festival.

Alice Through The Looking Glass (2016)

Alice Through the Looking Glass

Director: James Bobin

Cast: Mia Wasikowska, Helena Bonham Carter, Johnny Depp, Sacha Baron Cohen, Anne Hathaway

Alice returns to the whimsical world of Wonderland and travels back in time to help the Mad Hatter. – IMDB

Alice Through the Looking Glass is the sequel to the live action Alice in Wonderland. While this live action adaptation is usually negatively rated, I see the flaws but somehow these  whimsical things work okay for myself. It becomes quite entertaining. Alice Through the Looking Glass has its issues and sometimes it doesn’t work as well as it might have hoped for but there are a few redeeming traits here. Lets just get it out there that as many times as I have started reading the source material by Lewis Carroll, I haven’t finished it so I have no idea how similar it is to the book. I do feel that some things were a little over the top in possibly the way it was portrayed however, the whimsical suspension of belief is expected and never a surprise. I like over the top fantastical elements so its why I still watch these movies.

Alice Through the Looking Glass

There is a lot of silliness in Alice Through the Looking Glass. The redeeming character is still always Mia Wasikowska as Alice. She is such a spectacular actress who takes on different types of roles but excels in them. In this one, I loves her outfits and the journey she takes and altogether, keeping to how Alice is with the character traits. To be honest, most of the characters from the previous film did keep in character. Which pretty much means that if you didn’t like the first one, chances are that you might not like this one as it feels a little bit even more odd than before. Something here doesn’t fit together completely and yet I never pinpoint what it is. Perhaps its the weird Anne Hathaway performance as the White Queen and the story behind her and the Queen of Hearts. There is a slight entertainment value to Sacha Baron Cohen as Time.

Visually, Alice Through the Looking Glass delivers just like the first film. The characters also carry a lot of fun elements to them and are a joy to watch. However, the story behind her fighting to retrace the Mad Hatter’s childhood and learning about the White Queen and  Queen of Hearts story as well as having Time chase her through time and space felt a little lacking. Maybe its just not so personal when Alice does learn something about herself through this but the link of everyone in those stories just doesn’t feel like it adds up to more than it should.

Goodbye Christopher Robin (2017)

Goodbye Christopher Robin

Director: Simon Curtis

Cast: Domhnall Gleeson, Margot Robbie, Kelly MacDonald, Will Tilston, Alex Lawther

A behind-the-scenes look at the life of author A.A. Milne and the creation of the Winnie the Pooh stories inspired by his son C.R. Milne. – IMDB

I’m not much of a biopic person. If you haven’t noticed, I try to stay away from biopic or drama or something like that. Movies are a means of entertainment to escape from drama so its one of the reasons why they tend to be the least chosen genre in film. I still watch them but they are infrequent. With that said, its hard to resist the biopic of A.A. Milne, the man who brought to life Thousand Acres Woods and Winnie the Pooh and his gang. As much as this is about the fame of Winnie the Pooh and this world, this biopic focuses on A.A. Milne’s relationship with his son and the reason of why this fun and fictional world even exists in the first place.

goodbye Christopher Robin

If there’s something more than Pooh Bear that I can’t resist, its a father and son relationship, well any parent and child relationship usually tugs pretty hard at my heartstrings. It feels pretty genuine in the way that this whole thing is portrayed. Domhnall Gleeson has a huge part in this because he does a fantastic job at portraying A.A. Milne. His character and the father he is and the man that he is and just how what he has gone through has changed him but no one quite understands him, especially his wife, played by Margot Robbie. However, we all have something to thank in this world and even adults sometimes make the choices when they get carried away with a situation and this is how Winnie the Pooh may have saved a lot of kids and was the world for so many people but in the end, it somehow deteriorated this father and son relationship and created a misunderstanding. Its this story and this human relationship that makes this film really good.

Goodbye Christopher Robin is a fairly simple story and the feelings and relationship is so genuine that it makes it tug at our heartstrings even more. There’s a lack of communication and a bonding that grows over time because of the choices made by everyone. In some ways, it makes us wonder about this world that has given joy to so many people and yet the bittersweet feelings that come with learning about how there were sacrifices to sharing this world that A.A. Milne created with his son with everyone else and the fame and popularity ate away at their relationship. After you watch this, it feels like its a conflict that never quite gets resolved and whether it feels like everyone else had invaded into someone else’s imaginary world. Maybe I’m thinking too much into it but this movie is pretty bittersweet by the end.

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After Hours #1 – The Meg

Who would have known that we’d both head out to see The Meg this past weekend! And of course, it paired up perfectly as one of our anticipated films for 2018 and also a perfect selection to kick off our After Hours over at Movies and Tea!

Check out our discussion on The Meg over on Movies and Tea Podcast!

Movies and Tea

Hey folks and welcome to the first episode of “After Hours” a series of bonus shows were we will be looking at the films which mean the most to us, but whose directors don’t need require us to work through the director’s filmography.

Kicking things off is “The Meg” whose troubled production history we look into as we finally got to see the rampaging Megalodon brought to the screen.

We not only look at the film, but Elwood perhaps geeks out hard on the comparisons to Steve Alten’s books.

So come join us in the booth!

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Movies and Tea #9 – Pompeii

And we’re here at the final episode of Season 1 of Movies and Tea Podcast as we take a look at the final movie in the selection from Paul W. S. Anderson’s filmography, Pompeii. Head over to Movies and Tea Podcast to check it out for our thoughts and how it is as a Paul W. S. Anderson directorial effort and give us your thoughts on this movie that blends a Gladiator-esque story with a disaster film.

Movies and Tea

Our season one re-evaulation of the Paul W.S. Anderson filmography comes to a close with a film that sees him taking a note from James Cameron, Anderson’s “Pompeii” sees him deliving a sword and sandel / disaster flick the end result being a film which disappeared off the radar of most movie goers as quickly as it appeared.

We also reveal our favourite, worst and hidden gems of his filmography.

Come join us in the booth!!

Further Viewing

Gladiator
Kingdom of Heaven
Conan The Barbarian
Volcano
Dante’s Peak
San Andreas
Journey to the Centre of the Earth

Music on this episode

Keith Mansfield – Funky Fanfare
Clinton Shorter – The Mountain

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Fantasia Festival 2018: Big Brother (World Premiere 2018)

Big Brother (2018)

Big Brother

Director: Ka-Wai Kam

Cast: Donnie Yen, Joe Chen, Yu Kang, Mingji Lou, Fung Woo

Big Brother is an unexpected title in Donnie Yen’s filmography however, also one that he has been wanting to do. It is about education and sending the positive message that everyone can follow their dreams even those left behind and ignored by the very competitive Hong Kong education system. It only takes an honest and passionate educator to go beyond their duties to make sure their students go back on the right path. Playing as Mr. Chen, Yen’s role is one that marries the sparse but exciting action scenes that we have come to expect with a more profound dramatic moments focussing specifically on five of the students considered the losers in the “bad” class. His heartfelt performance has some comedic moments especially in the unorthodox way of teaching which fits incredibly well to this out of the box character.

Big Brother

While there are some cameo and supporting roles with more seasoned actors and actresses especially the Taiwanese actress Joe Chen as one of the teachers and Fung Woo as the ex-principal in an inspiring role as well, the five young actors are all first time actors. This decision is a smart one to keep their stories feel real and genuine.  While some of the stories feel dramatized for the movie, the reality is that in the Hong Kong society, their stories are common: alcoholic dad; Hong Kong born Pakistani origins; daughters feeling less important than sons and the high risk of the triad preying on high school students to get them to do their dirty work. For these young cast, they did a great job at each of their respective roles as they each had their own dreams which broke the barrier of the expectations of where they are from.

Big Brother

A lot of praise does have to go to assistant director turned director Ka-Wai Kam as he steps into the director’s chair a fourth time with this project. It is obvious that he has a lot of experience tucked away with the way he maneuvers his shots to capture the moments. He finds a way to add in the action seamlessly to a more dramatic film while not forgetting the focal point of reflecting how a flawed education system breeds the issues that are occurring and puts its focus on a few members to give these characters their well-deserved development and never making them feel disposable. Not to mention, the scenes itself speak for themselves and how these vibrant characters have connected with its audience.

World premiering at Fantasia Festival a whole two and a half weeks before its release in Hong Kong, Big Brother brings both heartwarming and heartbreaking stories about some very real and human everyday life aspects of the Hong Kong education system, the criticism towards its teachers and the society views of it all.  Add this to your collection of inspirational education movies like Freedom Writers, Big Brother might have some societal barriers to understand some of the finer details but its heart to bring a positive message and highlight the flaws in the current education system is one that needs to be addressed. It takes one person willing to go above and beyond to make a difference. It’s perfectly suitable for Donnie Yen. Big Brother is a positively inspiring movie that manages to tug at your heartstrings and cheer for following your dreams and paying it forward.

Fantasia Festival 2018: Bleach (2018)

Bleach (2018)

Bleach

Director: Shinsuke Sato

Cast: Sota Fukushi, Hana Sugisaki, Erina Mano, Miyavi, Taichi Saotome, Ryo Yoshizawa, Yosuke Eguchi, Yu Koyanagi

For anime lovers, Bleach has been a long time in the making. It has an incredible amount of episodes in the original series itself and that isn’t counting the animated movies derived from it alone. However, even if you have no knowledge of Bleach from its source material, this live action adaptation starts at the beginning. It tells the story of a teenage boy called Ichigo (Sota Fukushi) who loses his mother at a young age and can see ghosts. Nearing the anniversary of his mother’s death, his sister is attacked by a being called a Hollow and a soul reaper girl Rukia (Hana Sugisaki) from the Soul Society comes to his rescue. In battle with the Hollow, she ends up being injured and out of desperation despite the strict rules, she notices his high spiritual powers and transfers her soul reaping skills to him. While he defeats the Hollow, she transfers more than she intends and turns into human form forcing her to become his classmate while she trains him to be strong enough to return those powers.

bleach

Starting from the beginning of its source material may be the saving grace for Bleach. In this way, they manage to pull of a film that introduces its audience to the world through the eyes of Ichigo as he first encounters it himself. Of course, there is still a lot to learn about Ichigo himself from how he lost his mother to how he can see ghosts, although the latter along with the high spiritual power elements are more of a between the lines connection. Even with 2 hours, Bleach merely skims the surface in demonstrating this world that has been built. Soul Society doesn’t get touched on a lot except for that one rule and the two men, Byakuya (Miyavi) and Renji (Taichi Saotome) who show up to track Rukia, on the other hand, a member of Quincy, Ishida (Ryo Yoshizawa) pops up which gets a brief backstory to his purpose with pursuing Ichigo. Lots of information to digest here and it is no surprise that the script chooses to bring in these characters to build up the main story. In some ways, it works out because the main story revolving Ichigo brings in family, ties into his history and ends up developing his character quite a bit. On that note, Fukushi takes the role and runs with it in a spectacular way. His portrayal gives Ichigo so much charisma that it’s hard to look away from what he goes through. Luckily, this approach keeps the story contained, and at the end of the day, the movie takes the step to wrap up the story as it ties up all the loose ends.

bleach

Bleach has some charms and some minor issues. In terms of charms, it does feel like you are watching a live action manga. The characters have the goofy manga reactions and in the live action version, it creates a lot of comedic moments to cut through the tension of fighting the mystical unbeatable Hollow. It even throws in some explanation in manga drawing form to probably give it some link back. The Hollow itself is some good CGI work there. The action is done fairly well and the weaponry is replicated really nice albeit some obvious CGI work as well. The best part of Bleach is the score and soundtrack. It is energetic in the hard rock music way that blends so well with the tone of the film as a while. However, its minor issues lie in the pacing where the middle lags a bit in development and sits are a weird transition point that takes a while to get there. Because of some lack of depth, some characters here feel disposable as their purpose feels merely to achieve something or another. That is price of placing the focus on the main story but only skimming the surface of the other arcs. However, this is a movie and the effort to keep it contained is admirable especially with how much Bleach has grown since it was first created. It is still an entertaining fantasy action adaptation that does a lot more right than it does wrong.

This review was posted also on That Moment In.

Fantasia Festival 2018: Rondo (2018)

Rondo (2018)

Rondo

Director (and writer): Drew Barnhardt

Cast: Luke Sorge, Brenna Otts, Reggie De Morton, Gena Shaw, Michael Vasicek,  Ketrick Copeland, Steve Van Beckum

A kinky sex proposition devolves into a chain of murder, sex, revenge. And more murder. – IMDB

Right from the start, it is undeniable that Rondo isn’t going to be a normal film. A narrator (Steve Van Beckum) sets up the scene of what will unfold and this same narrator will return a few times to keep us up to date on what is going on in the minds of the characters. In some ways, this bizarre set up works. At least, it makes sure the audience knows exactly what is going on before they enter into a scene. Of course, this can’t be more odd than Paul (Luke Sorge), a neurotic war veteran whose sister Jill (Brenna Otts) sets him up to see a therapist (Gena Shaw) who in turn ends up being prescribed to a secret kinky arrangement with a password to get in. Crossing the lines into this criminal underworld leads him to meet Lurdell (Reggie de Morton) and the events spiral out of control from there.

Rondo

Rondo is a bizarre film. It is the execution that makes it unique and not really the story itself. Choosing to use a narrator and then characters in certain roles that say out of the ordinary things is only the tip of the iceberg here. For the most part, there are some incredible monologues for the characters especially the therapist’s that set the tone of the film right away. It is peculiar and straddles between not knowing whether to laugh or to be disturbed. It is an odd feeling to say the least.  In other moments, the narrator talks as the characters just sit there and the camera zeroes into their expressions. It draws out the scene of the conversation. While it gives something of a stylistic difference, it does beg the question of why we don’t just get the dialogue itself. In terms of performances here, Rondo boasts some over the top moments including the performances themselves. A lot of times, it is deliberate and also feels that way also. Maybe it is the low budget feeling that it emits and how they turn it around to make it an over the top version that applies to the scenario.

Rondo

Rondo is a film that will appeal to a niche group. It is over the top and weird in both good and bad ways. It is not quite as unique as it believes itself to be, just like the dark humor will land at times but not all the time. The cycle of events in the film is like a rondo (the musical piece reference), it takes its moments and snowballs them with their own variations involving different character in a similar scenario or amping up the mischief. Rondo is a harmless film to say the least. Its an indie film with a lot of heart but it won’t be for everyone.

Fantasia Festival 2018: Searching (2018)

Searching (2018)

Searching

Director (co-writer): Aneesh Chaganty

Cast: John Cho, Debra Messing, Joseph Lee, Michelle La, Sara Sohn

After his 16-year-old daughter goes missing, a desperate father breaks into her laptop to look for clues to find her. – IMDB

Whatever your digital footprint is, almost all of us has one. That is central focus on this new subgenre of online found footage films produced (and at times directed) by Timur Bebmambetov now called “screen life”. No one knew this was the grand vision when Unfriended (Reviewhit theatres with mixed reviews but there is no doubt this is a project of Bebmambetov as this year’s Fantasia Festival saw the next three films telling different stories using screen life as its basis: Unfriended: Dark Web, Profile and Searching.

Searching

Searching is a family drama mixed into a thriller. The film starts with the endearing (and of course dated) screen of Windows XP as a new user profile is added for his wife. Through this we see the Kim family grow through the years with key moments of the couple and their hardships and milestones. The main two being the daughter Margot’s (Michelle La) first days of school and mom Pam’s (Sara Sohn) diagnosis and fight with cancer. Eventually, its gets the present with messaging and facetime as dad David (John Cho) messages Margot about her not doing chores. Things take a plunge for the worse when Margot never comes home from her study group but called him three times in the dead of night. Realizing something has gone wrong, he files a missing persons report and Detective Rosemary Vick (Debra Messing) is assigned to his case but his assignment is to try to figure out his daughter’s friends and other contacts to pinpoint where she was last seen. With that, he takes the dive into her laptop and learns that her daughter’s has been hiding a few things from him.

Screen life here is used incredibly well here. The idea of our digital footprint being the source to tracking down anyone and getting hints of their life is an idea that feels real. Searching uses it incredibly well. Right from the blocks of protected emails and trying to set up recovery passwords to the first time discovery of what extends for the clueless parent  navigating outside of Facebook and Instagram, like Tumblr and more. Using these real life applications is the key to making it even more realistic, instead of the fictional ones that we usually see in movies. David is a parent who is stuck in his worst nightmare. After the loss of his wife, he realizes that he has no idea what Margot has been up to. The truths he ends up learning leads him to some clues and some dead ends. It is the way that Searching sets it up that makes it both logical and engaging. It takes no time to be invested in recovering this missing teenage girl and wondering whether she had ran away or something worse had happened.

 

Searching

John Cho takes on this dad role impressively. Searching gives him moments of comedy as his cluelessness for the modern social media makes him do silly things relatable for most of the younger generation to probably what parents would respond. At the same time, while Margot’s story highlights the lack of communication in their relationship and makes us think how much fault each of them have in this matter. Michelle La also takes on the role of Margot in a convincing way especially as she is a good kid going through a hard time.  Debra Messing plays the decorated detective, Rosemary Vick who is assigned to this case and seems set on the fact that Margot has run away but also very human from the standpoint of a mother.

Searching might seem like a straightforward idea but the application of screen life is one of the most outstanding used to date. Different from Unfriended, it takes us for a personal journey through the life of the Kim family and a father and daughter relationship while putting us into the worst nightmare of any parent. What is worse in the end: his lack of knowledge of his daughter or whether she will come home. Both equally important and yet helpless thoughts making the development of David a journey in itself as he tackles the assumptions from the world as the case grows public with each discovery. Being a thriller, it takes an incredible approach to put you at the edge of your seat (and I literally was) and adds in the perfect moments to give some clues one step at a time. Searching is full of twists and turns and drops them in a well-paced manner. Its one that comes highly recommended and the wait for this film isn’t long for wide release. It lands in theatres on August 3rd.