Double Feature: Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015) & Maze Runner: The Death Cure (2018)

If you haven’t seen the review for the first film, you can check it out HERE.

Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015)

Director: Wes Ball

Cast: Dylan O’Brien, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Ki Hong Lee, Giancarlo Esposito, Dexter Darden, Alexander Flores, Jacob Lofland, Rosa Salazar, Patricia Clarkson, Aidan Gillen, Lili Taylor, Barry Pepper, Alan Tudyk

After having escaped the Maze, the Gladers now face a new set of challenges on the open roads of a desolate landscape filled with unimaginable obstacles. – IMDB

The Scorch Trials picks up right after the events of the first film when they escape the maze and is flown away to a closed compound which they eventually realize has ulterior motives which takes them on the run again. With both WCKD and the new dangers in the new desert landscape in the midst, the group has changed a little but still they are working together in hopes to find a rumored safe haven.

Its no secret that I’m a big fan of The Maze Runner books so its even more exciting to see that the films do live up to the world building and atmosphere of each desolate place that Thomas and the Gladers traverse. Much like its first film, The Scorch Trials excels in creating those two elements really well. The second film has a lot more than just an empty space with an ever-changing maze, this time its a vast desert landscape but shows the deterioration of time and battles and such with its ruins scattered around. It gives a better idea of what the world has now become and the dangerous creatures called Cranks that have inhabited it which are basically zombies. They are the reason that WCKD is looking for the cure with belief that the kids are immune. While the film market is saturated with zombie films at this point, perhaps its the fact that Scorch Trials brings out the “zombies” as an unexpected element adds to the surprise element a little.

Usually, I’d complain about the runtime as this one does go over the 2 hour mark. However, The Scorch Trials keeps things action-packed and builds up on the tension of each scene, making the film very entertaining and captivating to watch for the most part as it moves from one quick-paced scene to the next from one dangerous situation and escape to the next one. These spaces where the action is taking place also range quite a bit from dilapidated buildings to sewers to vents. Even the Cranks themselves have their own evolution in having a variety of two as we can see from the film. The visuals here do add to the whole environment and setting for the film.

Despite its long runtime, character development does leave a bit to be desired. All the characters don’t really expand a lot on terms of personality. The focal characters, Thomas (Dylan O’Brien) and Teresa (Kaya Scodelario) extend their storyline a little to build up their purpose and where they stand after the events of the maze. Aside from them, in my opinion the characters that felt more well-constructed through his actions is Minho (Ki Hong Lee). This film brings out a lot of where the loyalties lie. While the lack of character development was acceptable in the base movie, it feels like the supporting characters could benefit from a little more depth especially for Newt (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) who was a fun character in the first film and while this film gives him more screen time still feels like it doesn’t quite do justice to his character completely. Breaking out of the maze also means that they now have new groups of people to deal with including one group led by Jorge, played by Giancarlo Esposito and the other led by Vince, played by Barry Pepper. Both of these creating their own dynamics.

As someone who has read the source material (review), the film does capture most of the big moments and the atmosphere up to the world-building elements. What’s good about The Maze Runner trilogy really is that even though they aren’t completely self-contained, each book starts with a new area and phase so while the other movies would help to complete the image, its not incredibly hard to follow except for the character alliances in some cases.

Maze Runner: The Death Cure (2018)

Director: Wes Ball

Cast: Dylan O’Brien, Ki Hong Lee, Kaya Scodelario, Thomas Brodie-Sangster, Dexter Darden, Will Poulter, Rosa Salazar, Giancarlo Esposito, Patricia Clarkson, Aidan Gillen, Barry Pepper, Walton Goggins

Young hero Thomas embarks on a mission to find a cure for a deadly disease known as “The Flare”. – IMDB

Taking place a little while after the end of events in The Scorch Trials, mostly able to tell with the unitedness of the three crews of last once and the mid-length hair that Brenda, a new female character from the previous film, The Death Cure is a last hurrah which continues on with the quick-paced action-packed world. Attempting to keep this spoil-free, the previous film flipped a lot of things around with Minho being caught and Thomas keeping his promise to never leave him behind, Brenda bringing a little love triangle but not really while betrayal is the center of how things are the way they are with WCKD.

This film’s adventure starts off with a bang with a rather adventurous and daring rescue plan to hijack a train car which ends up leading them off to their new setting this time, the Last City aka the headquarters of WCKD and meeting the rebellion group in that area lead by Lawrence played by Walton Goggins and they see an old face, Gally who has mellowed out a little and willing to help them. The Last City is a pretty good new setting as it differs from the previous two in a metropolitan setting full of tall skyscrapers and guarded to protect from Cranks and those infected by the Flare. The contrast of the rebellion group in the outside area in their underground dark and gloomy base to the sci-fi WCKD headquarters, this movie adds a lot of scope.

The big finale brings a lot of big moments as the characters start pivoting more and having a little more screen time. The atmosphere is still captured very well from the characters in the WCKD building following orders and having a one track mind to create a cure while the other group with Thomas is planning to not only rescue but also steal the cure. The dangers gives this group another chance to navigate this cityscape maze, something we haven’t talked about is each place having its own maze. The first one being an actual maze whereas its all a maze as they navigate the unknown in the desert landscape of Scorch Trials and the cityscape and WCKD headquarters of Last City.

In some ways, the big finale does get harmed a little by the lack of character development since the ending does create quite the event. For a little comparison, the book (review) does a much better job in that scene (if I remember correctly, its been a while). However, the final film of the trilogy does achieve quite a bit with some pretty fantastic scenes especially the elaborate rescue and escape plan in Last City which creates some gripping moments.

Overall, The Maze Runner is a pretty entertaining adaptation. Its not exactly the same as the book and some of the character development leaves a little to be desired which makes the ending lack a little of the punch that it wants to deliver, however the world building and the settings along with the gripping atmosphere and the visuals really are the elements that stand out quite a lot.

TV Binge: Resident Evil (Season 1, 2022)

Resident Evil (Season 1, 2022)

Cast: Ella Balinska, Tamara Smart, Siena Agudong, Adeline Rudolph, Paola Nunez, Lance Reddick, Anthony Oseyemi, Connor Gosatti, Pedro De Tavira

Nearly three decades after the discovery of the T-virus, an outbreak reveals the Umbrella Corporation’s dark secrets. Based on the horror franchise. – IMDB

Its hard to not know what Resident Evil is at this point, whether you are a gamer or not. Of course, if you are a gamer, then you are much more familiar with the source material depending how thorough you were with the entire game franchise. After Paul W. S. Anderson’s Resident Evil film franchise (franchise overview) which really went off into its own tangent and basically only retaining the world itself and into his own writing and production (depending on the film), a handful of animated films, the reboot of the game once again with Welcome to Raccoon City (review) and last year’s Netflix animated series (review) (which honestly was more like a film split up in 4 episodes), Netflix’s Resident Evil series finally released and it takes the story into the future, decades after the outbreak at Raccoon City and writing up its own story. While I’m not sure its something that Resident Evil fans have been looking forward to, considering some of my friends would like a legit decent survivors escaping Raccoon City story which we’ve seen too many times in my opinion, regardless of whether its good or bad, for myself, the direction was a good one which if successful, will breathe some needed new life into Resident Evil to at least give it a boost into the alternate future. It all leaves the question of whether it was able to achieve that or at least, is Resident Evil still what it is if it takes out the 1998 outbreak setting.

Resident Evil series delivers a parallel storyline. This first is set in the past and an alternate present in our terms in 2022 when 14 year old fraternal twins Billie (Siena Agudong) and Jade Wesker (Tamara Smart) move to New Raccoon City, an Umbrella planned community as Albert Wesker (Lance Reddick) works on finalizing a drug called Joy for Umbrella corporation to hit the markets. Umbrella is now under new leadership under the daughter of Dr. Marcus, Evelyn (Paola Nunez) who reclaimed her father’s company. However, when the twins break into the lab, they learn some dark secrets there which ends up putting their lives in danger. The second plot runs in the series present in 2036 as it follows a grown-up Jade Wesker (Ella Balinska) who is studying the “zero”-filled world to track their evolution and mutation of the T-virus. Zeroes are what “zombies” are called in this world. As Jade tries to evade Umbrella who is hunting her down, she is helping do research for a hidden organization The University who tries to present the old world artifacts.

Looking at the story premise, the series takes a decent step forward. Its pretty ambitious considering its bound to disappoint a lot of franchise fans seeing as it revamps the entire story and only uses the Raccoon City event everyone is familiar with as a backdrop. However, pushing it to the future is a good idea and with what they have, the parallel being there retains both elements of still keeping the T-virus and its existence along with Umbrella still having dark secrets and they things they are trying to hide from their past while adding in a central character which never has been the center with Albert Wesker in the future, even if he still is top bill but more supporting than the twins. At the same time, the 2036 events is proof that whatever Umbrella was trying to do under new management wasn’t contained as the world is in its apocalyptic state with zeroes running rampant and in its own way, introducing this new world’s monsters whether the “zombies” or other mutations. In that sense, the story does try to maintain a balance. The two sides of the story do work well to complement each other and each has their redeeming qualities and tension. Of course, the 2022 events with the teen twins in their school environment adds the teen element as they try to blend in, get bullied and try to make friends. Some of that feels a little mundane in the spectrum of things but luckily, the casting for the young Jade and Billie are decent, even if their teen characters are a little frustrating a times.

Taking a quick glance at the cast, its some rather fresh faces. Adult Jade Wesker is played by Ella Balinska who was previously in the reboot of Charlie’s Angels (review) as one of the Angels. Jade is the focus of the series and she takes the role pretty well. The action sequences involving her are done pretty good and as she does get caught up a few dicey situations. Her younger self portrayed by Tamara Smart is a little more frustrating to watch as mentioned above. Billie on the other hand portrayed by Siena Agudong is done pretty well. Her character goes through a lot more in the younger sequence and puts her in constant inner struggles. The older self is portrayed by Adeline Rudolph (plays Agatha in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) which was a pretty short presence in this season. Lance Reddick’s Albert Wesker is probably not the expected choice however, the character itself is built pretty well to fit in this world. Honestly, I haven’t seen Lance Reddick other than as the hotel manager in John Wick films and his role there is fairly small but so good. Seeing as Wesker’s side of the story is rarely dived into thoroughly, there is a lot of space to build it up. Focusing on his daughters makes it all the more good as he is there but it adds a new generation to the new Raccoon City and the future of Resident Evil’s setting. Its a pretty nice touch (perhaps I’m just overthinking it as usual).

What’s Resident Evil without its villains and here, the villainous character here is Evelyn Marcus which is played relatively well by Paola Nunez. Sometimes, Evelyn is fairly annoying as most villains are but she has a dangerous edge to her that carries well enough, some parts a little overdone but there is some development. Of course, the other villains are the zeroes and the mutated creatures. In that sense, the mutated creature designs here are probably the element that I’ve always loved about the franchise and in this case, this new future brings in some giant versions of animals which are quite fun to see. If only there was more then the 3 or so types shown. This does tie in to the world building which honestly gets showcased much more in the 2036 side of the story as there’s so much more to discover in the wastelands.

In the end, your enjoyment of this series will hang heavily on asking the the initial question as to what makes Resident Evil, well, Resident Evil. While this series pushes it to the future and uses Umbrella and the T-virus as its foundation, it still doesn’t feel too different from being another zombie series, but then that is what Resident Evil is, right? Its another type of zombie franchise, except in this case, its set with a younger cast, has a bit of teen and family drama and a few other tangents. Or perhaps the 1998 events of the outbreak is what makes Resident Evil what it is or perhaps its the main cast of Chris and Claire, Jill and Leon, who obviously is not in this series so this will definitely not fit. If we look at this from solely an action horror series, then its actually not too bad as it does have a lot of action and a good bit of horror.

Double Feature: Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (2021) & Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)

Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City (2021)

Director (and writer): Johannes Roberts

Cast: Kaya Scodelario, Robbie Amell, Hannah John-Kamen, Tom Hopper, Avan Jogia, Donal Logue, Neal McDonough, Lily Gao, Chad Rook, Marina Mazepa, Nathan Dales

Set in 1998, this origin story explores the secrets of the mysterious Spencer Mansion and the ill-fated Raccoon City. – IMDB

*Originally reviewed for Friday Film Club*

Adapted from the first and second game of the Capcom video game series of the same name, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City sets itself on a parallel storyline which sets itself in 1998 when the zombie outbreak starts in the small town of Raccoon City and the group of survivors try to make it out where the events take place both in the Raccoon City Police Department but also at the Spencer mansion where the outbreak was suspected to have started.

Being undeniably avid fans of Resident Evil here at Movies and Tea as we covered all the Resident Evil movies by Paul W.S. Anderson being one of our biggest episodes to work on, and an upcoming episode in the works for its animated films, Resident Evil: Welcome To Raccoon City is a film that was announced with rather mixed sentiments, some didn’t like the casting feeling like it didn’t do the actual character design justice to its original game design however the film also did finally bring in all the favorite characters and created a story adapted from the actual games. However, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is a pretty decent alignment for a video game adaptation. Taking away the lesser role for their favorite character Leon Kennedy and dropping him to his rookie status who genuinely grows throughout the film as he encounters more, the fan faves are also all here with Claire and Chris Redfield holding down the fort on each of the locations as they move closer to each other. At the same time, the film also manages to bring in some other key characters like the well-known Albert Wesker and Jill Valentine, giving them an origin of where they come from.

This new reboot of Resident Evil, under the direction of Johannes Roberts does give it a lot more link to the story that the games are telling and the world building also deserves a lot of credit. Some scenes are almost identical to its game counterpart making it quite the treat for lovers of this gaming franchise, especially with its recent game remakes. At the same time, it still adds in a lot of eerie scenes whether being the zombie design to the mutations caused by the virus and looks into the connection of Claire and Chris Redfield’s story both when they were kids and their encounters to the present day, centering the story around them. Sure, in terms of story direction, Leon Kennedy being one of the bigger characters of the games does fall into the backseat a little and becomes more of a goofy rookie who is trying to catch up with the situation with better and more experienced cops but perhaps its a nice change to see the focus remain on one part of the story and if it does have sequel, it gives it more space to expand on the other characters’ storylines.

Overall, Resident Evil: Welcome to Raccoon City is a pretty decent reboot. Its one that stays much more true to its source material and still manages to recreate these eerie atmospheres using its two key locations as their focal points. It has a little something for both fans of the games and new viewers trying to follow the story. Its pretty well-balanced film in terms of action and horror.

Birds of Prey (and the Fantabulous Emancipation of One Harley Quinn) (2020)

Director: Cathy Yan

Cast: Margot Robbie, Rosie Perez, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Jurnee Smollett, Ewan McGregor, Ella Jay Basco, Chris Messina, Ali Wong

After splitting with the Joker, Harley Quinn joins superheroines Black Canary, Huntress and Renee Montoya to save a young girl from an evil crime lord. – IMDB

Superhero and comic book films have really been a bit overwhelming and not exactly on my radar regardless of Marvel or DC at this point. However, as Birds of Prey is leaving Netflix Canada and I do really like Margot Robbie, it felt like a decent film to catch up on. Surprisingly, the film was a pretty fun ride and also brought another femme fatale role for Mary Elizabeth Winstead as The Huntress which was also nice little surprise. The film overall is about these different female characters who team up against a vicious crime lord for their own personal reasons despite focusing on a post break-up with Joker Harley Quinn who ends up making some ridiculous decisions like blowing up the chemical plant and buying a hyena as her pet.

While superhero films all seem to entail the same thing and it all feels rather cookie cutter in terms of plot, making the whole situation fairly predictable, Birds of Prey is pretty fun. Perhaps its the over the top element which makes everyone from Harley Quinn to its villain feel rather cartoony and comic-like or its the fact that this film is about superheroines who find themselves teaming together for their own purpose and having their own style when it came to the big final showdown, these things all add color to the film and makes it entertaining. All the odd elements come together especially all these different ladies to make it a fun team-up.

With that said, the casting is pretty good, not only for its main ladies from Margot Robbie as the titular lady but also Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Rosie Perez as the cop Renee Montoya who is fed up with not being fully recognized in her efforts and Jurnee Smollett as a talented singer with a killer voice as Black Canary plus a little pickpocket girl Cassandra Cain played by Ella Jay Basco, but it also includes a rather over the top villain playing Black Mask with Ewan McGregor who was pretty decent and almost channelling the rich boy begging for recognition type of character so lashes out in extreme ways to get what he wants but also a supporting roles by Ali Wong.

Birds of Prey is a pretty fun movie overall. There’s not a whole lot to say about it but the stylistic approach and the wonderful kick-ass femme fatale casting does make for some entertaining moments. Its refreshing to see a group of superheroines band together against the villain and this film delivered the whole package pretty well.

Double Feature: Desperado (1995) & Rebecca (2020)

Desperado (1995)

Director (and writer): Robert Rodriguez

Cast: Antonio Banderas, Salma Hayek, Joaquim de Almeida, Cheech Marin, Steve Buscemi, Carlos Gomez, Tito Larriva, Danny Trejo, Quentin Tarantino

Former musician and gunslinger El Mariachi arrives at a small Mexican border town after being away for a long time. His past quickly catches up with him and he soon gets entangled with the local drug kingpin Bucho and his gang. – IMDB

Written and directed by Robert Rodriguez, Desperado is an action Western film and is the second part of his Mexico trilogy. While I can’t say how much you need to have seen the first part since I went into this pretty clueless about the existence of the trilogy and not quite a fan of Westerns in general, Desperado is a fairly fun romp despite its storyline revolving around a revenge plan, mostly because the film felt a little cheesy at times especially with the romantic interactions between the characters portrayed by Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek, both of them oozing with sex appeal from their chemistry to their appearance. Plus, Desperado does keep a relatively light-hearted tone with a lot of scenes going over the top and the tone is set right from its first scene at the bar with the whole story-telling moment describing the gunslinger.

Antonio Banderas and Salma Hayek are two actor and actress that I don’t watch too much of in general. I can’t remember the last time I’ve seen them in anything other than voicing Puss in Boots for both of them. While I can’t say that Desperado is the film to showcase the acting talents they possess, their roles are done pretty well as El Mariachi and Carolina respectively. El Mariachi has a pretty epic type of gunslinger action sequence for his introduction and keeps up with building up on his story as the film moves along of why he is exacting this revenge and such. His plan and course of action takes shape throughout the film but perhaps one of the best moments are when he is spending time with the young guitar player and trying to set him on the right path. It adds a lot of depth to his character overall. In contrast, Carolina’s character is a little more shallow as she does save him and has a tough edge when needed but still plays more of a love interest. Of course, the film also includes some fun cameos with Quentin Tarantino and a side character which adds to the whole bad guys plot with Danny Trejo, who doesn’t have any dialogue but because partially a threat.

Desperado isn’t exactly a film to be dissected in depth since it is mostly a fun time with a lot of action. However, that isn’t saying that the execution isn’t good. There are some weird moments like how El Mariachi and Carolina really do move very quickly through their attachment or this one escape scene where this obviously a physics issue that doesn’t seem to make sense which gives the more flair but maybe not quite so much context. There is a lot of building up a moment especially for the El Mariachi’s entrance to the big action scenes where there’s a lot of gun action going on between the two sides and everyone wondering who this El Mariachi fellow is and what his deal is overall. It does put together some stylistic action for him.

While I’m not exactly a fan of Westerns, Desperado does have its fun moments. The story itself especially for El Mariachi might not feel very deep for the film overall but surprisingly does have some pretty good moments. There are some odd transitions for the plot points but still manages to keep it rather fun and focuses enough on the action to make it even more entertaining. I’m pretty late to the party (as my husband constantly reminds me) and didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did so I think this one is winner overall.

Rebecca (2020)

Director: Ben Wheatley

Cast: Lily James, Armie Hammer, Kristin Scott Thomas, Keeley Hawes, Ann Dowd

A young newlywed arrives at her husband’s imposing family estate on a windswept English coast and finds herself battling the shadow of his first wife, Rebecca, whose legacy lives on in the house long after her death. – IMDB

Rebecca is one of those memorable book discoveries born out of complete spontaneity for a school project decades ago and yet remains one that I have been meaning to own and re-read at one point. Having watched none of the adaptations, Netflix’s Rebecca fell under the radar for myself also sparked the discovery of the Armie Hammer issues that came to light, making this a rather conflicting watch and whether to review it. However, the film itself regardless of everything, is rather disappointing overall.

Looking at the best parts of Rebecca, it has to go to the costume design, style and the setting itself. The beauty of wherever they were gave life to the scene itself especially with the color palette that it chose. Of course, the manor itself also is a big highlight as it adds the suspense with all its corridors and mystery behind doors and hidden secrets. It usually does come with the whole big manor setting especially when the point of view is through the eyes of the new and young Mrs. de Winter (Lily James) who is only learning about her husband’s first wife and getting an incredible amount of resistance from the housekeeper, Mrs. Danvers (Kristin Scott Thomas).

The casting is actually not too bad. The main focus of the film from the point of the view of the new Mrs. de Winter portrayed by Lily James. This is probably one of the more complex roles that I’ve seen her in and she does do a pretty decent job. Especially faced across the housekeeper played by Kristin Scott Thomas who is a rather underrated actress overall but seems to pop up nowadays in films here and there. This role sees her being a housekeeper who has ulterior motives and trying to do many plans against the new Mrs. de Winter through manipulation and such. The strength of these two characters brings so much to the film that the Mr. de Winter character actually falls behind into this annoying and useless sort of character by the end, making the value of his role being the gentleman who sweeps his new bride off her feet and ends up sinking back into a mysterious front when he returns back to his mansion.

Overall, Rebecca is a pretty average film. It brings a bit of the suspense and mystery and visually from setting and costume design, it is quite a bit of eye candy but the film itself overall doesn’t seem to pull together a well-executed plot especially for the outstanding source material that they were working with.

Uncharted (2022)

Uncharted (2022)

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Cast: Tom Holland, Mark Wahlberg, Antonio Banderas, Sophia Ali, Tati Gabrielle, Steven Waddington

Street-smart Nathan Drake is recruited by seasoned treasure hunter Victor “Sully” Sullivan to recover a fortune amassed by Ferdinand Magellan, and lost 500 years ago by the House of Moncada. – IMDB

Based on the Uncharted video game franchise developed by Naughty Dog, the film is set with a young Nathan Drake on his first recruit with Sully for some treasure hunting action as they try to use their wits and Drake’s know-how to finish up what his brother Sam started before his disappearance while outrunning a Moncada heir and his highly paid team. There are two ways to look at this film: the first would be in the accuracy and efficacy of its adaptation to the games itself and the other way would be for the normal movie-goer who doesn’t have any or little knowledge of the game and treats this as a straight-forward action adventure treasure hunt film. Luckily, I fall a little in between these as the game follows one of the later games which I am not as familiar with but also have a decent knowledge of these main characters, Nathan Drake and Sully so I will try to touch on both of these angles.

Looking at this from its adaptation angle, perhaps the biggest discussion amongst gamers would be whether Tom Holland and Mark Wahlberg are suitably as Nathan Drake and Sully respectively. In that sense, its the biggest issue with the film perhaps as this element works better on the star power for the normal movie goer than them feeling like these two characters from the video game. Whether from the idea of appearance, even if they put Drake in the game’s outfit, or the idea that their personalities match with that of the game, some dialogue does match up but it still lacks a little something that these characters’ bring in the game, giving them a very different feeling. If there was a character that felt very similar to its video game version, that would be Chloe Frazer portrayed by Sophia Ali and still, it lacks a bit of sass. However, the film does work with a very straight-forward plot, while this might be a let-down for something expecting more, it is pretty entertaining overall and adds in certain cinematic cues and cameo that links back to the game whether its the Naughty Dog sticker on the suitcase or a Nolan North cameo appearance along with the CGI camera pan through certain puzzle elements which bring in those game parallel.

With that said, looking at this from purely an action adventure film, there is no doubt that this feels generic from a plot angle but then the point remains on how much expectation was put into it based on the trailer versus the normal context of these types of films. Uncharted is an entertaining movie experience. It has some over the top CGI which is almost reminiscent of the Fast and Furious movies (and you probably already know what scene I’m referring to) but also has the element of the banter between Drake and Sully which can be fun at times even if it revolves mostly around how much trust they can put into each other. The villain here is a bit two fold as you have Antonio Banderas as Moncada but also Tati Gabrielle as Jo Braddock who is more dangerous as she is more than just a rich man with a bunch of minions. The action pieces are pretty fun and the adventure and puzzle element is done rather well also especially when you get into the big finale with a change in setting from the big city to the vast open seas.

Overall, Uncharted might not be quite the video game adaptation that people want especially from the angle of its main characters Drake and Sully mostly since they are missing a bit of the pizzazz these video game characters however if talking about the plot itself, while generic for an action-adventure film but it actually does match up to the game well enough. Movies like these truly depend on what you expect out of them. For myself, there are some flaws in terms of casting choices from the video gamer side however as a popcorn flick, the entertainment level is still a good time.

*Uncharted is currently available on digital on April 26th and on 4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray and DVD on May 10th*

*Screener provided by TARO PR*

TV Binge: Deadly Class (Season 1, 2019)

Deadly Class (Season 1, 2019)

Creator: Miles Orion Feldsott & Rick Remender

Cast: Benedict Wong, Benjamin Wadsworth, Lana Condor, Maria Gabriela de Faria, Luke Tennie, Liam James, Taylor Hickson, Jack Gillett, Tom Stevens, Michel Duval, Sean Depner, Olivia Cheng

A coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of late 1980s counterculture, which follows a disillusioned teen recruited into a storied high school for assassins. – IMDB

Based on the comic book series of the same name by Remender and Wesley Craig, Deadly Class is set in the 1980s revolving around a hidden private academy called King’s Dominion which trains those skilled with assassin abilities, honing their unique and individual skills. Its with this that Marcus (Benjamin Wadsworth), who is on the run for allegedly burning down the orphanage he lived in that he is recruited by Master Lin (Benedict Wong) with a little help from his trusted student Saya (Lana Condor). Not from an elite dangerous order, Marcus finds himself not truly fitting in except for a group of misfits at the school as he navigates through this new environment and embraces his own capabilities as new dangers start targeting both the school and himself personally.

Deadly Class is an interesting existence. It embraces and integrates its comic book roots as it does add in these animated sequences especially when recalling the past of the key characters with this group of friends that has bonded together due to different issues. Their back stories help explain the motives of their characters. The comic book elements down to the whole cinematographic elements of the show gives its a lot of style whether its the character designs or King’s Dominion. The whole tone of the show blends well together and is visually appealing for the most part, capturing both the environment of the school but also the grimy outside world that exists which polishes them as they go on their own “missions”.

The tone and plot point can be a little off-putting as the high school drama for the most part. Especially by the middle of Season 1 when Marcus, Maria and Saya have this very wishy washy sort of love triangle that gets a little frustrating to watch as these three take a turn in their character arcs. Much like most series, when things go bad, everything else is going bad at the same time so its all goes a little crazy which is intriguing to watch how it all unfolds since it adds in other elements that help build up the world but also adds in some annoying bits that seem beside the point especially since Marcus is a character with his own issues that also seem rather easily manipulated into certain situations. With that said, the best parts of the show is the action and assassin oriented bits when each of these characters do work together or go into some outing together to achieve something. The danger and the classes do make it all the more intriguing to navigate but at the same time, it somehow does feel like the angle being this unique school gets lost in the bigger plot. Thats not to say that the enemy isn’t decent. For the most part, its the typical mentally unstable sort of character coming for some kind of revenge but there are some outside forces that are targeting the school as well. The two together works well enough.

Looking at the cast itself, everyone fits their role fairly well. Benjamin Wadsworth plays Marcus fairly well. It does capture that teen angst and inner struggle, considering the show is mostly about him. The standout of the show absolutely goes to Benedict Wong as Master Lin who is a tough headmaster of King’s Dominion but also done in such a well-balanced way. Much like its great to see Lana Condor as Saya to be playing this Japanese yakuza’s daughter who is a femme fatale in training with her motorcycle and her katana in hand. Much like Maria portrayed by Maria Gabriela de Faria whose character is on the more frustrating side but does have a lot of ups and downs but her assassin look is really great.

Overall, Deadly Class is a pretty fun ride for its first season. The premise is pretty original and isn’t quite like other teen dramas especially with the school for assassins setting. Sure, there’s a few things that I wasn’t particularly happy about but it did have some pretty decent style. Its a little sad to see that after the great foundation it set up and the cliffhanger ending that it was cancelled for season 2.

Double Feature: Time (殺出個黃昏, 2021) & American Girl (美國女孩, 2021)

Time (殺出個黃昏, 2021)

Director: Ricky Ko

Cast: Patrick Tse, Petrina Fung, Suet Lam, Suet-ying Chung, Sam Lee, J.J. Jia, Belinda Yan, Zeno Koo

Once famous for his quick blade, a retired assassin can no longer earn a living with his cut-throat skills. Summoned again, he partners with his chauffeur to carry out special missions – fullfilling the wishes of old people looking to kill themselves. When commissioned by a young girl who has been deserted by her parents and lover, the “Elderly’s Angel” squad finds an arresting way to complete its task. – IMDB

Having missed this one during last year’s Fantasia Festival, its great to see this one creep into Netflix very quietly. Co-written by Ka-Tung Lam and the directorial debut of Ricky Ko (mostly credited with the camerawork for making of and assistant director in other projects prior), Time tells the story of a retired assassin team that now struggles with their own lives as they become elderly: being phased out of work, loneliness, neglect, loss of health, etc. They find new purpose when they use their skills as the Elderly’s Angels performing euthanasia for the lonely and sick elderly. That is until their services are requested by a teenage girl Tsz-Ying who wants to die by all means and slowly gets acquainted with Chau, the lead assassin of the crew now in his 80s.

There is no doubt that Time’s main draw is its stacked cast of main leads who are acting veterans in all regards dating back to their hey-days back in the 60s. Patrick Tse was once the heartthrob of films and a main leading man in Hong Kong TV while Petrina Fung was known as the “Shirley Temple of Hong Kong” in the 60s. It also adds in the consistent supporting man of Suet Lam who seems to find himself in a lot of Hong Kong films in so many different roles and in this one scores himself a main role as the driver for this assassin team. However, this roles takes a much more dramatic turn of events.

Aging is a theme that matches to this leading cast and gives them a platform share their acting skills especially for Patrick Tse who is already in his 80s when filming this one and gives him a chance to reunite briefly with Chow Chung (currently 90 years old) in his cameo role as one of the elderly seeking the help from the Elderly’s Angels. The film executes the topic of aging and the elderly in the form of a dramedy. The drama and the humor does keep a decent balance. The drama is in these three characters lives as they deal with all the struggles that aging has brought for them, at the same, it also reflects bigger societal issues and the modern day values or lack thereof. Between all this, there are some bits that do come across in its dark humor or even a little silly at times that makes for some decent laughs.

Time is not your typical Hong Kong film filled with action and crime. However, this one shows off a wonderful talented cast when the basic Hong Kong acting pool is honestly growing a little thin. The story itself is relevant to the current society towards the elderly (and even dabbles into the topic of teen pregnancy). The film does give it a heartwarming overall feeling as old friends and unlikely acquaintances open up a whole new world for each other as life deals each of these elderly assassins a serious negative dose of aging.

American Girl (2021)

Director (and co-writer): Feng-I Fiona Roan

Cast: Karena Lam, Caitlin Fang, Kaiser Chuang, Audrey Lin, Teng-Hui Huang, Kimi Hsia

During the SARS outbreak of 2003, 13-year-old Fen returns to Taiwan. – IMDB

American Girl is the directorial feature debut for Feng-I Fiona Roan who tells a semi-autobiographical story of Lily Wang, a mother who returns to Taiwan from USA with her two daughters after she is diagnosed with breast cancer. Between adjusting to her life back in Taiwan which proves especially hard for her two daughters especially her eldest with her school work and making friends, the 2003 SARS outbreak also hits causing their alert to be high.

American Girl focuses mostly on the mother Li-li (Karena Lam) and the eldest daughter, Fen (Caitlin Fang) as they navigate through this new life. Li-li struggles with her illness and feeling herself again as she fears the breast cancer getting worse and death causing her to become a rather depressing sort of character which transfers over to her family. Fen in turn doesn’t quite understand all this but despises the negative energy causing her to fight with her mother constantly especially being stuck in Taiwan where its hard to be accepted by friends or the lack of understanding at her school when she falls behind. She also struggles with identity as well when she constantly is referred to as “American Girl”. While both Li-li, Fen or even her father (Kaiser Chuang), they each are flawed characters. Its easy to understand their position but also feel a little frustrated that they each lack the communication to fully portray their feelings properly in this time of adjustment after years of living apart.

The situation feels realistic and the film chooses to set itself during the 2003 SARS outbreak in Asia which is something fairly relatable in our reality. The fear of infection and a mother’s own situation as her own health issues creates a sense of hopelessness when something happens to her younger daughter. There’s a lot of mixed feelings going on but each of these situations and how these characters deal with them help build up these characters and make them realistic. In fact, some of these things are happening as other things are, just like in real life.

Don’t get me wrong though, American Girl isn’t just a depressing slow-burn film. In fact, it is rather heartfelt in many ways. It might not be a film for everyone in terms of pacing or sentiments. There are certain elements that feel like it happens a little late in the story but it does however gives these characters the moment they need to reflect. There’s no big moments in this film and everything is fairly everyday life from conversations at the dining table between the family or arguments in the bedroom or classroom interactions however, it reflects the differences between certain cultures in Taiwan (an East versus West mentality, especially in the school setting) and the film does have some good moments when they do little things together as simple as it all feels.

Schemes in Antiques (古董局中局, 2021)

Schemes in Antiques (古董局中局, 2021)

Director: Derek Kwok

Cast: Jiayin Lei, Xian Li, Zhilei Xin, You Ge, Tao Guo, Mei Yong

Adapted from Ma Boyong’s novel of the same name, the film tells the story of a series of adventures that occurred when the descendants of the five veins made a wish to find out the truth about the Buddha head of Wu Zetian Mingtang in the Tang Dynasty. – IMDB

It’s always nice to have a film that delivers exactly what it says. Literally. Schemes in Antiques is exactly a plot revolving schemes in antiques. This Chinese film is a treasure hunt adventure which touches on a little bit of Chinese history and antiques. While the structure of the plot isn’t exactly novel, the approach using the Chinese antiques and following the characters to solve the puzzles to go to the next clue to find the elusive Buddha head that caused the main character’s family history to be tainted, leaving him in the undignified state that he lives in. There are secrets and twists and adventure plus a bit of family drama in the backstory that works well together.

Schemes in Antiques may seem like very straightforward just from its title alone and probably taking away a bit of the mystery itself. However, it has its own sort of fun elements. Its a plot which centers around a race to finding the truth behind this artifact that was supposed given to Japan but turns out to be fake. As two descendants go on this hunt, their different strengths lead them in different pacings on the trail. Both of these two characters have their own family legacies to fight for with the main character Xu Yuan having a much more direct motive: to find out the truth behind whether his ancestors did disgrace their family name.

The cast itself is pretty decent. The main character, Xu Yuan played by Jiayin Lei is pretty well-casted. While I haven’t seen this actor other than in variety shows, he does capture this role which floats between the constantly drunk electronic store owner with an exceptional antique knowledge living in the shadows of his disgraced family name from his grandfather and the neglect from his own father. However, his encounter with the daughter of one of the members of the antique society becomes an alliance that takes them for quite the dangerous adventure. In a film full of men, this character shines out played by Zhilei Xin who has her own motives to prove that a woman can also amount to purpose to break his father’s old-fashioned mindset. Their competition or opposition is played by Xian Li, the only cast here that I am familiar with especially after his burst of fame after Chinese TV drama series Go Go Squid! (one of my absolute favorite Chinese series as a side note) which has opened up the doors to a huge variety of roles in the past few years. He captures this role pretty well as his character straddles a line throughout as someone with ulterior motives but remains relatively mysterious right up to the end.

Overall, Hong Kong director and screenwriter Derek Kwok’s venture into the China market with this film is a pretty fun one. The runtime is a little wild at over 2 hours and at times feels a little lengthy but the adventure and action is pretty well done and adds in a little bit of comedy, which primarily is in the beginning. The film does build up a certain level of tension by the end and adds a decent twist to the plot in terms of character and the treasure hunt turnout for this antique. With a decent cast and a focus on the Chinese history and adventure based on some puzzle-oriented clues with some Chinese origins as well, it gives the film a unique angle to a fairly basic treasure hunt adventure film.

*Screener provided by Taro PR*

Red Notice (2021)

Red Notice (2021)

Director (and writer): Rawson Marshall Thurber

Cast: Dwayne Johnson, Ryan Reynolds, Gal Gadot, Ritu Arya, Chris Diamantopoulos

An Interpol agent tracks the world’s most wanted art thief. – IMDB

Directed and written from Rawson Marshall Thurber and the third collaboration with Dwayne Johnson, Red Notice is simply a popcorn flick. Its nothing too novel from the heist film and cops chasing bad guys and the bickering between the unlikely duo. Its an action comedy packed with some decent star power that probably makes it more attractive than the film actually is. Perhaps it is knowing that this director collaborated on previous films like Skyscraper (review) and Central Intelligence (review) before, that its not hard to feel very similar to those films for Red Notice. Don’t get me wrong, I enjoyed their previous collaborations very much as they each had their own dangers and dynamic between the main leads. It might not be anything deep but it does fulfill what it intends: some mindless fast-paced entertainment.

The story and execution of Red Notice is nothing too different or surprising overall. The film does move through different cities swiftly from their starting location in Italy and finally ending up in the tropical South America and they make a good few stops in between. The whole thing is a mix of a heist and treasure hunt film but also adds in a decent amount of action whether melee or weaponry. All of which are constructed fairly well. The whole film plot feels like its nothing too special but the ending was decent when it all comes together. While it never feels like there’s any crazy danger around the corner, it keeps the whole process fairly all light-hearted and fluffy but the whole story is glued together by its main cast.

There is really no doubt that when you look at the main casting roles that the dynamic and banter between the characters will be the highlight of the film. Dwayne Johnson always has that very fun one-liner goofy tough guy sort of role which has this toughness but also has this entertaining element. Much like after Ryan Reynolds did Deadpool where his ability to toss out those funny lines has crafted a lot of this roles now making this one as a world class thief also have a fun appeal especially when he pairs up with Dwayne Johnson as a cop-thief duo who has the same goal of chasing after The Bishop for their own reasons. They bond together throughout. Their encounters with The Bishop, played by Gal Gadot also adds a lot of sassy dynamic as Gal Gadot doesn’t only have the beauty but also has this really entertaining element to her character as she seems to always be ahead of them and setting them up in impossible situations. The three mesh together really well in all their banter and encounters throughout.

Overall, Red Notice isn’t really anything too special but its also is a decent entertainment. Of course, I’d really only recommend it to people who don’t mind a normal flick. At this point, its easy to know what type of films Dwayne Johnson makes and his other collaborations with this director and the enjoyment of those films might be a good hint whether you’d enjoy this one as well. For myself, I did have fun with those two so this one was suitably entertaining.

Raging Fire (怒火, 2021)

Raging Fire (怒火, 2021)

Director (and co-writer): Benny Chan

Cast: Donnie Yen, Nicholas Tse, Lan Qin, Angus Yeung, Patrick Tam, Ben Lam, Deep Ng, Henry Prince Mak, Tak-Bun Wong, Jeana Ho, Ken Lo, Simon Yam, Ray Lui

Cheung Sung-bong is an officer of the Regional Crime Unit who worked in the front line for many years. His protege, Yau Kong-ngo, respects him and manage to reach up to him. However, fate pits them against each other. – IMDB

Benny Chan’s final directorial effort is this Hong Kong action crime film which he also co-writes. Raging Fire hones a fantastic cast full of acting veterans and crafts a rather familiar crime action tale but still manages to make it an engaging film experience with great action choreography and even some rather over the top moments and adds in the casting of Donnie Yen in the leading role facing off a vengeful character played by Nicholas Tse. The film’s credits also paying tribute to the director with their filming snippets instead of the commonly seen bloopers or behind the scenes.

Raging Fire itself feels a little like the story that was crafted in New Police Story and has the twist of this year’s earlier release of Thr Fatal Raid but with better execution. The immensely better casting and the wonderful use of the cinematography and set design all contributes to it being a very engaging sort of film experience packed with some explosions and even one or two ridiculous Fast and the Furious level car chase execution. It sounds like a lot but it does keep a good balance and pacing between the two sides of the story, the police and the villains as their whole story gradually gets revealed right up to an ending with a question about whether things would have been different if roles were switched.

With that said, the cast is a rather packed cast with a lot of familiar faces for people who do watch a decemt amount of Hong Kong crime action films. You have some less frequently seen but once big names like Raymond Lui or cameo roles from Simon Yam. With the power of Tencent Pictures behind the production, it also includes a popular actress Lan Qin playing Donnie Yen’s character’s wife. All that aside, we all know the selling point of this film is the two main leads: Donnie Yen and Nicholas Tse. For most people everywhere in the world, it really might just be the former. However, they both deliver fantastic roles as as Bong and Ngo respectively.

As their story reveals, there is a lot more depth to these two characters especially the opposing side wreaking all the havoc with Ngo and his team which feels like they are out for some type of unknown revenge as they gradually do things that almost feel like they are one step ahead of the Ngo and his cops. Ngo (Donnie Yen) is a rather familiar character who is a righteous cop with very set standards on how he believes in the law and doing things the right way, no shortcuts or selling favors to move up in his ranking to the higher ranking police chiefs and he does a great job at the whole thing and packs in some fantastic action sequences as well. Nicholas Tse on the other hand, shows a lot of growth in his acting as he dives into this more villainous role with strong plans and a very defined team. Ngo is a character that has a silent sort of unwinding and breaking point as he deals with everything quietly and calm and yet with purpose but shows signs of betrayal. Both of these lead roles being well-executed overall.

Raging Fire might seem like the normal action crime film and its general plot is very familiar right down to the plot points or even the little moment when everything comes together. However, the execution is solid from all angles whether its the cinematography, the action choreography (gun fights, hand to hand combat, car chases, etc), the pacing and the acting quality. It is a very good final work by Benny Chan and definitely brings up a desire to revisit all his previous works.

Raging Fire is currently available on Digital, Blu-ray and DVD and Hi-Yah!, The Martial Arts Channel!

*Film provided by Taro PR in exchange for honest review*