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.

Double Feature: Persuasion (2022) & Purple Hearts (2022)

Persuasion (2022)

Director: Carrie Cracknell

Cast: Dakota Johnson, Cosmo Jarvis, Henry Golding, Richard E. Grant, Yolanda Kettle, Ben Bailey Smith, Nikki Amuka-Bird, Mia McKenna-Bruce

Eight years after Anne Elliot was persuaded not to marry a dashing man of humble origins, they meet again. Will she seize her second chance at true love? – IMDB

Based on Jane Austen’s novel of the same name (review), Persuasion tells the story of Anne, a woman well past her prime for marriage who ends up moving to Bath due to his father’s frivolous spending as the return of a man she once refused marriage after persuasion due to status returns to town after 8 years and brings back her inner struggle as they attempt to run in the same circle as friends.

Years ago when I did a Jane Austen books read, Persuasion was one of the hidden gems considering Pride and Prejudice is the most talked about. The Netflix adaptation is a little odd in execution. Dakota Johnson is rather suitable in her role as Anne and she remains the narrator of her own story as it brings in some fourth wall breaking elements as she speaks her feelings to the audience throughout the film. Unlike the clever use in Enola Holmes, it keeps her character development amusing but still feels almost  little too modernized. However, the attempt to make this unique is a good effort, considering this is one of the key elements of the execution.

Persuasion is a story that embodies a deeper and more mature story as a love slowly rekindles and Anne and Captain Wentworth need to get through their past differences from the failed proposal years ago. The issue here is that these two have no chemistry and part of it is the film execution with how their encounters are written but the other part is that Cosmo Jarvis as Captain Wentworth doesn’t quite have the acting depth to interpret those quiet brooding stares as he observes or as they exchange glances. Arguably, the best moment between them, a lot thanks to some nice cinematography, is their final moment as they rekindle their romance and realize that they both still love each other.

Persuasion does hit a lot of expected elements of a period drama like the setting and the soundtrack are pretty good, much like the costumes themselves are decent as well. Some of the supporting cast including the other suitor played by Henry Golding also does a good job. Where the film falls short is in its tone which adds in a bit of silliness and humor as well as breaking the fourth wall which is a unique take but the script might have let it down a little, much like the romance which felt like it didn’t have the chemistry it needed to make it more memorable.

Purple Hearts (2022)

Director: Elizabeth Allen Rosenbaum

Cast: Sofia Carson, Nicholas Galitzine, Chosen Jacobs, John Harlan Kim, Kat Cunning, Linden Ashby, Scott Deckert, Anthony Ippolito, Loren Escandon

In spite of their many differences, Cassie, a struggling singer-songwriter, and Luke, a troubled Marine, agree to marry solely for military benefits. But when tragedy strikes, the line between real and pretend begins to blur. – IMDB

At this point, Netflix delivers a good amount of romance films a year in whatever genre and usually its a pretty mixed bag and truly a test of chemistry and casting rather than script. Purple Hearts is the latest offering as a romance drama which sets a premise of a marriage out convenience for a young soldier being shipped out very soon and a waitress/musician, both with their own hardships that this arrangement would offer.

Deal is, as someone who watches a lot of Chinese drama, marriage before love premise has been done to death over the past two years in all kinds of premise. Of course, it usually is more humorous and light hearted at the beginning rather than the dramatic twist here. While the general premise is fairly predictable, the use of a soldier and his situation that gives him a purple heart is one that makes this journey much more memorable as while it isn’t so much about war, Luke finds meaning in becoming a Marine through it despite the danger and connects more to his father (Linden Ashby) because of this choice despite the bad decisions he had made prior.

Much like Cassie who as the child of an immigrant family also makes her reconsider her feelings about the sacrifices the Marines are making as she learns more about Luke as they do what they need to do to keep up appearances. This understanding also helps her find inspiration to write powerful music which brings her growing success. This brings in the additional music element which is probably the purpose to cast Sofia Carson. While I don’t avidly listen to Sofia Carson, the two songs that she performs here are pretty good and fit the story well. In some ways, it does tie to the story itself in a meaningful way so its a way for her character to express herself despite the arguments and banter between her and Luke.

Honestly, I’m not too hard on romance dramas. In reality, a predictable story is acceptable when they can deliver a believable chemistry between the two main leads. In this case, the chemistry between the two could definitely be better since their characters are fairly thin in development, however the premise and the execution gives this story a little more than just a love story so with everything rounded together, the two coming together from despise to leaning on each other to their revelation that they love each other by the end , its a pretty decent heartwarming and touching journey between the two. A romance where two people help each other grow in one way or another creates their chemistry subtly and a story with this premise of living the “in sickness and in health” part of the vows despite the fake marriage at the beginning.

To be fair, when it comes to romance films and I’ve seen quite a few of them being the sappy romantic that I am, this one might come up fairly average but it still works for various elements. The ending even had me feeling rather connected with Cassie and Luke’s love when these two finally figure out their feelings.

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: Profile (2018) & Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark (2019)

Profile (2018)

Director (& co-writer): Timur Bekmambetov

Cast: Valene Kane, Morgan Watkins, Christine Adams, Emma Cater, Amir Rahimzadeh, Shazad Latif

An undercover British journalist infiltrates the online propaganda channels of the so-called Islamic State, only to be sucked in by her recruiter. – IMDB

Released as part of the initial three Screenlife films aka cyber found footage along with Searching (review) and Unfriended (review), Timur Bekmamtov delivers Profile, a film about a UK journalist Amy (Valene Kane) who goes undercover and engages into an online conversation with a jihadist Bilel (Shazad Latif) to learn about their ways of recruiting religious converts, their operations and how these converts are transported. As she uses her alias profile Melody to talk to Bilel, a leader who wants to woo her, she starts to blur the reality of her assignment with this new relationship during the process and things go out of control with both her boyfriend and her boss. 

Screenlife is a fascinating subgenre that fits very well to the modern world we live in and breathes new life into the found footage genre. The three Screenlife productions by Bekmamtov all vary in scenario and genre, showing the potential of the variety of stories it can tell in a convincing way through the screen of someone. The cyber element used here focuses heavily on the accessibility of information at our fingertips and the ability to multitask while in a conversation. It exposes a world of danger that resides online. Unlike the other screenlife stories, this one is based on a non-fiction book In The Skin Of A Jihadist. The fact that its based on a real event makes it even more captivating. 

When dealing with cyber found footage, this one is centered around two main people, Melody aka Amy and Bilel. Their characters become the focal point especially for the former as it’s all from her point of view aka her computer screen. Her character is fantastic as the contrast of nervousness of setting up the first conversation to the ease of diving into believing Bilel to the big finale makes her character rather complex or perhaps gives a nod to how convincing the character of Bilel is. He becomes a real and convincing person when he seemingly can offer so much and knows the right things to say: shedding a bit of personal information at the right time and sharing an insight of the positivity that surrounds him as well as the dangers. However, it’s all an expectations versus reality situation that drives to a rather intense finale. There are some sudden character shifts and it has to do with the subtle and fast moving timeline however the interactions between the two along with Amy’s research along the way is some shocking stuff.

Profile might not quite hit the epicness of Searching in the Screenlife films by Bekmamtov, however, it definitely packs a punch with the narrative. A lot of these films do work so much better watching it on a computer screen than the big screen in terms of involvement. Much like documentary films like Caught In The Net which tries to lure out its predators in a real situation, this adapts a true story into a believable scenario with this format which suits the whole investigation very well. It’s definitely worth a watch. 

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark (2019)

Director: André Ovredal

Cast: Zoe Margaret Colletti, Michael Garza, Gabriel Rush, Austin Abrams, Dean Norris, Gil Bellows, Austin Zajur, Natalie Ganzhorn, Lorraine Toussaint, Kathleen Pollard

On Halloween 1968, Stella and her two friends meet a mysterious drifter, Ramón, and uncover a sinister notebook of stories. – IMDB

Based on the children’s book series of the same name by Alvin Schwartz, Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark was co-produced and the screenplay co-written by Guillermo Del Toro. The story follows three friends as they find a sinister notebook of stories which writes itself and eventually, the people around her start disappearing. As danger creeps closer to themselves, Stella (Zoe Margaret Colletti) has to act quickly to find out the truth about the girl Sarah Bellows (Kathleen Pollard) who lived in the haunted house where they found the notebook in order to hopefully put an end to the string of events which as befallen them.

In some ways, Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark almost plays out like a horror anthology. The different stories being written throughout the story reflect a different segment for the different characters who are Stella’s group of friends. While the film focuses on the angle from Stella’s point of view as she is the one who took the book and asked for its help in the first place, it becomes an “evil” that she can’t get rid of even after regretting her choice. Its also because of these moments that the film’s main storyline around Stella and finding out about the Bellows history becomes what strings along the story but its hard to not feel like there is a sense of disjointedness when the strength is in the little stories themselves and this isn’t meant to be an anthology. That is coming from a person that hasn’t read any of the source material so maybe its the issue of adaptation.

The cinematography is the standout element for the film. While the stories themselves might not be all that scary in execution, the horror elements is mostly from the different forms of the horror figures that it brings to life in a varying dark and creepy atmosphere that somewhat exceeds that of what you’d expect from a children’s book adaptation. Each story has their own horrific element and as the story is being written and the actual events are going down, it leaves space for anticipation of what comes next and what horror is waiting for that character. Most of them are great imaginations and as they come to life really add in the darker element for this film set around these simple horror stories to scare children. Perhaps its the simplicity that makes them work even more.

Overall, Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark is visually appealing especially when bringing to life the horrors of the stories. The premise itself is also quite good as a foundation especially for a children’s books series and actually some of the horrors in the film feel almost too much for children however, the execution does leave a little to be desired. While the separate stories are really fun to see come to life, the main plot line isn’t quite as well told and with the teen cast, some bits are still rather silly.

TV Binge: Riverdale (Season 2, 2017)

Riverdale (Season 2, 2017)

Creator: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

Cast: K.J. Apa, Lili Reinhart, Camila Mendes, Cole Sprouse, Madelaine Petsch, Casey Cott, Madchen Amick, Vanessa Morgan, Mark Consuelos, Charles Melton, Marisol Nichols, Skeet Ulrich, Martin Cummins, Luke Perry

While navigating the troubled waters of romance, school and family, Archie and his gang become entangled in dark Riverdale mysteries. – IMDB

Picking up from the events of Season 1, Riverdale which was already a darker version of its original comics takes a step further into the darkness. Everyone finds themselves faced with the aftermaths of the previous season’s events and having to step up to take some dire measures. Archie faces his own inner struggles as he tries to make a stand against the Black Hood and the havoc wreaked, while wrestling with feeling like a coward for how he couldn’t protect his dad. Betty is faced with both family issues as it falls apart while she has to isolate herself due to Black Hood approaching her to pull out her darkness. Veronica gets more involved into Lodge Industries operations while struggling with how much she wants Archie involved. Jughead is dealing with joining the Serpents and standing up for his Southside family but being judged for growing up in the Northside alliances with his friends and Betty. Between the Riverdale mayoral elections in the horizon and Lodge Industries having some mysterious plans as they buy up a lot of the key locations and the Southside High’s merge with Riverdale High, more characters get involved and more issues get caught up in the mix.

Its been a while since I’ve watched Riverdale Season one but the feelings that I initially had with it were decent. The tone and atmosphere being the main thing that stands out especially since it is based on the graphic novels and not the comics, which already explains the dark tone. At the same time, my biggest criticism for the first season was Archie’s character really not quite hitting the mark and in turn, Betty and Jughead seemed to stand out a lot more. With the second season, a lot of that still applies. Riverdale takes a much darker tone this time around as it involves a lot of other elements with politics and isn’t just about the high school crew. Its about gangs, the underworld, the politics, etc. All this actually builds up pretty well for the Riverdale world as it gives the town even more life and draws a clearer picture of the nitty gritty elements of Riverdale and its division between the Northside and Southside as well as some of the deeper secrets of the key families. Having just finished Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, its also pretty nice to see constant nod to Greendale even if its not actively involving any of the characters there, mostly due to the different networks that the series have been released on albeit being created by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa.

When you dial it down, Season 2 is about two big plot points that trigger all these other little bits. The first is the whole Black Hood situation especially as it involves Betty directly since it almost seems like the Black Hood wants to use this to fully bring out her dark side so that she will do his bidding. Of course, its also once of the big twists as to who the Black Hood is. With that said, Lili Reinhart does Betty so much justice and truly captures that role so well that she’s definitely one of my favorite characters in the series.

On the other side, its all about what the Lodge Industries scheme is as they start buying up a lot of the Southside real locations with his shady connections coming into town, the conflicts between Veronica and her family’s choices as well as Archie’s gradual involvement into this which also puts a strain on his side. The upside is that Archie’s character does get a little more development since he is one of the titular characters and while Archie making dumb choices is all part of the character design in the comics and graphic novel, it gets frustrating to see him constantly be manipulated. It does match with the characters as well as Veronica and Archie as an item also seem to live in a rather shallow relationship in comparison to Betty and Jughead that seem to be more intellectual since they team together to solve mysteries, which is one of the very fun parts of the series itself.

Of course, Jughead has his own involvement here as he gets darker and more dangerously proactive as he joins the Southside Serpents and finds his place there. On that front, Season 2 did a good job of building up the characters further with these events and its not only the main characters but also expanding to the parent characters as well.

Season 2 was definitely a step in the right direction. Its a little dark and dramatic overall which is one of the reasons that I had stopped watching it in the first place since it just wasn’t the vibe I was looking for but they do capture the whole thing really well. Riverdale as a fictional town and the society comes to life just as much as the characters in it do as well. Not to mention, Season 2 had a cameo role with Tony Todd. With Season 2 done and dusted, it time to step into Season 3. There’s 6 seasons as this goes live so I have a bit of catching up to do especially with the final Season 7 set to premiere in 2023.

TV Binge: Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Part 3, 2020)

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina (Part 3, 2020)

Creator: Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa

Cast: Kiernan Shipka, Ross Lynch, Gavin Leatherwood, Lucy Davis, Chance Perdomo, Miranda Otto, Michelle Gomez, Jaz Sinclair, Tati Gabrielle, Adeline Rudolph, Lachlan Watson, Sam Corlett, Richard Coyle, Alessandro Juliani, Luke Cook, Jonathan Whitesell

As her 16th birthday nears, Sabrina must choose between the witch world of her family and the human world of her friends. Based on the Archie comic. – IMDB

Picking from the events from Part 2, Greendale has completely switched around. Sabrina’s boyfriend Nick has sacrificed himself and taken to Hell with Lilith who now rules there. Much like Aunt Zelda who now has taken over the Academy of Unseen Arts to hopefully rebuild it. While Ambrose and Prudence have gone off to travel around the world trying to track down Father Blackwood and get rid of him before he can exact anymore hazardous plans upon his probable return. However, Sabrina soon gets dragged into a much more serious role in exchange for saving Nick as she takes on the role of Queen of Hell and is challenged by Caliban, the Prince of Hell who also wants to win the throne through a series of quests to find the Unholy Regalia.

Part 3 of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina takes an interesting turn of events. The relationships are now pretty much set as much as the alliances. The shift in power as well as the new outline of who is running things starts having a bigger toll especially as a lot of the secrets were revealed by the end of the last season. This season, its about making up for those things with some rather dire consequences, notably the main one being Sabrina given the power of the Queen of Hell and having an inner tug of war between what she needs to do, what she should do and what is more important to her. This all comes crashing together in the big finale when there is a whole time manipulation sequence where things get warped and she has to find a way to fix it.

For Part 1 & 2 reviews, I haven’t really taken a lot of time to look at the other characters other than the character development of Sabrina. Part 3 seems like a good time since most of the main cast is now rather set and developed at this point. For the most part, the show does revolve primarily around Sabrina and her development and it ends up putting the others a little bit more in the background with little scenes that come and go which is mostly revolving around Ambrose and Prudence, the Aunts Zelda and Hilda, her mortal friends Harvey, Roz and Theo and her love interest at the moment. In this case, the season is mostly surrounding Nick and eventually also the possible interest in Caliban. In reality, the characters in Sabrina probably have a lot more space to develop and for the most part, they feel rather one dimensional despite some of their abilities being more fleshed out as the show moves forward, it could be one of the reasons that it feels a little less engaging.

The main engaging and fun element are mostly the events that they pop up that flips the situation. The gives the show a nice course of dilemmas and situations throughout that eventually lead to a big finale. In this case, it goes to a mysterious circus that comes to town and the escaped Father Blackwood messing things up in the background who all come into play as he now aligns with anyone who can exact the revenge he wants. The threat here being pretty much more engaging since this new crew of characters (the Pagans) pose their own threats. If the circus itself didn’t bring its own oddities, the people they bring also have their own influences to different characters and brings in yet another branch of belief and another force that wants to take over the realm. If the Hell issues weren’t enough, this definitely kept the plot points very busy.

Overall, Part 3 was a pretty decent one. It did step up a little from the second part. This time’s threats and dilemmas between the characters helped give it a lot of constant motion, propelling it forward so fast that it was actually rather fascinating. The twist at the end was a huge highlight especially since it gave it something of an adventure like Harrry Potter and the Goblet of Fire but the different realms giving some variation to the plot from its first 2 ways. The power struggle expands and pushes Sabrina to make some tough decisions, constantly developing her character further.

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.