TV Binge: Detention (返校, 2020)

Detention (返校, 2020)

Director: I-Hsuan Su, Shiang-an Chuang, Yi Liu

Cast: Lingwei Li, Ning Han, Guanzhi Huang, Jack Yao, Teng-hung Hsia, David hao, Guanxu Luo, Kunda Wu, Serena Fang, Carol Cheng, Han Chang, Jui-hsueh Tsai, Chih-chien Lin

A tormented student uncovers unsettling secrets at her remote high school as betrayal and a paranormal encounter upend her life. – IMDB

Based on the 2017 point and click horror game of the same name developed by Taiwanese game developers as their debut game, Detention has gone on to a horror movie adaptation in 2019 (review) and followed last year with the release of their Netflix series based on the game but having a different story arc moving into the 90s and using the backdrop of the original source material to create a psychological horror drama.

Running at 8 episodes, Detention is an interesting blend as it starts off in the psychological horror territory and gradually retracts into a more drama-focused direction as the characters come into place while bringing in a sort of time loop element in its finale. Perhaps the best area that this could be considered is more of a gothic drama as nothing is going to really scare you a lot save for a few moments perhaps the opening episode having the most horror-esque scene. It does have a lot of themes revolving more touchy subjects with suicide and mental illness being a big one.

This adaptation, while taking its own liberation in the 90s, still manages to weave in the key plot points of the source material. That being said, the two girls whether its the ghost girl from the 70s, Rui Xin who wants some kind of revenge and is using her pendant to occupy a girl with her own unknown agenda and luring them in by fulfilling their wishes and then pushing them a certain extent versus this latest new to town girl, Yun Xiang with her mental illness and broken family actually draws a strong parallel between the two characters that gradually form the two characters and their dependency and connection as well. The two are probably the more intriguing characters as both the past and the present runs its own course. The focus on the present makes it interesting to see a lot of taboo situations happen whether with messing with spirits or the student-teacher relationship or even the warped values of Greenwood high School.

Other than the two female leads, there are some pretty good characters here and some situations that truly do make for some ethics and morals to come into play. The more villainous type of characters definitely do an impressive job. In reality, the story even has this weird focus of making these men into pretty much horrible people overall from the selfish principal to the controlling Inspector Bai down to the new teacher, Shen Hua. Even the neglectful father of Yun Xiang is pretty much a very unlikeable sort of character. They all do such a great job at making you mostly despise their actions overall. Putting the villains aside, there is one character of note and that is Yun Xiang’s schoolmate Wen Liang who may be pegged as a bad student in school but in reality is one of the more down to earth and genuine character in the whole scenario and truly looking out for Yun Xiang while also being a link to the spirit world and a character linked to the past scenario.

Playing with themes of revenge, school troubles, mental illness, student/teacher relationship, its brings in a lot of different elements that come into play through the 8 episodes. While the pacing isn’t exactly speedy, it still feels well-paced enough to keep things moving constantly and revealing the story gradually. The last 3 episodes add in a really good element that gives the series a nice twist that manages to pull the past and present situation together that definitely adds to the whole end game. Overall, an impressive little Taiwanese series that involves the supernatural but also shows the bad side of some people.

TV Binge: Julie and the Phantoms (Season 1, 2020)

Julie and the Phantoms (Season 1, 2020)

Creators: Dan Cross & David Hoge

Cast: Madison Reyes, Charlie Gillespie, Owen Joyner, Jeremy Shada, Jadah Marie, Sacha Carlson, Savannah Lee May, Carlos Ponce, Booboo Stewart, Sonny Bustamante, Cheyenne Jackson

Julie is a teenage girl who finds her passion for music and life with the help of a high -concept band of teen boys (The Phantoms) who have been dead for 25 years. Julie, in turn, helps them become the band they were never able to be. – IMDB

Based on the Brazilian TV series Julie e os Fantasmas, Julie and the Phantoms is a musical comedy drama that tells the story of a girl who is able to make 3 teenage ghosts that died 25 years ago visible to everyone whenever they play music together and hence brought about the their band, Julie and the Phantoms. Running at 9 episodes, there’s a lot to love about Julie and the Phantoms whether from the teenage content or the ghost element and especially the musical and band elements. There’s a little bit of romance, family and friendship and talks about loss and dreams and finding the courage to face it all. All in all, Julie and the Phantoms might have some plot points that seem a tad far-fetched but overall, its feel-good element really lands on such positive notes making it quite a binge-worthy experience.

Looking at the young cast, they are all fairly new to acting. With a lot of musical sort of shows or movies, it has a little overacting element however, the band when with each other feels mostly like the characters do fit themselves. The main actress is Madison Reyes who plays Julie, a girl trying to embrace music again after her mother’s passing. Trying to balance being okay for her family and  having the courage to follow her dreams with the help of the band, Madison Reyes does a really good job capturing the role and also showing her musical talents of singing. Playing opposite her are the 3 ghost boys from the Sunset Curve: Luke (Charlie Gillespie), Alex (Owen Joyner) and Reggie (Jeremy Shada),who have personalities that balance each other which makes each of them stand out and each having their own issues although this season was mostly focused on Luke and building up the chemistry he has with Julie. An overall success for the two as they have some great moments together which is not physical but just through looks and conversation.

The story and the narrative does a good layout for the first season. It gives a good foundation and lays out the scene for both the key characters of Julie and her high school scene along with her family and also, gives a look at the ghost side of things and how this world’s ghosts work (which takes a twist at the finale and gives a set up for the second season). In terms of the songs, every episode has at least one musical offering which aligns with the plot and mostly is fun and positive sort of songs especially with its lyrics. They each have their own fun and are pretty catchy overall.

Overall, Julie and the Phantoms for the first season is a fun show. As a teen show, its pretty good. There are some issues probably in terms of over the top acting in certain parts but its feel-good elements and the fun and catchy songs does cover over a lot of its flaws. It does help that I’m a big fan of these types of shows plus its well-paced and the episodes are relatively short so the first season is definitely a breeze to binge. Definitely one that comes highly recommended for myself (seeing as I’ve rewatched the season a few times at this point since its launch and enjoy it equally as much every time) especially for fans of teen shows and musicals. With that said, I can’t wait for the second season whenever it will be released.

Moxie (2021)

Moxie (2021)

Director: Amy Poehler

Cast: Hadley Robinson, Lauren Tsai, Alycia Pascual-Pena, Nico Hiraga, Sabrina Haskett, Patrick Schwarzenegger, Sydney Park, Anjelika Washington, Amy Poehler, Ike Barinholtz, Marcia Gay Harden

Fed up with the sexist and toxic status quo at her high school, a shy 16-year-old finds inspiration from her mother’s rebellious past and anonymously publishes a zine that sparks a school-wide, coming-of-rage revolution. – IMDB

Adapted from the 2015 novel of the same name by Jennifer Mathieu (which I’ve never read), Moxie is a story about a group of high school girls finding their voice to speak up for the double standards faced with girls, making this a rather type of coming of age story. Its not focused particularly on love but much like other stories, its finding themselves but having the courage to also own up to their own choices, making not too different from other coming of age story in terms of execution however in its theme, it does speak clear on various real issues that girls may face in high school or as they are growing up and even has a reveal on an issue in the film that reminded me of the 2015 documentary called The Hunting Ground.

Female empowerment and the inequality that is present in many places is something that definitely needs to be addressed. In this case, empowering younger girls to speak up about their discomforts is a good place to start as they could be viewed as preys to bigger issues in the future, probably one of the strongest conversations from the film between main lead Vivian (Hadley Robinson) and Lucy (Alycia Pascual-Pena) as they discuss how to fit into the school by avoiding and laying low and accepting the status quo but the latter feels like there shouldn’t be a need to hide herself and just be who she is without being bothered. As a standpoint of the issue it wants to show, Moxie definitely picks a good topic and even showing it through girls teaming up to stand up for what is right and against the status quo. It all makes for some good moments in the film.

When looking at the characters though, at times it feels like there are issues of character development and possibly something that seems to affect the whole execution. Yet again, I haven’t read the source material so its all based on the movie as its own story and not an adaptation. For one, the character of Vivian, while has the right motives and a decent character development also creates some mixed feelings especially near the end when there’s a turning point which causes her character to have a certain “volcano eruption” moment. In some ways, it fits the age of her character and probably the inner struggles she has with the whole situation and just finding the courage to stand up and possibly talking before thinking. However, there’s something about her character that I haven’t quite pinpoint that seems to be a little off for myself. It might also be that the story itself feels like the flow of events is a little odd. There are some good and effective moments and even manages to gather in the different sides from different girls and their backgrounds and what holds them back. Every girl has their own story.

The movie also highlights the school environment rather well, whether its the uncomfortable teachers in face of the sensitive topic or the principal who is afraid to make certain situations too big that it affects the school reputation. This leads certain jock students to think that they can do whatever they want including making others feeling uncomfortable. Perhaps one of the things that makes this feel very close to reality is the ranking of girls or categorizing them which suitably is the catalyst of the situation. There is some props that need to be given to Patrick Schwarzenegger who does deliver a very convincing role as the “bad guy” and perfectly dislikeable.

Overall, Moxie is a good coming of age story. What works here is definitely the issue it wants to highlight and the message that it delivers. There are some issues of execution affecting a bit of the character and pacing however, the whole girl rebellion is one that definitely is worthy a watch as some of these issues in high school may carry on to bigger things and deserves to be seen. If anything, this movie has made me want to give the source material a read to see how it is similar or different.

To All The Boys: Always and Forever (2021)

You can check out the review of the first 2 movies of this trilogy below:

To All The Boys I’ve Love Before
To All The Boys: P.S. I Still Love You

To All The Boys: Always and Forever (2021)

Director: Michael Fimognari

Cast: Lana Condor, Noah Centineo, Janel Parrish, Anna Cathcart, Ross Butler, Madeleine Arthur, Emilija Baranac, Trezzo Mahoro, Sarayu Blue, John Corbett, Henry Thomas

Continuing the romantic life of the teenage girl and facing her good and hard times with her friends and family. – IMDB

As we reach the last movie of the To All The Boys trilogy on Netflix, this is based on the third book of the trilogy of the same name. The third book is focused around Lara Jean but this time, unlike the first one where its about facing up to her feelings despite making herself vulnerable or the second book that its about choosing between two guys, this one is dials back to her as she struggles with choosing between a college that she wants to go to and the guy that she loves, worrying about the future of what might happen if she chooses one love over the other or a more suitable future over her love life, despite having to face up to changing plans and the consequences related to it. The story itself centering back to the basics of family, her future and her love life.

While its not a complete change back to its first film and lacks somewhat of the same type of charm, Always and Forever is a definite step up from the second film. However, that’s not to say that this one has some issues as well as it has a feeling piecing together montages a lot and jumping from one sequence to the next rather quickly creating a little sense of disjointedness. Where this film does carry back its fun elements is bringing back more screen time for the three sisters and the relationship they have while each also having their own sense of settling with a new situation to come with their father remarrying. There is no doubt that a big part of what works for this trilogy is the family element especially when the other sisters are charming characters along with their father.

For Lara Jean, the center back to her and her friends along with the idea of how to go for the future she wants in terms of college and think a little more about making the decision suitable for her comes into play. Of course, To All The Boys is also about Peter and Lara Jean’s relationship and there is a decent balance of it here as well especially as they each face their own insecurities about a future that might involve them being apart from each other and finding the courage and confidence to face those problems together. In some ways, for Lara Jean, its a lot about how she decides to be true to what she wants and for Peter to be able to support her choices even if it means taking a harder route for them.

To All The Boys: Always and Forever also packs in a really nice soundtrack that definitely matches with everything. There is a use of romantic comedy references which is pretty fun as well as the concept of Peter and Lara Jean’s meet-cute. The script here fills in those pieces of what hasn’t been talked about in previous two books while also tying in Lara Jean’s love for romantic comedies that makes it feel like it fits well. It also brings back a snippet of the first film’s use of having her talking to an imagined version of Peter Kavinsky as she struggles to tell him the truth behind something was misinterpreted. With that said, the charming characters of Lara Jean and Peter Kavinsky as their own characters and as a couple is still one of the highlights of the film, which also makes perhaps some small little details feel very touching to watch, especially the near ending scene that is probably one of my faves and gives a nice feeling of the series coming full circle.

Overall, To All The Boys: Always and Forever is a pretty good sequel. Its a nice way to wrap up the trilogy and manages to bring everything back to a nice feeling from the first film. It addresses all the characters in Lara Jean’s circle for the most part and sees a progress throughout the time being in school and how they’ve also changed as well or made amends in other cases. Its about growing up and these characters definitely feel like they have. Its a satisfying ending and a great way to wrap up the trilogy.

The Yin-Yang Master: Dream of Eternity (晴雅集, 2020)

The Yin-Yang Master: Dream of Eternity (晴雅集, 2020)

Director (and writer): Jingming Guo

Cast: Mark Chao, Allen Deng, Olivia Wang, Duo Wang, Jessie Li, Kaicheng Xu, Chenjun Sun, Kurt Huang, Jusper

Qing Ming, the Yin-Yang Master, took his master’s last wish and went to the Captial Tiandu City to attend the heaven ceremony. – IMDB

Adapted from novel series Onmyoji written by Baku Yumemakura, The Yin-Yang Master: Dream of Eternity is a 2020 Chinese fantasy film acquired last year by Netflix before its theatrical release starring some well-known main leads Allen Deng (2018 popular drama Ashes of Love) and Mark Chao (2017 popular drama Eternal Love) and directed and written by Edward Guo, an author, director and screenwriter whose work has been adapted frequently especially his Tiny Times movie series.

Seeing as the IMDB summary is a bit vague, here’s a synopsis: The Yin-Yang Master: Dream of Eternity tells the story of Qing Ming (Mark Chao), a disciple of Zhongxing which has been put in charge of representing their sect as one of the Four Guardians to attend the ceremony to seal the Evil Serpent from breaking out of its vessel along with 3 other masters from other sects. Its here that he meets one of the other masters, Bo Ya (Allen Deng) who views the slaying of demons differently and gets off on the wrong foot. When one of the Guardians dies mysteriously before the ceremony, Princess Chang Ping (Olivia Wang) assigns a new master He Shouyue (Duo Wang) to replace him in order for the plans to carry on. As Qing Ming and Bo Ya both investigate the murder, they come to realize that there’s a much bigger plan underway that might lead to someone trying to release the Evil Serpent.

Chinese fantasy films and TV is a fairly popular genre in general. The Yin-Yang Master: Dream of Eternity is executed pretty well. Its runtime is a tad long at over 2 hours and it feels like some parts are stretched a little long but the story does have a decent complexity to carry it. Its not exactly novel in its realm and some parts are fairly predictable however, the character development and building up the foundation for these two main characters, Qing Ming and Bo Ya is done well. The movie itself has great production value especially with the cinematography which is great whether in the contrast and saturation, mood and atmosphere of each scene or the score and even the costumes. However, what deserves recognition definitely is in some well done computer effects for the monster design and movements.

While the director gets criticized a lot for his directing style, I actually quite like his style and how he films (especially after watching variety show Everybody Stand By 2) plus the story he tells has definitely grown from the beginning and he does have a lot of details in his writing and execution. There’s a definite growth from the earlier works that were adapted to this adapted screenplay of The Yin-Yang Master. Aside from that, the cast here is really great. Mark Chao and Allen Deng work really well in their respective roles. I do feel that Mark Chao’s characters are rather similar from the ones I’ve seen before while I do like Allen Deng’s Bo Ya a lot more especially with this costumes and character design whether its his weapons and such. Much like the characters specifically for this instalment like Olivia Wang and Dou Wang (who takes on two roles here). The whole concept of Spriti Guardians and their appearances especially for the design of Kaicheng Xu’s Kuang Hua Shi and the other two at the end with the characters of Killing Stone (Chenjun Sun) and Snow Dog (Jasper).

The Yin-Yang Master: Dream of Eternity was a pleasant surprise to say the very least. With a decent cast and a fairly decent twist plus some great demon/creature designs, the story packs in a lot of fantasy mixed with mystery and action. Plus, the new thing especially after the success of The Untamed definitely is adapting movies with two male leads. For this one, these two are equally good actors plus for fans of Allen Deng from Ashes of Love, its a good throwback of him in CGI wings again. Chinese fantasy films might not be for everyone but if you do like to try out something new, this one is a decent one to check out and just got released on Netflix, which is always a plus.

TV Binge: Bridgerton (Season 1, 2020)

Bridgerton (Season 1, 2020)

Creator: Chris Van Dusen

Cast: Phoebe Dynevor, Regé-Jean Page, Jonathan Bailey, Ruby Barker, Nicola Coughlan, Ruth Gemmell, Adjoa Andoh, Claudia Jessie, Luke Newton, Luke Thompson, Polly Walker, Golda Rosheuval

Wealth, lust, and betrayal set against the backdrop of Regency-era England, seen through the eyes of the powerful Bridgerton family. – IMDB

Based on Julia Quinn’s first book of the Bridgerton book series called The Duke and I, Bridgerton’s first season is like a Regency London’s era of Gossip Girl. Its scandalous and there’s a mystery lady called Lady Whistledown writing on everyone’s gossip and spreading her speculations about different situations. Set during the beginning of the season where the debutantes go into society to look for their suitors, the first season is all about Daphne, the oldest daughter of the Bridgerton family as she enters into society and navigates her way through everyone’s different opinions before hatching a plan with the newly arrived Duke Hastings who wants to craft a fake connection with her to avoid having to deal with other mothers of available daughters as he doesn’t want to marry while creating the smoke screen for Daphne that will make other men desire her more because of already being desired. Of course, its no doubt that Daphne and Duke Hastings form a real connection eventually and it becomes quite the push and pull relationship, full of drama and soapy elements as well as the many sex and intimate scenes going on.

Bridgerton is thoroughly a guilty pleasure. There’s no other way to put it. Its not exactly untapped territory especially for myself that watches a ton of Chinese dramas which revolve around crafting fake relationships that turn into real connections and so on so forth. What makes Bridgerton fun is of course the Regency London era with its beautiful houses and lovely clothes and the very innocent and protected debutantes who are protected from everything about sex and intimacy. At the same time, the world that its crafted is a racially integrated Regency era London where (according to Wikipedia because I haven’t read the source material) it differs from the book’s setting. However, they do a great job and justifying how it all came to be briefly in conversation. The story itself definitely has those expected frustrating moments where the two misunderstand each other and then there’s some scheming that creates them to diverge in their feelings and its a whole roller coaster ride in terms of the few months of the season that Daphne and Duke Hastings go through.

Other than the setting, Bridgerton is all about the characters. For starters, the main couple Daphne and Duke Hastings has a ton of chemistry and that reflects well as their connection grows stronger and they love each other more. The sex scenes are done incredibly well and very believable. Above all of it though, its about Daphne’s sexual awakening and the gradual revelation and learning about how sex works and how getting pregnant works and all that comes together that crafts her character in a certain way. Aside from these two, the story does also deliver some other great characters. The favorite going to Lady Danbury (Adjoa Andoh) who is Duke Hastings aka Simon’s mentor. Hands down the best character in the whole first season. The first season also laid down the foundation of the Bridgerton family whether its their widowed mother Violet or the three brothers, Anthony, Benedict, Colin and Gregory or the younger sisters Eloise, Francesca and Hyacinth who all make an appearance, big or small. Seeing as the following seasons will be about the other members of the family, that foundation is rather important plus the first season also follows some of the relationships and character development for a few of the siblings especially for Anthony, Benedict, Eloise and Colin.

There’s not a whole lot to say about the 10 episodes of the first season of Bridgerton. For those who like Regency era London settings, this one is a pretty decent choice. The first season’s most compelling parts are the scenes that build up the relationship between Daphne and Simon. The slow connection and the comfort; the change from disapproval to love; the fake relationship to real; what they teach other and grow together: it has its frustrating moments but then it also has some well-crafted moments. The second compelling element has to be trying to figure out who is Lady Whistledown especially when she’s voiced by Julie Andrews. When I finished watching it the first time, I had some mixed feelings about it but when I watched it a second time around, I realized that there is something there that does work.

As an aside, Season 2 has been confirmed and its going to follow the brother Anthony who had his tangent in season 1 although, I was rather lukewarm to the whole thing. However, the season ended hinting that it would be focused on him finding a wife so we will see where that goes. In the meantime, I’m going to catch up with the series when I have a moment see how the series match up to the source material.

Double Feature: Crazy Rich Asians (2018) & Line Walker (2016)

I’m having this sudden urge to get through these Asian films. Crazy Rich Asians kind of counts, I guess which happens to be one of the double feature picks and just for the comedy element, I paired it up with Line Walker which is something of a crime action thriller with comedy elements. Let’s check it out!

Crazy Rich Asians (2018)

Director: Jon M. Chu

Cast: Constance Wu, Henry Golding, Michelle Yeoh, Gemma Chan, Lisa Lu, Awkwafina, Ken Jeong, Sonoya Mizuno, Chris Pang, Jimmy O. Yang, Ronny Chieng, Remy Hii

This contemporary romantic comedy, based on a global bestseller, follows native New Yorker Rachel Chu to Singapore to meet her boyfriend’s family. – IMDB

Adapted from the novel of the same name by Kevin Kwan (which I haven’t read), Crazy Rich Asians is romantic comedy with a really great cast. The movie itself should be looked at from two parts: Romance and Comedy. The romantic parts are exactly funny and actually to me, they are a bit weak whereas the comedy elements is what stands out. Of course, comedy is also very subjective so the best way may be to see whether the many comedians involved in this are ones that you normally enjoy or the cast itself. Not to mention, Crazy Rich Asians highlights the beauty of Singapore so much from the food to the scenery and captures the upper class society glamor as well as the Asian prejudices between each other whether its Asian-born or American-born which brings in the East versus West differences/culture clash.

Looking at the cast, its absolutely stunning. Its the first time watching Constance Wu for myself and while I have certain issues with her, she is rather decent in capturing that roles especially in the beginning and the ending parts where her character Rachel really gets a nice development. I can’t say her chemistry or the focus on the romance between her and Henry Golding’s character stands out a lot but her interaction with some of the other characters especially Peik Lin played by Awkwafina is absolutely awesome. Awkwafina carries a good part of the film every time she shows up especially when she first talks about the Youngs and how rich they are. Hands down my favorite part. Comedians involved have Ken Jeong, Ronny Chieng and I think Jimmy O.Yang also counts (even though I haven’t seen any stand-up shows of his). They each have very different types of character bringing in a different sort of comedy and they do a decent job. However, while not there for the comedy, Michelle Yeoh is fantastic and a stunning actress that I love to watch on screen. This role seems a little different from what I’ve seen of hers before however she still delivers.

I was a little hesitant to watch Crazy Rich Asians but I’m pretty happy that I did. There’s a lot to love about it. The way that its filmed and the little execution that they use even from the first scene that highlights how rich the Youngs are to the end where Rachel shows how she isn’t how the family sees her as despite where she grew up. Overall, its a fun time and earned quite a few good laughs even if the romantic elements were fairly flat.

Line Walker (2016)

Director: Jazz Boon

Cast: Nick Cheung, Louis Koo, Francis Ng, Charmaine Sheh, Shiu Hung Hui, Moses Chan

Several cops went undercover. Due to some issues, all undercover identities were wiped clean from the police database. – IMDB

Done as a spin-off from the Hong Kong TV series of the same name (that I haven’t had a chance to watch yet but recently found uploaded to Youtube so will catch up very soon), Line Walker is something of a comedy crime thriller. For what I see, it doesn’t require a whole lot of knowledge of the actual series to understand but its a little loopy as well as the network of undercover cops is quite extensive as the plot reveals itself throughout. In reality, the biggest issue is what the movie wants to be. At times, its comedic and over the top and then it will change in the next scene to a crime thriller serious sequence. It makes the film feel out of balance and maybe even disjointed. The moving parts of everything work as an individual sequence but together, it just doesn’t seem to work that well.

The highlight of Line Walker definitely has to be the stellar cast. With some names like Charmaine Sheh and Moses Chan, the latter in a cameo role rather popular names in Hong Kong series and bigger movie thriller actors like Nick Cheung, Louis Koo, Francis Ng and Shiu Hung Hui, its full of renowned actors who are well-known for their work in movies in similar genre. In reality, its quite a great thing to see Charmain Sheh being the only female lead here and paired up with Francis Ng as one side as the obvious undercover pairing and an undefined relationship between the two while having the much more intriguing pairing between Nick Cheung and Louis Koo’s characters as its a question about which one of them is actually an undercover cop that has lost his file and police status in the police system. Its the main focus for these two as they start questioning each other’s loyalty. At the same time, the movie is full of undercovers as one after the other gets revealed. The standout definitely has to go to Louis Koo and Nick Cheung’s characters as they do bring in the most balanced roles as well as their little bit of dark/sarcastic humor dialogue injected in the performance. It contrasts that of Charmaine Sheh and Francis Ng which adds a more comedic element.

Line Walker is an odd one. The cast makes it worth a watch but the script and the execution of the whole undercover and double crossing and whatnot in the crime world of who is on which side and all the undercover cops that scatter over the crime world almost feels like it doesn’t make that much sense. There are some clever bits but overall, it feels like the movie does fall short. On the other hand, its given me the boost to go catch up with the TV series since its garnered quite a bit of popularity.

Double Feature: Work It (2020) & The Prom (2020)

Today’s double feature is a rather musical pairing and both are Netflix films released in 2020. The first is a dance film called Work It and the second is the recently released musical The Prom. Let’s check it out!

Work It (2020)

Director: Laura Terruso

Cast: Sabrina Carpenter, Jordan Fisher, Kalliane Bremault, Briana Andrade-Gomes, Liza Koshy, Julliard Pembroke, Michelle Buteau, Drew Ray Tanner, Sabrina Snieckus

When Quinn Ackerman’s admission to the college of her dreams depends on her performance at a dance competition, she forms a ragtag group of dancers to take on the best squad in school…now she just needs to learn how to dance. – IMDB

Work It is mostly a dance film and yet its a comedy about a girl with perfect grades who realize that its not enough to get into college and as an extracurricular decides to go to her best friend’s dance troupe which doesn’t take her so she tries to put together her own group of misfits. The group itself has all different styles of dance and yet the biggest problem is that she can’t dance and needs to start from zero and its zero like finding her music flow and rhythm. That is the comedy part.

With any of these films, you need to throw in a little romantic flare and that’s when Quinn and Jake come into a picture: a girl who can’t dance and a renowned dancer that disappeared off the dance competition circuit after an injury. Its hard to talk about Work It without criticizing its issues but then that is usually the case for dance films, much like Step Up franchise, and yet, Step Up is one that I can see the flaws and still like it for exactly what it is. The same applies for Work It, except it suffers from coming later than a wave of better executed films. What is good is that it adds in those comedy moments and changes the vibe of the film a little. Simply put, its a lot of the same when it comes to these sorts of movies and it is fairly predictable especially when there doesn’t even feel like there’s a lot of dance sequences.

Other predictability, the execution is fairly unbalanced. The movie seems to want to do everything so its structured to go through the motions. Starting off with the characters and then what they need to achieve, the tear in the friendship and struggle to get their act together and then the big win at the end. Other than that, it adds in a little unpolished romantic flare here and then some bad dancing from Sabrina Carpenter’s character to her finally getting it. While the cast itself does what they need to do whether its Sabrina Carpenter or Jordan Fisher and even the sassy other team’s leader Julliard Pembroke, played by Keiynan Lonsdale or the best friend Jasmine, played by Liza Koshy, the script itself does have some lacking moments as well.

Work It is one of those films that is really for the soundtrack or some light entertainment. Its not meant to be reviewed in depth. Its a simple movie and a familiar sort of dance movie storyline. While I did have some cons more than pros, I do enjoy dance films so this one is just some harmless entertainment that you can leave for a rainy day keeping in mind that you do enjoy dance movies. If you don’t, then this one won’t do anything for you.

The Prom (2020)

Director: Ryan Murphy

Cast: Meryl Streep, James Corden, Nicole Kidman, Kerry Washington, Keegan-Michael Key, Jo Ellen Pellman, Ariana DeBose, Andrew Rannells

A troupe of hilariously self-obsessed theater stars swarm into a small conservative Indiana town in support of a high school girl who wants to take her girlfriend to the prom. – IMDB

Looking at the cast, The Prom is absolutely star studded with some big names and most of them, I do quite enjoy so the movie popped onto Netflix and I didn’t know about it in advance but I saw those stars, that it was a musical and it was an immediate play. Adapted from a Broadway musical of the same name, The Prom does come at a good time when the world is talking about LGBT rights a lot. I haven’t heard of The Prom before but at first glance, The Prom’s story almost feels like Footloose where that one is about not being allowed to dance, The Prom is about the PTA trying to stop one of the students to take her girlfriend to prom and wanting to cancel prom altogether. In the face of this serious matter, a bunch of theater stars comes in to try to fight for a cause to help themselves get back some positive press. Its hard to determine whether the journey for the film is for the girl, Emma or the troupe as both of them do have their moments of growth.

Being a fan of musical films, The Prom is the type of movie that I’d like and it is quite enjoyable. Most of the stars here have been part of musicals before so the talent is there. Perhaps what stands out more is some of the awkward moments between characters. It definitely is scripted to be awkward and was delivered pretty well. The Prom has a decent storyline even if sometimes the events feel slightly disjointed like its being pushed along so its forced to progress faster. What makes this film shine is truly some of the stars here delivering some great performances. Other than Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman, they are joined by Andrew Rannells as this performer that’s wants to hang with them and adds comedy. There’s a lot of characters so its hard to say whether anyone had enough time for their characters to develop enough but Kerry Washington’s parent character against the whole prom situation and Keegan-Michael Key’s principal character were also done really well. In all honestly, the younger characters also did fairly well and Emma’s character is a much quieter one despite the unfair situation that she’s part of.

The Prom is an alright musical. Everyone does a good job and the story is pretty nice as well as how the characters develop throughout. It is structured well and the scenes are executed pretty good as well. Where I have issues with it is that it feels like it lacks the uniqueness to make it more memorable. None of the songs stuck in my head even if they were rather fun to listen and watch the choreography/performances in the moment. I know that I had fun watching it the first time and yet, it doesn’t make me want to go back to watch it a second time and yet, I can’t quite pinpoint where its lacking as everything seems to done good, just put together, it seems to not quite get that excitement of a musical for myself.

Double Feature: Enola Holmes (2020) & Robin Hood (2018)

Next up for double feature is a pairing of Netflix film Enola Holmes and 2018’s live action retelling of Robin Hood. Two movies that I feel pair up rather well together. Let’s check it out!

Enola Holmes (2020)

Director: Harry Bradbeer

Cast: Millie Bobby Brown, Henry Cavill, Sam Claflin, Louis Partridge, Helena Bonham Carter, Burn Gorman, Adeel Akhtar, Susan Wokoma, Frances de la Tour

When Enola Holmes-Sherlock’s teen sister-discovers her mother missing, she sets off to find her, becoming a super-sleuth in her own right as she outwits her famous brother and unravels a dangerous conspiracy around a mysterious young Lord. – IMDB

*Originally published in Movies and Tea – Friday Film Club*

Based on the first book of the series of the same name by Nancy Springer, Enola Holmes tells the story of the teenage sister of an already famous Sherlock Holmes who follows the clues to find her disappeared mother. Using her wits to be evade her older brothers’ tracking in order to put her into a finishing school, she escapes to end up helping a young Viscount Tewkesbury escape from a man sent searching for him with murder intentions. Despite having part ways in London initially, they end up meeting again when she realizes that she needs to help him being murdered and tracks him down.

Enola Holmes are originally set for a theatrical release however due to the pandemic, they sold the distribution rights to Netflix which is how this movie has graced it presence on the streaming circuit. This is one charming movie that boasts a brilliant cast with Millie Bobby Brown playing the young female detective Enola Holmes, Helena Bonham Carter player her disappeared mother and her brothers Sherlock and Mycroft being played by Henry Cavill and Sam Claflin respectively and finally, the young Viscount Tewkesbury is played by Louis Partridge and his murderer by Burn Gorman. Its a very full cast with many names that I haven’t even started mentioning yet. The cast are remarkable in each of their roles especially with Millie Bobby Brown who delivers her best role to date.

One of the best elements of Enola Holmes is due to a script that constantly breaks the fourth wall which makes it very engaging and fun as the character Enola would constantly be reacting at the camera even sometimes for one quick moment to show her true reactions. It makes it all the more charming and entertaining. At the same time, her whole chemistry with Louis Partridge’s Tewkesbury while inching towards a little young romance hints throughout did play very well off each other. Of course, Henry Cavill needs to get a mention especially since Sherlock Holmes has been portrayed by so many different actors at this point over the past decade and he definitely holds up the role fairly well especially as he is supposed to be an older Holmes who is starting to show his more emotional side which is a good different.

Overall, Enola Holmes blends the world of Sherlock Holmes with a young heroine detective story. It has a unique little twist and the execution of the film works in a fun and feel-good way that gives its a lot of charm and well worth a watch.

Robin Hood (2018)

Director: Otto Bathurst

Cast: Taron Egerton, Jamie Foxx, Ben Mendelsohn, Eve Hewson, Jamie Dornan, Tim Minchin, Paul Anderson

A war-hardened Crusader and his Moorish commander mount an audacious revolt against the corrupt English crown. – IMDB

I’ve lost count of how much retellings and adaptations we’ve had of Robin Hood already whether its TV series or movies. I sometimes hop in and out of the TV and films and they all feel along the same line of thought, but then it all makes sense since its been a story that’s been around for a long time considering Disney’s animated classic was released in 1973. With that said, I was fairly indifferent about this one. On one hand, there’s a lot of familiar faces in cast such as Jamie Foxx, Taron Egerton, Ben Mendelsohn, Jamie Dornan, even though they all happen to actors that I’ve seen but never watch a lot their movies.

Robin Hood has some alright action sequences. The cast itself isn’t really the problem although the characters themselves are a little disjointed. I can’t say that after so many Robin Hood’s that Taron Egerton brought anything different especially since he still has more of a boyish feeling which doesn’t quite match the character of Robin of Loxley for this story. However, one of the bigger issues probably dials down to execution and pacing. Running at almost 2 hours long, the movie spends a lot of time in slow-paced segments that make this feel a little boring to be honest. It actually stretches out this familiar tale and adding some unnecessary changes that doesn’t seem to add too much.

Perhaps the biggest issue is that this film feels like its fairly forgettable. There’s nothing that makes it better than previous versions released. Taron Egerton’s Robin of Loxley feels fairly disjointed. Sure, Jamie Foxx’s character delivers a decent performance with some good dialogue. There’s definitely some issues with this latest version of Robin Hood and the similarities made me think about how other movies might have done it better.

Double Feature: Angela’s Christmas Wish (2020) & The Grinch (2018)

Merry Christmas everyone!

Wrapping up this year’s Holidays marathon on Christmas day is how it usually works so the next double feature is the final 2 movies of the marathon, although I did have one more alternate Christmas movie but we’ll pair it up later after Christmas. This time, its a animated Christmas films double feature with a Netflix sequel, Angela’s Christmas Wish and 2018’s adaptation, The Grinch.

Let’s check it out!

Angela’s Christmas Wish (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Damien O’Connor

Voice cast: Lucy O’Connell, Ruth Negga, Moe Dunford, Brendan Mullins, Shona Hamill, Oscar Butler, Janet Moran

A sequel to the much loved Angela’s Christmas, Angela’s Christmas Wish is a heart-warming tale of a determined little girl who sets out to reunite her family in time for Christmas. – IMDB

There’s something so heartwarming about Angela’s Christmas Wish. It has that same type of charming little girl character for Angela that continues from Angela’s Christmas (review) where Angela’s imagination is one that makes it so beautiful to be a child because of the naivety to believe in the things that she knows probably isn’t true but also shows her big heart. Last year was keeping baby Jesus warm and stirring up a lot of commotion that the townspeople hasn’t quite forgotten as it still gets mentioned but this year, its running around trying to bring her father home. Being an adult watching this, its obvious that whatever she is thinking up is absolutely impossible to happen and the adults do bring it up, however its the persistence and the pure hope of bringing her father back home that makes this such a heartwarming tale, which takes her on an adventure and makes a new friend in the process.

Wrapping it up with a tale about a pauper and what he wished for that made him happy as a string between the conversation and a Christmas surprise to look forward to, Angela’s Christmas Wish is all about family, the meaning of happiness and the best intentions. The story is all about the kids and their shenanigans especially based on their simple minded ideas that kids have, liking digging to Australia. Its all the world that crafts up these cute funny moments that make up this story and makes Angela such a charming character who has this convincing enthusiasm that makes her brother and this other little girl to follow along her since her wish would make for her father getting involved and that would allow him to spend time with her. Its all these little desires from children to be close to their parents and yet, adults can see through those beyond the lines moment that make it so meaningful to watch.

Angela’s Christmas Wish is a fun and heartwarming story. One that has all the right values and such charming characters in a cute little town. The ending bit was so touching also that I got a little teary. Its one definitely worth a watch, especially since its less than 50 minutes in length.

The Grinch (2018)

Director: Yarrow Cheney & Scott Mosier

Voice cast: Benedict Cumberbatch, Cameron Seely, Rashida Jones, Pharrell Williams, Tristan O’Hare, Kenan Thompson, Sam Lavagnino, Ramone Hamilton, Angela Lansbury, Scarlett Estevez

A grumpy Grinch (Benedict Cumberbatch) plots to ruin Christmas for the village of Whoville. – IMDB

*Originally posted on Movies and Tea Friday Film Club*

Based on the 1957 Dr. Seuss book How The Grinch Stole Christmas and the third screen adaptation following the 1966 classic TV adaptation and the 2000 live action film, The Grinch is a computer animated film and the second Dr. Seuss by Illumination following The Lorax. Illumination is rather on point with these adaptation. For those who are unfamiliar of How the Grinch Stole Christmas, its about a green-furred Grinch who was born with two hearts too small who lives alone in the mountains with his dog Max above Whoville. The Whos are festive and love Christmas a lot which rubs The Grinch the wrong way that he decides to put a stop to it by disguising as Santa on Christmas Eve and stealing all their decorations, gifts and foods to stop them from celebrating Christmas however, he soon realizes that Christmas is more than the material things and that its all about the Christmas spirit which lives in them and ends up with this revelation making his heart grow two sizes and deciding to give back all that he stole to the Whos who in turn, take him in for their Christmas holiday.

While the first adaptation in 1966 is the one that most interprets the original story, these adaptations all add their own twists to fluff up the full length. In this adaptation, it gives the Grinch a backstory that makes him less of the disagreeable character but one where he grows up suffering from being alone that he doesn’t know how it feels to have companionship whether as friends or family. At the same time, giving a lot of life to certain characters in Whoville and not just focusing on Cindy Lou Who. She still plays a big element but giving her more of a backstory, a ploy to meet Santa with her friends and a connection with her mom. Sure, maybe it does stretch far from the original but all this does add a lot of fun characters. Cindy Lou Who and her friends are very adorable in design just like Max and the addition of a buffalo and then there’s the very fun neighbor Mr. Bricklebaum.

Plus, there’s a decent cast of voice actors from Grinch by Benedict Cumberbatch, Cindy Lou’s mom by Rashida Jones, Cindy Lou by Cameron Seely and Mr. Bricklebaum voiced by Kenan Thompson. Of course, a big part of Dr. Seuss story is the Narrator. In this case, its narrated by Pharrell Williams who actually has some narration that strays away from the original text but still keeps the rhyming and creative elements.

This adaptation of The Grinch still has a lot of heart. Its light and fun and fairly entertaining. There’s no doubt that The Grinch Who Stole Christmas is its best without all the extra bits but as its straightforward story like the 1966 TV movie, however this version does an exceptional job at making it very entertaining. Its still full of the Christmas spirit and its a great effort as an adaptation plus in my opinion, its much more redeeming than the 2000 live action adaptation. This one might have some slight pacing issues but it still delivers as a family holiday animated film.