Double Feature: Dude (2018) & Every Day (2018)

Dude (2018)

Director (and co-writer): Olivia Milch

Cast: Lucy Hale, Kathryn Prescott, Alexandra Shipp, Awkwafina, Alex Wolff, Brooke Smith, Jerry MacKinnon, Satya Bhabha

A group of teenage girlfriends deal with their impending graduation from high school. – IMDB

Dealing with high school seems like a central focus of coming of age stories as the next step in life triggers change and insecurities. Dude focuses strongly on its group of four girl friends as they face loss right before their final year. As they each have their own worries, they all individually make their own decisions even if it isn’t always in agreement with their group. Between getting ready for graduation, getting high together and planning out their next step for college, their last 2 weeks before graduation is one filled with both comedic and dramatic moments.

Girl friends stories are always quite endearing to watch. These four friends each have their own unique personality. Two of the girls are specifically focused with Lucy Hale’s Lily and Kathryn Prescott’s Chloe who share the same loss at the beginning which makes each of them cope in their different ways. The film does a good job at building their friendship where they go to events/parties/school together but gradually all have their own experiences which change each of them, giving them their individuality as well. Lily has her encounters which takes her aback while Chloe chooses to pivot her plans to be closer to home. All these things highlighting the process of moving on to the stage and accepting change and separation. In comparison, Alexandra Shipp’s Amelia and Awkwafina’s Rebecca both have rather one goal oriented, giving them a much simpler role but still they add some fun scenes.

Overall, Dude is a fairly basic coming of age teen comedy/drama. The issues they face are fairly relevant and believable and the characters are decent. If anything, the characters do make the film rather enjoyable. Plus, you even get to enjoy a verse or two from Awkwafina rapping. The writers remember that the film is about teenagers so there is a good balance between drama and fun.

Every Day (2018)

Director: Michael Sucsy

Cast: Angourie Rice, Justice Smith, Debby Ryan, Jeni Ross, Owen Teague, Lucas Jade Zumann, Katie Douglas, Jacob Batalon, Sean Jones, Nicole Law, Maria Bello

A shy teenager falls for a spirit who wakes up in the body of a different person every morning. – IMDB

Adapted from the young adult novel of the same name by David Levithan, Every Day stands out from its unique premise where a person “A” migrates through different bodies everyday of the same age. Despite this, they still find a girl Rhiannon (Angourie Rice) who is willing to love them for who they are, putting aside gender and appearances. The story itself feels relevant to today more than anything and tells a story about acceptance and love.

Every Day builds on this premise. The film’s focus in love and acceptance is due to this person’s personality or soul and their connection. Another side of this premise highlights all the different person exist within one community from homeschoolers to extremely religious student. While the story itself seems a little ahead of times for teenagers especially talking about romance in connections and such, the message here is pretty good. The whole body migrating mostly remain a mystery as they never quite figure out what it is however, there seems to be some control as they soon discover which also brings up the question of how unfair it is to take over someone’s life and make them lose out. The whole mystery of the situation also does lead to some unclear moments where A embodies the person but still manages to have their skills. Something that isn’t explored quite enough perhaps but then this is a teen romance drama and not some sci-fi or fantasy film.

The film itself works pretty well as the young cast delivers some good performances. The main constant being the female lead played by Angourie Rice as she faces this person and starts to accept him. Angourie Rice does a great job with the role at hand especially when faced with this odd person who morphs everyday. The conflict, the acceptance, the heartache is all well developed and portrayed by her. The cast which A migrates includes a handful of characters which have more screen time with Justice Smith, Owen Teague, and Lucas Jade Zumann. To be fair, the film itself does a decent job but while I haven’t read the source material, the premise itself has a lot to do with the intrigue. The execution is fairly well where credit is due but there are still parts that feel a tad disjointed.

Double Feature: Booksmart (2019) & Carrie Pilby (2016)

Booksmart (2019)

Director: Olivia Wilde

Cast: Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein, Jessica Williams, Jason Sudeikis, Lisa Kudrow, Will Forte, Victoria Ruesga, Mason Gooding, Skyler Gisondo, Diana Silvers, Molly Gordon, Billie Lourd, Eduardo Franco, Nico Hiraga

On the eve of their high school graduation, two academic superstars and best friends realize they should have worked less and played more. Determined not to fall short of their peers, the girls try to cram four years of fun into one night. – IMDB

Olivia Wilde’s debut directorial feature film is a raunchy teen party film. Booksmart is a pretty fun little high school graduation romp that circles around two girls who have given up their social life for the duration of high school to excel in her studies to realize on the day before graduation that their dedication to the books was in vain as other students who also had fun also got into great Ivy League schools.

One night adventures are something that are quite the fun ride most of the time like Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist, Booksmart actually works in a similar structure as the two best friends try to hunt down the biggest party that they should be at before their high school life is over but ends up in many other places and meeting some strange people along the way. The fun in all of it is that they soon realize that their classmates are more than meets the eye whether it is quirky or different, they all have their own passions and don’t quite have everything as together as they make it seem. Perhaps they don’t quite see it until the end, but a lot of the assumptions they make are eventually overturned throughout the night one by one as they get caught up in different scenarios.

Booksmart is very focused on its two young leading actresses, Kaitlyn Dever and Beanie Feldstein playing Amy and Molly respectively. These two bring their characters to life really well. The two both reveal some glaring differences that make them opposites which all comes crashing down as their own issues surface however, these two do have something great that defines their friendship in a positive way in that they have their own structure as friends and their own rules and words and the essence of their friendship is further encouraging as the two take every moment to lift each other up. The best is when they get changed into whatever outfit and they give each other endless oddly structured compliments which adds humor but is very endearing as well. All great friendships do have those little things and its what makes their feel genuine.

If there was something to nitpick about the film, it has to be that some scenes are taken a little overboard mostly in comedy which makes it sometimes a little unbearable and perhaps could turn some people away as it does come on a little strong. Its not too frequent but the quirkiness and oddities could sometimes feel that way. One of the bigger examples could be Billie Lourd’s character which pops up everywhere. Most of the time, she is very funny and her character does come together by the end when her underlying characteristics are further defined as they know the other people. There really isn’t a whole lot to criticize for this film. Booksmart has a lot of elements that work really well for a teen coming of age comedy about best friends. Its just a lot of fun.

Carrie Pilby (2016)

Director: Susan Johnson

Cast: Bel Powley, Nathan Lane, William Moseley, Desmin Borges, Vanessa Bayer, Colin O’Donoghue, Jason Ritter, Gabriel Byrne

A person of high intelligence struggles to make sense of the world as it relates to morality, relationships, sex, and leaving her apartment. – IMDB

Based on the novel of the same name by Caren Lissner, Susan Johnson’s full length feature directorial debut was for Carrie Pilby which centers around a young girl with high intelligence and realizes that outside of her books and routine, there really isn’t much else. In terms of human relationships, she lacks the ability to find her place, losing out on the social life that she should have at her age. When her therapist makes a list that she needs to complete, her life slowly starts to form together as the emotions with the people she meets brings back a past event that overshadows her in a certain way.

Carrie Pilby is a rather interesting film. The film has some great characters and it focuses a lot on the whole socialization of a the character as she enters the adult world ahead of her time, missing out on the experiences that could craft those skills. Instead her life is filled with books. Honestly, I don’t really see the issues with it being a reader and all, right? However, for her, its a much deeper issue that her therapist is addressing linking back to her family and her past. While not exactly a fish out of water sort of story, Carrie is an odd character and her interactions do turn out to be a little comedic when she easily overthinks a situation or misunderstands certain scenarios or simply making some bad judgment calls. However, it all dials down to her character development being set in a rather emotionless world to protect herself and these tasks help her take down her walls gradually and let those emotions back in. The execution of that element is done very well and Bel Powley does a great job portraying the character.

While Carrie’s character is done pretty well, the other characters do leave a little to be desired as they are designed fairly thin. The other more prominent character does go to her therapist played by Nathan Lane who does a rather decent job to achieve the means. The other characters are just scattered people from dates to neighbors to her father who really just help push her to learn more and see more about other people in the world to see what humanity is and embracing the imperfections of the world. It captures the essence of coming of age pretty well overall.

Poupelle of Chimney Town (2020)

Poupelle of Chimney Town (2020)

Director: Yusuke Hirota

English voice cast: Tony Hale, Antonio Raul Corbo, Stephen Root, Misty Leek Hasan Minhaj, Greg Chun, Ray Chase, James Mathis III

A factory town is covered by chimney smoke, and as the townspeople haven’t see the sky in centuries, they no longer believe that stars exist. A chimney sweep and a friendly monster named Poupelle decide to prove that stars are real. – IMDB

Mostly known for his role as computer graphics animator, director Yusuke Hirota has his directorial debut with this colorful adaptation of Akihiro Nishino’s children picture book of the same name, Poupelle of Chimney Town, who also writes the screenplay. Poupelle of Chimney Town is a family fantasy animated film set on an island which is covered in chimney smoke with no knowledge of anything outside of their world. Carrying his disappeared father’s story in his mind, Lubicchi works as a chimney sweep to be closer to the sky in hopes of seeing the elusive stars that his father constantly talked about until he meets a monster that everyone called Garbage Man and he names Poupelle (nice play on the French world poubelle for garbage). As their friendship flourishes and he tries to hide Poupelle with a little help, they soon realize that Poupelle might not be just a monster while the constant doubt of the outside world and even the resistance of these ideas.

Poupelle of Chimney Town is pretty family friendly. In fact, it does play like a children’s book. The screenplay being written by the author of the source material definitely does fill in some of those boxes (although I have never read the source material itself). However, the story does flow relatively well. There are some parts that feel a little disjointed or the English dub dialogue might feel like it jumps into the next scene a little awkwardly. However, the concept of the whole story is there. As an animated film, the world itself being covered in chimney smoke doesn’t stop the actual film to be very colorful in appearance which brings the entire Chimney Town setting to life. The film also uses different angles for various sequences which almost plays out like a movie but at times like a video game scene and even a few musical scenes. It may feel a little odd, mostly fun but does add a little uniqueness to the whole execution.

The story is the main focus as the characters are pretty simple and easy to understand. There are some rather witty characters that pop in and out, much like any children’s book someone who poses as resistance and others that are bullies. Whether we look at Poupelle or Lubicchi who are primarily the main focus of the whole story, their goal is still pretty simple. The story talks about friendship, family, and most importantly, belief. The whole end game is to see whether there are stars in the sky and prove that Lubicchi’s dad wasn’t lying about this and being shamed for it. As the government gets in the way posing as the main resistance and others trying to stop life from the norm, the whole story unfolds both in adventure and drama, sometimes the tone does also jump around a little abruptly. It does all come to a rather satisfying and slightly emotional revelation. It seems a little far-fetched but if you do get immersed into the story about those living in this Chimney Town, the whole idea of seeing the miraculous sky is pretty cool.

Overall, Poupelle of Chimney Town is a decent family friendly animated film. There are a few darker moments and a tad bit of violence but the story itself is pretty straight forward and does feel rather magical and colorful, making it also visually appealing. It looks like a story book that comes to life for the most part in its art style. There are some fun characters and some cool adventures. Sure, the story feels like it has a little disjointedness whether in tone or story progression at times but the main message and story does carry forward well enough.

*Poupelle of Chimney Town opened in theatres across North America on January 7, 2022*

*Screener provided by Prise Media Group*

Double Feature: 6 Years (2015) & All The Bright Places (2020)

6 Years (2015)

Director (and writer): Hannah Fidell

Cast: Taissa Farmiga, Ben Rosenfield, Lindsay Burdge, Joshua Leonard, Jennifer Lafleur, Peter Vack, Dana Wheeler- Nicholson, Molly McMichael, Alysia Lucas

A young couple, bound by a seemingly ideal love, begin to unravel as unexpected opportunities spin them down a volatile and violent path and threaten the future they had always imagined. – IMDB

6 Years is a familiar story about young romance. One that talks about about a lengthy young romance that’s been around for years with plans of their future that suddenly get shifted when their future plans take on the unexpected changes because of new opportunities. Do they continue or do they end it? That is the main question these movies take its audience on.

Front and center for this film is Mel and Dan who start the film off in a hot and heavy sex scene. Its a unique way to start it as it does show off their intimacy together. However, the film actually sets them apart a lot of the times to interact with their new circle of friends or their work environment as they start stepping into the young adult path into their new career paths. Mel’s friends are still about getting drunk and immature about their decisions, giving a glimpse of the younger age and the people she hangs out with that also makes for some bad decision-making. However, Dan is different. He feels more settled and grounded and just waiting for his turn to grow in his career and making the connections he needs by associating with work friends. As the film puts them in their own social environment and not so much involved in each other’s social environment, the insecurity also sets in, especially for Mel who starts to react both emotionally and aggressively. The film doesn’t take it too far but the hints of the changes in the essence of their relationship is there.

With that said, the film is mostly about these two characters played by Taissa Farmiga and Ben Rosenfield. Each doing a rather decent job at handling their roles respectively as they spiral away. Perhaps, some of the issues is mostly with the script as some of the dialogue feels rather annoying, no matter the scenario of Mel with her friends or Dan with his friends in the social environment. No one in this film other than them seems to believe that a 6 year relationship at their age would work and with all that negative force, its hard to not have some doubt planted in it. But then, when you think deeper, this also does bring up the issues that have been hidden from the comfort of having each other in their lives.

6 Years is a pretty basic film and whether you connect to the story itself and the content will probably determine how much you enjoy it in the end. These characters have their certain level of depths. The film does lack a little progress in general and makes some strong scenes to instigate those changes. However, the dialogue sometimes does get a little grating and annoying in parts. It does feel rather real and raw in some cases where the doubt does feel reasonable because their plans were made with stability and belief that there won’t be any change to their current situation, which also shows their naivety to real life. That is what brings these character to life and what makes this film an interesting one in terms of the material but lacks a little in the execution of the material to make it completely engaging with the whole situation.

All The Bright Places (2020)

Director: Brett Haley

Cast: Elle Fanning, Justice Smith, Alexandra Shipp, Kelli O’Hara, Lamar Johnson, Virginia Gardner, Felix Mallard, Sofia Hasmik, Keegan-Michael Key, Luke Wilson, Chris Grace

The story of Violet and Theodore, who meet and change each other’s lives forever. As they struggle with the emotional and physical scars of their past, they discover that even the smallest places and moments can mean something. – IMDB

*Published in Friday Film Club HERE*

Adapted from a novel of the same name by Jennifer Niven (review) who also co-writes the adapted screenplay, All The Bright Places tells the story of two teenagers, Violet and Finch who are both living unhappily for their own reasons. Violet is living with survivor guilt after her sister’s death which gives her a fear of cars and limits her to things that she finds are safe. Finch is a little more obscure as he is having consulting sessions at school with the counselor after an incident and is considered a freak by other students. When they work together on a project to wander the town, Finch takes Violet to a lot of adventures that slowly pulls her out of her sadness but slowly he retreats into his own darkness and struggles to get out from it. 

While its been a few years since I’ve read the novel itself, the adaptation does have some differences from the novel but does keep it in the important parts to make it the story effective. One of the key elements of the story is between the two main characters Violet and Finch and in turn their portrayal by the two main leads, Elle Fanning and Justice Smith. These two young actor and actress do capture their roles really well especially since they each have their own struggles. Justice Smith having the more obscure and complex one which never truly gets addressed as to what he has but his struggles from past to present is constantly shown in little details on screen. However, the film is only about these moments but rather it spends much of the time with Finch helping Violet find her happiness and smile again to break free of her own guilt and in turn, their adventures while rather insignificant at the beginning, each has their own meaning.

All The Bright Places has a very strong source material to begin with and a rather surprising ending when Finch gets a much more dramatic turn of events in its set up in comparison to the film. However, the film does capture the essence of the story in general which focuses on the neglect, ignorance, unknowns as well as struggles with mental illness in general and how Finch’s character is trapped in something he doesn’t quite understand but no one seems to notice that he needs the help either.

All The Bright Places might look like a teen romance that can just be brushed over but while there is some romance between Finch and Violet, the story is much more meaningful and has a lot of depth for what its trying to portray. Plus, Elle Fanning and Justice Smith does deliver some solid performances to capture these two teens very well from start to finish to truly feel their mental transition in both Violet and Finch right down to a very touching speech with Violet recapping the lessons she learned from the whole experience with Finch.

Double Feature: Monster Hunter (2020) & The Witches (2020)

Welcome to the next double feature! Its been a while since we’ve done one of these! This time, I’m going to talk about two movie rentals that I’ve watch lately of 2020 movies. The first is Monster Hunter, a 2020’s video game adaptation directed by Paul W. S. Anderson and the second is The Witches a 2020’s Roald Dahl adaptation of a novel of the same name. Thinking about these two movies, I feel like they do pair up well as its two directors with films that really fall in line with the style of films that they are known for. Let’s check it out!

Monster Hunter (2020)

Director (and writer): Paul W.S. Anderson

Cast: Milla Jovovich, Tony Jaa, Ron Perlman, T.I., Diego Boneta, Meagan Good, Josh Helman, Jin Au-Yeung, Hirona Yamazaki

When Lt. Artemis and her loyal soldiers are transported to a new world, they engage in a desperate battle for survival against enormous enemies with incredible powers. Feature film based on the video game by Capcom. – IMDB

At this point, whether for better or worse, Paul W.S. Anderson is known for his video game adaptations. Of course, mostly everyone remembers Resident Evil series in particular. He has however done a few other ones and never shies away from adapting video games that he loves but Anderson is much more than Resident Evil and has shown that he has his own directorial style and trademarks. How do I know? Well..an entire season of Movies and Tea Podcast as a retrospective on his work would do it. How about that, eh? A shameless plug for another project where you can check out HERE. With that said, being relatively supportive of Anderson’s work despite his shortcomings and being absolutely unfamiliar with Monster Hunter games in general, I decided to give Monster Hunter a shot and if you are familiar with Anderson’s work, it pretty much will be fairly enjoyable.

Starting with some positives as a complete newbie to this world. Monster Hunter does create a wonderful visual element for this dangerous world that the soldiers end up where every surface has its own monsters hidden from plain sight. Being a creature feature fan, monsters are pretty much a fun element of any movie when well-designed. That makes this world building and creature design all the more engaging to be watching especially with the bird’s eye view shots that Anderson is especially known for and being able to showcase architecture really well which definitely comes into play here with the surroundings. Being fans of Milla Jovovich and Ron Perlman, this was also quite the treat. Plus, a few other supporting characters which were fairly smaller characters. However, the character developed on all fronts were pretty thin overall.

With that said, the shortcomings of the film are fairly more apparent. From the action standpoint, a lot of the fighting choreography cuts away quite a lot so its not too engaging to watch. As mentioned before, the main plot is pretty thin. That does have to do maybe with the whole open world game that it adapts itself from so the story is straightforward but feels somewhat bland, which leads to my previous point about the characters also being poorly written as well.

With that said, the film is pretty below average. As a one time watch and turn off your brain sort of video game adaptation, its still fairly enjoyable since I do enjoy the world building in movies and visually, the world is shown so very nice. However, in substance, its rather lacking overall. The one takeaway I did have from this is that I’d really like to try out a Monster Hunter game soon.

The Witches (2020)

Director (and screenplay co-writer): Robert Zemeckis

Cast: Anne Hathaway, Octavia Spencer, Stanley Tucci, Chris Rock, Jahzir Bruno, Brian Bovell, Josette Simon

A young boy and his grandmother have a run-in with a coven of witches and their leader. – IMDB

I’ve read some Roald Dahl when I was younger and while I feel like I’ve read The Witches, I can’t exactly be sure so we’re going into this pretty much saying that I haven’t read the novel or have seen the first adaptation back in the 90s. Robert Zemeckis is a great director to be adapting a film like The Witches. The story itself and the fantasy elements all make some wonderful fun but with a little darker twist. Plus, the CGI work here is on point which of course can all be expected with past directorial works by Robert Zemeckis.

The Witches is a really cool story about witches versus humans to a certain extent. Well, its more about the witches despise towards children and wanting to execute a huge plot to change them all into rodents. Why rodents? Because they are hated by humans as well and probably will be killed anyways. At least that’s my interpretation from the whole thing. When a grandmother and his grandson tries to run away to a hotel to get away from the witch they believe are bothering them, they end up realizing they are staying in the exact location of a disguised witch coven meeting. When the grandson gets caught, he gets turned into a mouse along with another English kid and then realizes his pet mouse is also one of the witches’ victims. All three of them with the help of their grandma try to stop this plot. The story is so fun to play out especially as every element is done so well especially with the design of the witch as their masked human appearances get reveal to their true form and that’s where the CGI comes into play to make the appearance a tad creepy but still having some silly moments to keep it in line as a family film (or at least I think its a family film. Correct me if I’m wrong in the comments, okay?)

A lot of what makes this movie is fun is the cast. The Witch Leader is played by Anne Hathaway which is pretty fun overall as she captures the character in an entertaining way. It does feel like she loses the accent in some parts of the dialogue but overall, she carries it well enough. The grandmother is played by Octavia Spencer who is one of my favorite actresses ever since seeing her in The Help and then every role she does is just so amazing, no matter what it is. The film overall is narrated by Chris Rock as the older version of the grandson as he recounts the story of his encounter with the witches. Stanley Tucci appears also in supporting role but personally, I love seeing him appear in random roles in so many movies. He is such an underrated actor especially with the diversity of roles he has portrayed over the years. The kids are pretty good as well but the core of their role is in voice acting when they get turned into mice and the whole thing is pretty exciting with a little bit of tension.

The Witches is a fun little family children romp. Its not for very young children, I’d think as the witches are pretty creepy in appearance even if some of it for adults might come off as being silly. The film is done pretty well and has its exciting bits and the CGI is done so well that its pretty cool overall.

Fear Street: Part Three -1666 (2021)

Fear Street: Part Three – 1666 (2021)

Director (and co-writer): Leigh Janiak

Cast: Kiana Madeira, Ashley Zukerman, Gillian Jacobs, Olivia Scott Welch, Elizabeth Scopel, Benjamin Flores Jr., Julia Rehwald, Matthew Zuk, Fred Hechinger, Michael Chandler, McCabe Slye

The origins of Sarah Fier’s curse are finally revealed as history comes full circle on a night that changes the lives of Shadysiders forever. IMDB

Picking up right after Part Two, Part Three takes a turn as it changes its tone and style from the slasher genre (at least the first part) into a more slow-paced 17th century superstitious supernatural setting. In some ways, it takes a similar approach to films like The Witch where it plays a lot on its characters and the sudden bad omens that bestow what used to be Shadyside. This last part of the trilogy takes it back to the beginning and origin of how this Sarah Fier curse all started before heading into Part 2 of 1994 as its big finale as the current day situation tries to be solved. Part Three is structured to build up the big reveal of what this curse is all about and how it started and then the big finale so it really does complete a full circle of events. The contrast between the first half set in 1666 and the second half where its the continuation of the Part One in 1994 is very apparent but also what makes this one rather intriguing as well.

Looking at the 1666 origin story, Part Three takes a rather different route in both tone and atmosphere and it has to do with the setting in time. That’s of course a given. Plus, in contrast with the previous two parts, it does take a turn. The soundtrack also changes to something more of an orchestral soundtrack with more classical sounding music to match the times. The dialogue also shifts over while the story switches to a small town mentality towards the suspicions of witchcraft causing the town to be cursed because Sarah Fier does things against the religious teachings.

There’s some familiar character structures even for these types of films and they are introduced using the familiar faces from the previous parts and even perhaps how characters in their past lives are very similar to how they are in their other lives. Its a pretty nice character building in that level to be able to callback to these characters in their different times. Stories that start off more slow paced and reserve do usually boost up very well in its peak of events and reveal as this comes to a nice twist of who is cause of this Sarah Fier curse and giving clues to Deena who had been embodied in Sarah Fier in 1666 to figure out a way to end all this.

What makes the 1666 stand out is how its paired up with the 1994 continuation which brings to a very fun and fast-paced finale as not only the characters come together, giving Gillian Jacobs grown-up Ziggy from Part Two more screen time, but also a visual contrast dialing back to a neon color palette from its earthy tons in the past setting while also using its setting from Part Two and Part Three to all link back together from all the knowledge from travelling through to 1978 and 1666 and then finally bringing that back to 1994 as its big finale where all the elements piece everything back together.

Fear Street Part Three is a definite treat. The first part set in 1666 might not land as well for some due to its setting and the general tone those horror movies tend to have. Plus, the horror is still mostly not there except for the gore levels. However, the story does make up for a lot of this in its story and style to make it a lot of fun. Part Three brings it to a satisfying high point for its finale which is executed really well.

As a final thought on Fear Street trilogy event as a whole, it does work together really well. Plus, expanding a story into three weeks is also a good idea. Its almost like watching a TV series or mini-series but this one, each film wraps itself up well enough but still manages to leave some room for intrigue for the next film. If anything, Fear Street demonstrated the diversity of Leigh Janiak as a horror director as she moves through various styles of horror films but builds up the atmosphere to match up each element and keeps pretty well-rounded whether its as a teen Scream homage or a summer camp slasher or a old-time supernatural. The three films do piece together really well and it all dials down to execution and the events moving backwards to reveal its beginning in order to get to its end. Hopefully this is a start to Netflix building more stories around this sort of film event.

Fear Street: Part Two – 1978 (2021)

Fear Street: Part Two – 1978 (2021)

Director (and co-writer): Leigh Janiak

Cast: Sadie Sink, Emily Rudd, Ryan Simpkins, McCabe Slye, Gillian Jacobs, Matthew Zuk, Kiana Madeira, Benjamin Flores Jr., Olivia Scott Welsh, Brandon Spink, Chiara Aurelia, Ted Sutherland

Shadyside, 1978. School’s out for summer and the activities at Camp Nightwing are about to begin. But when another Shadysider is possessed with the urge to kill, the fun in the sun becomes a gruesome fight for survival. – IMDB

Fear Street Part Two continues the first part as they seek out the one person who survived the 1978 Camp Nightwing situation. As she recounts the situation, the story plays out throughout the film following the Berman sisters, Ziggy and Cindy who are at summer camp and Cindy’s boyfriend Tommy ends up being possessed. Paying homage to movies like Friday the 13th, summer camp slashers are always a little campy and yet after the foundation building from Part One, Part Two steps it up a little. There’s more gore and the kills are done rather well, with some moments leaving the aftermath than the actual deed. There is a little more of a hunt and the areas range more as the Sarah Fier possession side (aka what I call the lore) dives deeper as the sisters learn quite a bit about it. They explore some nooks and cranny areas that really have quite the horror film aesthetic. The atmosphere and settings does give space for a little more tension to build up perhaps some anticipated fear even though, overall the film isn’t scary either but its a lot more heart pumping fun than the previous with more chase scenes and plays more like how you’d expect a summer camp massacre to play out.

Looking at Part Two, a lot of its credit goes into its characters. For one, how the 1994 ones who survived the Camp Nightwing situation was back in 1978 and gives their characters a background and development. On the other hand, the Berman sisters are shown with enough character development from the start to the finish that they make you want to cheer for them especially as they start off being such opposite characters. While their backstory isn’t a lot, its also not exactly necessary. Plus, it doesn’t sit around trying to hash out problems, they are more about the action. Their actions prove that while they differ in opinions on certain things and the changes that Cindy made that has also thrown Ziggy off, when push comes to the shove and the dangers appear, they are trying their best to get each other out of the mess even if it means making sacrifices for each other. A lot of the credit has to go to the female actresses Sadie Sink and Emily Rudd, who plays respectively Ziggy and Cindy. Part Two builds up a lot of the other characters, perhaps the most notable being the backstory of Nick Goode (as he is in Part One) and in part also how the Nightwing killer comes to be how he appears in 1994.

For the most part, Part Two is a pretty solid slasher but in reality, its a lot more than that. It dives further into the Sarah Fier story and from what we’ve seen, its playing out as an evil spirit and possession sort of story. The cuts between the two sisters explores those two dangers completely and they each piece together a different side of the puzzle. This one also takes a step further and adds more killers to the equation from the ones seen in the first part which is always fun. Part Two essentially sets the stage for Part Three so that when it ends in the 1994 continuation, they are able to put together the missing pieces from Part One and hopefully break this Shadyside curse and save whoever needs to be saved. Talking about 1994, I really do love seeing Gillian Jacobs even if this role is fairly little in this part.

Overall, Part Two is pretty much what you would expect from watching a trilogy going backward in events to piece things together as Part One is the end result and we get to see the progression of events that leads to it. Of course, that might also lead to some predictable moments and knowing the result of things might make it less intriguing to watch but Part Two does such a good job in execution that it isn’t really an issue here for the most part. Of course (for those that didn’t see the Part One review), I haven’t read the source material so maybe its less of a surprise of those who are more knowledgeable of the story. While the tone of the film doesn’t seem to change too much from the first to the second, it does focus much heavier on the violent slasher side and turns it up plus, the new decade setting also means the soundtrack changes to fun 70s music which also works well with its scenes. Part Two is definitely a fun one and a decent step up from its previous part.

Fear Street: Part One – 1994 (2021)

Fear Street: Part One – 1994 (2021)

Director: Leigh Janiak

Cast: Kiana Madeira, Olivia Scott Welch, Benjamin Flores Jr., Julia Rehwald, Fred Hechinger, Ashley Zukerman, Maya Hawke, David W. Thompson

A circle of teenage friends accidentally encounter the ancient evil responsible for a series of brutal murders that have plagued their town for over 300 years. Welcome to Shadyside. – IMDB

Based on teenage book series by R.L. Stine, Fear Street is adapted as a film trilogy to be released over 3 weeks. The first one is set in the story in 1994 and oddly the trilogy goes backwards to part 2 in 1978 and part 2 in 1666. At first glance, it looks like a unique way to approach story telling and execution especially as its about diving into a lore looming over this town for centuries. While I do love Goosebumps, I have never read the source material or any of the Fear Street novels so this review is solely based on the film.

As the first film of a trilogy, 1994 sets the stage for the present scenario of how Shadyside is towards this evil presence and what brings it to life and whether it is possible to break out of the curse and how as the film follows the teens as they discover with a little trial and error. In the process it refers back to 1978 and 1666 which are the next two films in the trilogy, giving it both a link but also leaving anticipation for the mystery ahead. In some ways, it feels a little backwards and yet, it might work. Being a R.L. Stine adaptation though, it has a more horror comedy feeling to it and even for the killer itself feels almost like a parody or a homage. I’m not sure which its meant to be. With that said, the film isn’t too scary but has decent amount of blood considering it is a slasher film. The film score is full of 90s music which not only matches to the setting but also is a great fit for the different scenes.

The cinematography also deserves a mention. All the settings that the teens move through are great. The opening scene sets the tone and style of the film immediately using both the setting, the lighting and colors to create suspense and tension. The film moves through a good few locations from shopping mall to the school to outdoor areas. It moves rather quickly through its scene keeping it quick-paced and engaging.

However, Fear Street 1994 has some issues as well. Well, I guess one of the bigger problems might be the acting. There’s nothing wrong with the whole teen thing and in reality, playing teens gives a lot of forgiveness for saying weird and awkward stuff or even saying and doing things that don’t logically make sense. But, I do offer a lot of lenience personally on silly decisions in teen-focused films especially slasher.

Overall, Fear Street Part One is a decent start. If anything, it lays out the intrigue for the horror/mystery on hand, whatever you want to call it. However, for hardcore horror fans, I feel like the scary elements a little low but there is some gore. Plus, the setting and atmosphere is done really well along with the fantastic soundtrack, it really boosts the film up in enjoyability. As an ending thought, while I don’t have anything bad to say about it for the most part and I do look forward to the next part. I can’t help but feel like the film is a slightly forgettable in plot as it feels very familiar like a mesh of a few other popular things around (maybe that’s why it feels like a homage or parody either/or…I don’t watch enough parody to be able to tell).

Double Feature: Little Big Women (2020) & Lost Girls and Love Hotels (2020)

Next double feature is here! I went ahead to check out two 2020 movies. The first is Netflix Taiwanese family drama Little Big Women followed with a drama thriller adapted from a book, Lost Girls & Love Hotels.

Let’s check it out!

Little Big Women (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Joseph Chen-Chieh Hsu

Cast: Shu-Fang Chen, Ying-Hsuan Hsieh, Vivian Hsu, Ke-Fang Sun, Buffy Chen, Ning Ding, Han Chang

Family members grapple with the passing of their estranged father and the remnants of the life he led during his absence. – IMDB

Based on the 2017 short film, Little Big Women tells the family picking up the pieces after the estranged father leaves as his life story gets brought back to life through their memories. Through the conversations of the family and the memories of his wife, what drove the man away slowly gets revealed by the end which causes family separation between other family members and why other members seem to have harsh judgement towards them. The father’s estrangement also causes a different change in each of his daughters as they also embrace their own life whether its married with a child or being single or hiding away secrets. Also, as the mother’s motives seem to be the most supported by her granddaughter. This Taiwanese family drama reminded me at the beginning a little of Ang Lee’s Eat Drink Man Woman. Its quiet and slow-paced as the characters slowly reveal who they are and the roots of their issues with both their father and their mother. Being a quiet film, its not about a lot of fancy things and dials it all back down to the narrative itself. Death even with the most estranged people will bring about about personal and social issues: reflection, letting go of the past and of course, how society views the traditions of the whole ordeal.

Little Big Women isn’t too different from other family dramas outside from the emphasis on perhaps showing some of the culture in Taiwan regarding death whether its choosing the religion and what ritual to use or how the family structure changes. Sometimes, its the smallest things and yet, the significance is big to how others perceive it or even on a personal level. In this film, there’s a lot of narrative the evolves around the three daughters but at the same time, the mother has a lot also as she is the one that one of the daughters is trying to convince to fulfill her father’s wish and let the father’s girlfriend attend. The whole process of accepting her and making peace between the two actually comes to a very well-executed segment near the end that has probably one of the best scenes especially since the process throughout the film as she tries to find this lady lets her learn quite a bit about her through other people’s interpretation which makes the final talk so well-deserved.

At the same time, the daughters also have a big emphasis here. Each of them having their own moments and struggles. Its been a while since I’ve seen Vivian Hsu, who undoubtedly is probably one of the bigger names here (and I could be wrong as I’ve broken off of Taiwanese movies for quite a while) as she started her career fairly young (and made me want to rewatch 1997’s We’re No Bad Guys). There’s some pretty touching sequences between them especially when the father being estranged has different effects on them as their knowledge of their family changes with the different siblings. Family events are truly where all the family secrets come out and that is shown really well here as well.

Overall, Little Big Women is a family drama. Its nothing groundbreaking or shocking about the whole film. The narrative does build up these characters as they face the death of their estranged father and the process of preparing his funeral. The family secrets, the struggles, self-reflection, letting go: all these themes pop up in this film and as quiet as this film is, it does manage to pack quite the emotional punch by the end.

Lost Girls and Love Hotels (2020)

Director: William Olsson

Cast: Alexandra Daddario, Takehiro Hira, Carice van Houten, Andrew Rothney, Misuzu Kanno, Kate Easton

Haunted by her past, an English teacher explores love and dust with a dashing yakuza gangster in Tokyo. – IMDB

Adapted from the book of the same name and having the author also be the screenplay writer for Lost Girls & Love Hotels, this story almost feels a little like Lost in Translation except a little edgier and hardcore. Being an adaptation and one that I haven’t read the original source material, it feels like there’s a few things that seem to make its appearance that may have been overlooked when putting together this story. However, seeing that the author of the novel also acts as the screenplay writer here, it perhaps holds a good part of the essence of what is key to her story or at least we can only assume that. With that said, while the story execution feels at times a little disjointed as it hops from one scene to the next and some of it feeling like it loses its purpose a little for certain side characters like her friends, the cinematography is done really well. Capturing Japan on one hand while mostly capturing the sensual shots really well especially when talking about the lighting used in every scene that adds to the overall visuals and ambiance to elevate the passion between the two characters.

Lost Girls and Love Hotels is focused primarily on the journey of Margaret, played by Alexandra Daddario as she seems live a rather messy life as she starts off being a girl that seems to not quite seem to fit in her role in her day job and then seems to be falling in a sexcapade life at night full of boozy times at bars with her friends and hooking with men at love hotels. While not too familiar with Daddario filmography, it definitely feels like one of the more dramatic roles as her character is trying to escape from something on her mind and settling with being alone hence her trip to Japan. This film is where she is “reborn” as she meets this Yakuza gangster where she embraces her feelings for him while having an element of forbidden love. In some ways, what feels lacking here is the portrayal of Margaret’s desire of BDSM being her turn-on which could be where the thriller element of the story would appear however, its not shown nearly enough to make it have that effect that would inevitably lead to a very obvious foreshadowing at the beginning. Due to the lack of the character building for her as well except for some hints of what she is running away from, her character feels less authentic in some ways. The closest that she feels is the scene above when she starts talking about being alone.

While not exactly groundbreaking character building for her or her love interest Kazu, played by Takehiro Hira, the scenes of them together does have okay chemistry, although it might be the cinematography and sex scene choreography that is done really well. Kazu’s body-long tattoo covering the backside of his body creates a really nice visual overall. Not to mention that Takehiro Hira does stand out in this film as he has a more quiet character that has a lot more mystery plus he has a rather charming sort of look. A lot of it is hidden between the lines through conversations or observation from Margaret. Its a little sad since these characters lack a little more depth in their portrayal in this adaptation. It makes me wonder whether the novel would have fleshed them out more than just their relationship and having a more hollow personality especially for Kazu whose dialogue seems to hold some depth which does eventually enlighten Margaret not before one decision pushes her into a downward slope of bad consequences.

Lost Girls and Love Hotels is a decent watch overall. It helps that its the type of movie that I generally enjoy where its a piece of someone’s life where there’s some type of self-discovery plus it adds in that whole passionate romance which always works for myself when done well. However, this film does lack character depth and perhaps some more thriller-esque moments as currently, it definitely feels more like a romance drama. Not exactly the same thing, right?

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.