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.

Schemes in Antiques (古董局中局, 2021)

Schemes in Antiques (古董局中局, 2021)

Director: Derek Kwok

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

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

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

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

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

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

*Screener provided by Taro PR*

Holiday Marathon: A Castle For Christmas (2021)

A Castle For Christmas (2021)

Director: Mary Lambert

Cast: Brooke Shields, Cary Elwes, Lee Ross, Andi Osho, Tiny Gray, Eilidh Loan, Stephen Oswald, Vanessa Grasse, Desiree Burch

To escape a scandal, a bestselling author journeys to Scotland, where she falls in love with a castle – and faces off with the grumpy duke who owns it. – IMDB

Looking at A Castle For Christmas, I couldn’t help but ask two questions. The first is when was the last time I saw Brooke Shields and the second, when was the last time Cary Elwes was in a romantic comedy? Was it The Princess Bride? On top of that, this film is directed by Mary Lambert who has directed plenty of horror films but not so much romance (as I take a quick look over her filmography and yet, she is at the helm of this film.

Set in the small town Scotland setting and mostly in a castle, A Castle For Christmas is really not all that bad. The cast helps a lot and the whole tone is pretty nice. The plot points do have some odd moments that feel like it edited out a scene or two that was supposed to link it all together. The romance at times is a little bit on the cringey side of things but the setting is really nice for Christmas as it brings these two characters together. The holiday element is also done pretty well also as they transform the castle into a more festive setting and giving it a little more life.

The cast is really the highlight here. Whether we look at the main leads or the supporting cast, they all add a lot of charm to this small town and breathe more life into the film as a whole. The little discussions as they knit or decorate together. It makes the famous author on the run feel accepted when this group understands her point more than the others in the big city. There is a very positive feel-good vibe from those moments alone. It somehow puts the romance element in the background. However, thats not saying that Cary Elwes and Brooke Shields in their respective leading roles should be ignored. Brooke Shields fits into this role nicely whereas Cary Elwes feels at times a little awkward. However, his character is set as a bit of a loner so where he shines is before the whole romantic bits start with their little feud as he tries to get her to leave and she works hard to fit in and stay.

Overall, A Castle For Christmas is an alright holiday romantic comedy. Its cast does it the most favors and makes it a fun feel good film. The romance gets lost a little in the whole setting and the holiday and the supporting cast from the small town and yet, that does do the film a lot of favors as the romance element isn’t its strongest but Brooke Shields and Cary Elwes does fit relativelt well in their individual roles.

Holidays Marathon: The Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star (2021)

The Princess Switch 3: Romancing The Star (2021)

Director: Mike Rohl

Cast: Vanessa Hudgens, Remy Hii, Sam Palladio, Nick Sagar, Amanda Donohue, Florence Hall, Ricky Norwood, Suanne Braun, Mark Fleischmann, Will Kemp

When a priceless relic is stolen, Queen Margaret and Princess Stacy enlist the help of Margaret’s cousin Fiona teams with a man from her past to retrieve it, with romance and resulting in a very unexpected switch. – IMDB

After two The Princess Switch movies, its really hard to think about what other roles they could switch at this point. Of course, last time’s introduction of the royal cousin comes into play as she amends her bad ways by helping them leading the story to focus on her this time around and her little story about why she is the way she is. To be fair, you have to love Vanessa Hudgens a lot to watch these films since she takes up 3 entire roles on her own. The only thing missing is if they cross worlds again and bring in her role from The Knight Before Christmas as another role for her. Now that film is majorly lacking a sequel although as a form of sequel for this film series might not be exactly what I am waiting for.

The Princess Switch 3 : Romancing The Star is actually not too bad. If anything, its along the same enjoyment level as the second film. Some things feel ridiculous especially in plot when the switch is now a last resort situation so seeing the imitation of imitation for Vanessa Hudgens actually is rather comedic especially when the other versions mock each other. Fiona is a huge change since that character wears over the top outfits and has a big personality, making both Margaret and Stacy pretending to be her also full of craziness. The films as they progressed do somehow out of their own craziness has their own logic and it seems logical that it starts off from a basic switch between two people and now its more about the other schemes and giving each of these Vanessa Hudgens’ their own sort of story as well. The romance and whatnot is not anything unique in all honesty but there is a feel good element even if this one hits some cringe-y moments.

With that said, the star of the show is Vanessa Hudgens and she does take each of these roles and runs with it. It sure is fun to see her really showing a lot of different sides of the people that she plays. It gets a little odd sometimes but at this point of the third movie, its not hard to accept a lot of it no matter as Stacy, Margaret or Fiona. Of course, this time’s focus is a lot more on Fiona and Margaret as they do the big switch and its great to see Margaret pretending to be Fiona even when we all know that its just the same person acting everything, normally or pretending. Its really hard to explain but somehow those moments still are the best in the film. The love arc is also a focus here as they usually are and this time its for Fiona as she embraces a childhood friend and a quick fling which of course meant more than she is ready to admit with Peter, played by Remy Hii (also in Crazy Rich Asians). Their moments are a little bit cringe-y as they have this very in-your-face type of chemistry with the long stares and paused moments close to each other. It tries really hard but I’m not exactly sure the chemistry is there although Remy Hii is a pretty charming guy and fairly suitable to be in the role.

Overall, The Princess Switch 3: Romancing the Star is alright. Its nothing to call home about in terms of a sequel but there are some fun bits. Since I do enjoy Vanessa Hudgens, seeing her everywhere in this film doing all these different personalities and pretending to be another version of someone adds a lot of humor and fun. There are some awkward moments and the romance is not exactly my fave of the three films but it has that whole heist and reverse heist stealthy element that does give it a different sort of angle which somehow works to a certain extent.

Holidays Marathon: Love Hard (2021)

Love Hard (2021)

Director: Hernan Jimenez

Cast: Nina Dobrev, Jimmy O. Yang, Darren Barnet, James Saito, Rebecca Staab, Harry Shum Jr., Althea Kaye, Mikaela Hoover, Matty Finochio, Heather McMahan

An LA girl, unlucky in love, falls for an East Coast guy on a dating app and decides to surprise him for the holidays, only to discover that she’s been catfished. This lighthearted romantic comedy chronicles her attempt to reel in love. – IMDB

As Netflix steps up its game a little, its kind of a mixed bag when it comes to holiday films. Love Hard was one that caught my eye immediately for 2 reasons. The first being Nina Dobrev that I’ve been following since The Vampire Diaries which is a show that I did love (not so sure about how much I love it now but maybe it’ll be a fun experiment to see how I feel about it now that I’m in my 30s). The second reason being Jimmy O. Yang who seems to be popping up on my radar a lot and I do like his humor quite a bit. While I didn’t expect him to be casted in a romantic comedy, it is nice to see him in it especially when Love Hard is pretty cute when it brings the whole modernized dating scene up front for people looking for love online and the many dangers that could happen as well as the concept of what perfect love is while also making a play on two movies I do like a lot: Love Actually and Die Hard.

Love Hard is a pretty fun romantic comedy. Its not exactly unpredictable as most rom-coms nowadays tend to be lacking on that front. However, with the small town vibe and bringing in the family element in terms of expectations and love on all fronts, Love Hard is pretty well-crafted. It has its heartwarming moments and also some silly ones as well but the chemistry between Nina Dobrev’s Natalie and Jimmy O. Yang’s Josh is pretty decent. They have some really meaningful conversations about romance and encouragement towards being themselves but also uses its comedic comebacks especially for Jimmy O. Yang’s character pretty well also. The whole cast is pretty cool with Harry Shum Jr. playing the attention seeking brother but also getting to flex those singing skills, that I personally haven’t heard since his Glee days. Much like the whole family dynamic of the Lin household, plus all these family holiday films needs a wild grandma and they had one here as well.

Is Love Hard something really out of the ordinary? The plot itself definitely isn’t. It has some of the “How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days” plot where in this case is a blogger with her column on failed online dating but also adds that different ethnic backgrounds angle as they play with some of the Asian backgrounds even if the family feels pretty much assimilated to the small-town US lifestyle. A lot of the Asian household values whether its family business or following dreams or family expectations all come into play here which does feel rather realistic. If there was one thing that I’d nitpick on this was that the film spent a lot of time on Natalie’s angle, probably for most of the film and then suddenly near the end, it switches over to Josh’s angle in the final act which felt a little odd to do since Natalie felt like the character to connect with throughout and then suddenly, the switch with that one scene with Josh near the end felt a little misplaced. Its still a good scene and adds to his character.

Overall, its a harmless holiday romantic comedy. It has a lot of Christmas elements. There’s a good balance between comedy and romance. It also has some fun Christmas moments from putting up the Christmas tree to family moments to Christmas caroling, etc. It does tick a good few of those boxes for what this film sells itself as which all works together in a fun way. Of course, for people who don’t really enjoy romantic comedies, probably not for you but if you like Jimmy O. Yang’s comedy style and romantic comedies are acceptable to you, its a worth a watch.

Red Notice (2021)

Red Notice (2021)

Director (and writer): Rawson Marshall Thurber

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

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

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

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

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

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

BITS 2021: Vicious Fun (2020)

Vicious Fun (2020)

Director (and co-written): Cody Calahan

Cast: Evan Marsh, Amber Goldfarb, Ari Millen, Julian Richings, Robert Maillet, Sean Baek, David Koechner, Alexa Rose Steele, Kristopher Bowman, Mark Gibson, John Fray

Joel, a caustic 1980s film critic for a national horror magazine, finds himself unwittingly trapped in a self-help group for serial killers. With no other choice, Joel attempts to blend in or risk becoming the next victim. – IMDB

Being a huge fan of Black Fawn Films since Antisocial (review), its almost like I’ve been following director and writer Cody Calahan from his debut until now. There’s a few little gaps in the filmography however, its always been intriguing and/or fun premises especially when looking at the last film, The Oak Room (review). This latest film which also happens to be available on Shudder right now is very different from the toned down last film premise but still incredibly fun. I’m always a fan when its title sells exactly and much more as to what is expected.

Vicious Fun follows a 1980s horror fanatic and film critic for a horror magazine called Joel (Evan Marsh) who follows his roommate’s new boyfriend Bob (Ari Millen) to this Chinese restaurant-bar and ends up getting himself drunk and passes out in the storage room. When he wakes up, the restaurant is closed and he stumbles into a self-help group for serial killers and gets mistaken for the missing member, Phil. Right when the others buy his impersonation, Bob enters to question his identity and all hell breaks loose as this cast of serial killers start to go after him. As he finds a potential ally, tries to protect his roommate and gets caught up with some dumb cops, the night takes a very dangerous turn. 

There’s so much to love about Vicious Fun. The 80s setting gives it the neon-lit rooms to the synthetic soundtrack that accompanies the entire film. The cinematography here is fantastic right down to the setting of the restaurant from its set design. Vicious Fun also has this rather straight-forward plot but still has a little reveal to another side for its female lead, another serial killer at the group with her own little plan that gets slightly sidetracked played by Amber Goldfarb. Much like some familiar faces as the serial killers especially in the indie film world with David Koechner, Ari Millen and Julian Richings. Each of the serial killers have their own different style which makes it all the more fun to watch. 

The cast here really does need a detailed mention as they all come together to put together this wonderful slasher all combined in one whether its the emotionless thought-out killer Fritz (Julian Richings) who disguises as a clown, the tall masked sorority/summer camp killer Mike (Robert Maillet), the Japanese chef and cannibal, Hideo (Sean Baek), the handsome and smart psychopath Bob (Ari Millen) who is a master of disguise and the Zachary, the government funded killer. This crew embodies all kinds of slashers mashed into one film and gives a little bit of everything as they work together to get rid of their intruder and the mysterious femme fatale Carrie with her own little mission and seemingly turns on them to help Joel. These two are an interesting pairing as well since its usual that we would see the cranky male mentor with the scaredy-cat young follower and yet, this one changes it to a badass lady who really carries the whole situation and Amber Goldfarb takes on this role so well.

Overall, Vicious Fun is a stylistic neon-lit, 80s music filled, blood-soaked and gut-spilling horror comedy. It’s a ton of fun to watch and just an overall good time. The characters are over the top crazy and yet, wrapped up in this wild night is a much more grounded character reacting ridiculously but for some normal joe is also very believable. The horror and comedy balance itself out very nicely. Vicious Fun is currently available on Shudder. 

FNC 2021: The Noise of Engines (Le Bruit des Moteurs, 2021)

The Noise of Engines (Le Bruit des Moteurs, 2021)

Director (and writer): Philippe Grégoire

Cast: Robert Naylor, Alexandrine Agostini, Marc Beaupré, Tanja Bjork, Maxime Genois, Marie-Therese Fortin, Naila Rabel

Alexandre, an instructor at the Canadian customs college, will finds himself under surveillance by police investigators trying to get to the bottom of the sexually explicit drawings that have been troubling the town. – IMDB

The Noise of Engines is Philippe Gregoire’s debut feature. It is an interesting one to talk about no doubt. Filled with dry humor in a rural small town Quebec setting where only a few things are known, the story follows a Canada Customers firearms instructor who is suspended for inappropriate sexual conduct and goes back home for two weeks for his suspension while telling it as a vacation. As he returns to help his mom with their family business running the racing track, he gets approached by a young Icelandic female drag racer with an incredible love for André Forcier’s films. They share each other’s views and stories while Alexandre is under suspicion of an investigation of sexually explicit drawings first found at the church but showing up elsewhere.

This film starts off in the right direction. The dry humor is right on point and the story feels very correlated as it sets up the workplace environment where Alexandre works as well as his character. It gives a good feeling of his relationship with his mother which is a bit conflicting with some tension and some care as well. And it also sets up his character towards his feelings towards the town and the authority that it has, specifically the two officers investigating the town’s troubling affair. Much like the Icelandic female drag racer which enters on a rather bizarre note as well. All these characters set in their place rather quickly and the humor sets in along with it.

In some ways, the film explores the small town in its rather humorous jab at the normalcy. However, it also highlights the hurdles of both authority and the small town diplomacy much like the deeper issues that get him suspended as well as the mysterious drawings and its artist. While the film itself does feel slightly disjointed at parts, especially when it enters the final 15 to 20 minutes which takes a rather abstract form, moving into the no narrative scenic wandering from Alexandre, it does still have a charm to it both in its humor and the story of Alexandre as he tells more about both his unintentional career choice and what he wants in his heart.

Overall, The Noise of Engines starts off as a comedic film which takes a turn gradually to something a bit more dramatic and relatively deep. It does feel a tad abstract in some executions especially its ending but it still has some conversations that do give some room for thought. There’s a little bit of mystery as the question of who drew the drawings looms in the air despite the absurd suspicion the officers have. As an afterthought, there is a subtle connection of André Forcier films that are mentioned but I have no idea who it is and haven’t seen his films so maybe its time to look that up.

*The Noise of Engines is showing during Festival du Nouveau Cinema on its virtual platform until October 31st.*

TADFF 2021: Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It (2020)

Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It (2020)

Director (and co-writer): Yernar Nurgaliyev

Cast: Daniar Alshinov, Asel Kaliyeva, Azamat Marklenov, Yerlan Primbetov, Dulyga Akmolda, Almat Sakatov, Rustem Zhaniyamanov, Yerkebulan Daiyrov, Bekaris Akhetov

Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It is a 2020 Kazakhstan horror comedy that tells the story of Dastan (Daniar Alshinov), a husband awaiting the birth of his child. As his wife Zhanna (Asel Kaliyeva) hounds him over the name for their first child, he suddenly decides to take a day trip to escape with his two friends, Arman (Azamat Marklenov) and Murat (Yerlan Primbetov) to go fishing on the countryside. As they start their fishing, they end up seeing something that they shouldn’t have and from then on, their fishing trip takes a dangerous turn as they need to run for their lives to not get caught and get out of this predicament alive.

First off, let’s go on the record that this is definitely the first Kazakhstan film that I’ve ever seen. Being completely new to country’s offerings, this was a really great first film experience. The film starts off setting the tone pretty well with a lot of comedy between the couple quarrelling over their newborn baby and the name that they should give it. From the reactions to the facial expressions to the whole interaction, it gives a good idea of the main character Dastan right away and also sets up the comedy tone right away. The film is not about this couple though because shortly after, Dastan runs off for a fishing trip with his two buddies. During the car ride, it reveals a lot about these three guys and the ridiculousness and in turn, the hilarity that will ensue especially when the truck is full of sex dolls that ends up being turned into a makeshift raft when these three going on a fishing trip and know nothing about fishing.

At the same time, the film also focuses on a group of mobs/psychopaths living in the area that is bringing their hostage to settle some issues with them when they end up angering a killer in the vicinity who goes after them one by one. As this group crosses with Dastan’s group and they witness something that they shouldn’t, the mob ends up chasing their group as the one-eyed killer goes after them and then all three get tangled with each other. Thing is, the film’s horror comes from the one-eyed killer hunting down them and the different ways that he kills them right up to the end. At the same time, it mixes in these hilariously ridiculous moments that are so over the top that its hard to not find it funny even if some of it is so silly and absurd. And yet, somehow it works so well and creates a fantastic balance between the comedy and the “horror”.

The film does have really good pacing. Its executed really well as it does pick up as it moves along especially when these guys are all chasing after one and another. Right down to some pretty well-choreographed action sequence in the final act as they all reconvene in a tight space trying to get out of this. There are some other moments where this feels very apparent with their action sequences. It almost feels a little comedic like one moment where one of the friends flies through the window and then ends up coming back through the other window on the other side almost feeling like a cartoon.

Overall, Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It is this fun little slice of life horror comedy especially for these friends as they experience this whole predicament which feels too ridiculous to believe. As usual, comedy is a rather subjective thing so perhaps this feel might feel dumb to some people but I’m a big fan of over the top absurdities and this film is a absolute trip, an awesome one at that!

*Sweetie, You Won’t Believe It is available to stream across Canada on Toronto After Dark Film Festival’s virtual platform throughout the festival from October 13th to 17th. You can check it out HERE along with the rest of the schedule.*